SOFTBALL: Vickery leads quartet of area alumni now playing for Illinois | Sports

SOFTBALL: Vickery leads quartet of area alumni now playing for Illinois | Sports

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It’s rare to see four local student-athletes go on to continue their athletic careers at the same high-level university, but seeing a quartet of local graduates represent the same university in the same sport is even less of a common occurrence.

But with Bishop McNamara graduates Jaelyn Vickery, Shelby Stauffenberg and Tonya Faulkner and Herscher graduate Morgan Scivally spending the spring in orange and blue at the University of Illinois, that was exactly the case in Champaign-Urbana this season, where the Fighting Illini finished the season with a 24-20 record.

Although the four are in different stages of their collegiate careers, they all have helped each other make the transition from high school ball to the Division I level of competition a little bit easier.

“My transition to Illinois wasn’t too bad because it was really nice having [the others] there,” Vickery said. “So, those hometown connections have helped me and so did playing at Bishop McNamara under my ex-coach, Laura Harms.”

The redshirt freshman and utility player has made a smoother transition than most, as Vickery snagged two prestigious awards in being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and Second Team All-Big Ten squad after an incredible second season this past year she said has left plenty of room for growth.

“When I saw I got those awards, I was both surprised and not surprised …” Vickery said. “This, in my eyes, was an average season for me, and I feel like I have so much more to give.”

Vickery started 44 games this past season and went on to finish with a .306 batting average with 37 hits, including 11 extra-base hits to go along with 16 RBIs in 121 plate appearances.

“It was an eye-opening year for me, and I definitely learned a lot with it being my first season …” Vickery said. “It was a long process to finally get to playing, and so when I got the opportunities given to me, I was really thankful. It was great to learn from my teammates and coaches.”

After posting such a strong campaign in 2021, Vickery plans to rack up even more accolades next season, not only as an individual but as a collective unit.

“My goals are to help the program set records and take the program to places it’s never been before,” Vickery said. “For me individually, I just want to keep building off this season and make First Team All-Big Ten and win Player of the Year.”

Stauffenberg calls it a career

Unlike Vickery, her teammate Shelby Stauffenberg won’t be able to help the Illini continue to strive for new heights next season.

Stauffenberg just closed out her collegiate career behind the plate with .229 batting average with 16 hits in 70 plate appearances while starting in 19 games this past season as a senior.

“The whole thing for my final season was just to be where my feet were because no matter what, you never knew what could happen given COVID-19 last season,” Stauffenberg said. “So, I’ve always lived by that saying and played like every game was my last because it could have been.”

Now that her career has come to an end, Stauffenberg couldn’t help but note she was proud of the fact she made big strides each and every season.

“I’m proud to say that I am a Fighting Illini and I actually got to play for a Big Ten university,” Stauffenberg said. “So, I think my overall thing is that I made it through the end all four years and continually got more playing time each season.”

With so many memories to be made during trips, practices and games, the former catcher said her favorite memory of her last hurrah was just being able to soak up the time with her teammates.

“My favorite moment of my last season was probably just being with my teammates 24-7 and getting to bond together,” Stauffenberg said.

Scivally ready to make gigantic leap in 3rd season

Utility player Morgan Scivally didn’t quite have as many opportunities to affect the game the way Vickery and Stauffenberg did, but expect that to change next season.

The former Herscher Tiger saw limited action in her sophomore campaign this past season and plans to make that a thing of the past once next season comes around.

“Next year, I’m going to try [to have] more of a presence on the team as a utility player,” Scivally said. “I play outfield, hit and pitch, so I think I want to bring those all together so I can be a bigger help to the team.”

Scivally appeared in four games during which she allowed eight hits and one earned run while posting a 1.17 ERA in six innings of action within the circle. As a hitter, she posted a .125 batting average by going 1 for 8 in nine games played, including three starts.

Despite limited action on the bump, Scivally has gained serious trust with her coaching staff, especially her pitching coach, Lance McMahon.

{p dir=”ltr”}“I love the coaching staff, and so one thing I love about them is that they trust me and ask for my opinion, which makes for a collaborative relationship,” Scivally said. “My pitching coach and I have such a great relationship, and I’ve learned so much from him. Now, I really feel like I’ve become more of an independent pitcher where I don’t need someone to constantly tell me what to do.”

{p dir=”ltr”}Faulkner enjoys transitional year

{p dir=”ltr”}Faulkner transferred last year from Danville Area Community College and missed this season after having knee surgery. The 2018 Bishop McNamara graduate came to campus with less-than-ideal situations between her injury and the COVID-19 pandemic, but Faulkner said she still enjoyed her transitional year and is excited to join Scivally and Vickery on the diamond next year.

“I loved my first year at Illinois; obviously, it was a little bit different from COVID-19, but softball-wise it was great,” Faulkner said. “We had to rely on each other a little bit more because of COVID-19, and everyone had to get used to things again, but I loved it.”

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