VALPARAISO | Jessie Marinec has been through plenty of speed bumps in her softball career that have forced her to cherish every opportunity she has to take the field.
The Valparaiso redshirt-junior broke her back while she was still in high school and then missed the bulk of her sophomore season with a broken thumb.
Those injuries have left Marinec with a finer appreciation of the game and a sense of urgency as the Valparaiso softball team hopes to return to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.
“After I got injured (in high school), I spent a lot of time watching the game and watching my teammates through a different perspective,” Marinec said. “It made me realize that I didn’t want to take anything for granted when I got back on the field.”
Marinec was in a brace for three months in high school after the gradual wear-and-tear on her back reached a climax when she slid into second base in a game during her junior year. The Alsip native earned All-Horizon League Newcomer honors her freshman year and then bounced back from the thumb injury to earn NFCA First Team All-Midwest honors last year.
Marinec is one of just four players to have started all 23 games so far this season and her presence has been sorely needed by a team that was decimated by graduation after last season’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in program history.
“I’m not sure where we’d be without Jessie,” Valparaiso coach Jordan Stevens said. “I definitely learn a bit more on her and some of her older teammates this year. They just get the way we do things across to our younger players.
Marinec is part of a strong leadership core with fifth-year senior Joylyn Ichiyama and classmates Angie Doerffler and Amanda Wisniewski. Valparaiso has eight newcomers this year that Marinec and her upperclassmen teammates are imploring to put in the same work ethic that last season’s squad did en route to a program-record 42 victories.
“Our younger players are figuring things out and finding their place on the field,” Marinec said. “If I see something that I can help them with, I’ll go up to them on my own and point it out. I don’t view myself as better than anybody else. We’re all teammates here and we all have the same goal of getting back to the tournament.”
The Crusaders recently finished up their Florida spring trip and approach the Horizon League season with a 13-10 record. Marinec’s averaging is down from .328 to .235 this season, but Stevens isn’t worried about his steady shortstop.
“We’re not where we need to be yet and we’re learning that just showing up is not enough,” Stevens said. “Our drive is still there and the upperclassmen are leading that.”