Perhaps the biggest superlative a high school softball player can receive are compliments from hard-boiled opposing head coaches.
When discussing Livingston’s outstanding team, most of the fan conversation centers around Jess Peslak, Kylie McLaughlin and Sammi Rothenberger.
But when you ask a coach, many times, the first name which comes up is second baseman Rachel Wasilak.
“That kid is the real deal,” said Immaculate Heart Academy coach Anthony Larezza. “I don’t think people realize how good she is, but she makes every play.”
Caldwell College coach Dean Johnson agrees.
“She can play, plain and simple,” Johnson said. “She fields like a vacuum cleaner and hits in the cluch. She’ll be a very good college player.”
As focused and prepared as she is on the field, Wasilak will be the first to say conversations with the media has never really been her thing.
I remember the first time I asked Livingston coach Jason Daily if I could speak to his then-freshman infielder after the Lancers defeated Caldwell in a 2010 Super Essex Conference (SEC) game.
“Sure,” Jason said. “She’s right over there.”
I had also asked to speak to sophomore Reid Singer that day, since she had hit a homer, so the two kids stopped by and we spoke.
Well, sort of spoke.
If you know Reid, then you know any conversation with her is the equivalent of a press conference. But speaking with Rachel was a bit of a challenge because she didn’t have a lot to say. While very pleasant, her answers were mostly one syllable.
When I finished speaking to them, Daily walked by and said, ‘how’d that go?’ I laughed and said Wasilak was perfect for Livingston, because we used to joke that Daily’s coaching staff wouldn’t give any details of a game, rather they’d stare at you with those dark sun glasses and take the fifth.
Now, sitting with Wasilak the other day, she recalled that first meeting with a laugh.
“I do remember it,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what to say.”
Wasilak’s demeanor hasn’t changed a lot since her freshman year. A supremely confident player and the daughter of a coach, she is the catalyst to the Lancers infield. There never seems to be a ball she can’t field cleanly.
“Rachel is such a smart player,” Daily said. “She’s almost like a soldier in the field. She’s so disciplined and makes the hard plays look easy because she’s always in the right position on the field. Her softball IQ is tremendous. She just understands the game. It’s hard to explain.”
At the plate, Wasilak has a penchant for the big hit. She hits to the opposite field regularly and can pull the ball with power when needed. Her love for the game is obvious.
“This game is a big part of my life,” Wasilak said. “Watching this team get better every year is exciting. We had a great season last year, but came up short. We’re a very determined team.”
Livingston won its second straight Essex County Tournament championship last week, to go along with a second consecutive SEC crown. It is now seeking another state sectional crown.
A third team, All-State player in 2012, Wasilak will be attending William Paterson University in the fall, where she’ll continue playing softball in the highly competitive NJAC. She’s undecided as to a major on the collegiate level.
“I really liked the campus and the coach (Hallie Cohen),” Wasilak said. “And it’s close to home. I didn’t want to go too far away.”
Daily remembered Wasilak’s first year as a varsity player.
“We started her as a freshman at third base when we opened the (2010) season at the IHA Tournament,” Daily recalled of a game Livingston won, 1-0. “She also played the outfield and during one of our trips to Florida in March, she even pitched. Eventually, she transitioned into our second baseman, but that didn’t come until her sophomore year.
“Like I said, she’s such a smart kid and she’s so versatile. It won’t be easy filling that role next season.”