Because of the Chicago softball team's unprecedented inaugural visit to the NCAA Division-III Midwest regional championship game this year, the Maroons have a lot to celebrate. But in the midst of the joy, two of its most colorful players will be graduating at the end of this year. Fourth-years Megan Kunz and Cristina Metildi will be leaving a program that they helped develop. This season in particular, their expertise was of utmost importance because of a bumper crop of young players--almost half of the squad members were first-years.
"Our two seniors provided quality leadership for a very young team. They have had very successful careers on and off the field here at Chicago, and we will miss their contributions and competitiveness," said head coach Ruth Kmak. "Their class is unique in that Chicago softball has gone to the NCAA Regional Tournament three times and theirs is the only class that has gone to all three (2000, 2001, 2003). They are members of the team that went the furthest in the NCAA Regional."
Even though both seniors were influential members of the team they each took different approaches to their leadership roles. Kunz, a pitcher and the team captain, took on the more formal position of team leader. She was known for her ability to lead and be the glue of the team, providing ample support, keeping everyone focused, and lifting the morale of the other players when it was most needed. Metildi, the team's shortstop, led by example with her sheer athletic talent, her intensity, and her commitment to the sport. She is recognized as a fantastic athlete, and she inspired her teammates with her passion for the game.
"Megan is a great role model because she is so responsible. She really knows how to talk to people and set a good example on and off the field."
Kunz had undeniably her best season this spring. She finished 23rd in the country in individual earned run average (ERA) with an ERA of 1.01 and, together with first-year All-American Hannah Roberts, contributed to a team ERA of 0.89 that ranked sixth in the country. Kunz is known for her positive attitude, fun-loving nature, and her variety of commitments off the softball field. She is a vice president of the Women's Athletic Association, a four-year member of the Motet Choir, and the resident assistant of Hitchcock House. Next year, she will work with Teach For America.
"It was a great season, not just because we won a lot, but because we had fun together. Thinking about it, the two really do go hand-in-hand," Kunz said.
Kunz has worked with a solid pitching staff in the past few years that included All-Americans Roberts and Kelly Ostler. Yet according to Kmak, instead of being disappointed about not being the star pitcher, Megan worked hard and improved each year, eventually taking on the responsibility of team leader.
"Megan has always, unfortunately, been somewhat overshadowed by the other pitchers in the program. She is an excellent pitcher in her own right, and in almost any other program, she would be the top pitcher," Kmak said.
Roberts, who often looked to Kunz for guidance during the season, reinforced the view held by most. "Megan was a large part of holding our team together, and she did it without saying anything. She has my highest respect as a teammate, person, and friend," Roberts said.
Kunz's catcher, second-year Annie Yaniga, was able to develop a special relationship with her because of their on-field interaction. "I am going to miss Megan on and off the field next year," Yaniga said. "The desire and dedication she has for the game is infectious. I remember looking into her eyes before she was about to send a twisting drop ball in at a batter, and seeing pure fire there. She wants to win and she is willing to give everything she has to do it. That is something every teammate can admire and learn from."
Reflecting on her collegiate experience, Kunz said, "Softball has really been a staple of my experience here. Looking back, I am amazed at how much I have learned about intensity, dedication, and friendship through softball in the past four years. I really love the sport, but it is my teammates that make every 8 a.m. practice worthwhile."
Metildi put together an equally illustrious athletic career. She was named to the All-America team her second year and started every game from her first year until she had a season-ending injury in the eighth game of her third year. However, she did not let that sidetrack her. She finished this year with a bang by helping the softball team reach the regional championship and then joined the track team where she broke the school record for the triple jump.
She brings her intensity from her collegiate competition home with her during the summers, competing in local softball tournaments each year. Last year she was a member of the fourth-place team in the National 23-and-under category. Metildi takes her studies as seriously as she does softball; she was named a scholar-athlete and made the Dean's List each year in college. She will be attending Northwestern Medical School this fall.
"I'm of course very sad to let this all go. I'm seriously considering deferring a year at Northwestern Medical School to play my last year of eligibility next year," Metildi said. "I've had so much fun with these girls, and even though I didn't have the season I was hoping for, I couldn't have asked for a better group of girls to play the last season of my life with. It was a wonderful experience and I will miss every moment of it."
"Cristina is by far the best, most devoted player I've ever played with," said second-year second baseman Julie Wiorkowski. "I'm sure that her heart is just a softball and she feels that her love is gone, but [we] will never forget the contributions she has made for the program and her place will never be able to be filled."
Anyone can sense Metildi's passion for the game just by speaking with her. "I can't really think of anything else to say except that I wish I wasn't a graduating senior. I would love just to have another year or two with this team. But all good things must come to an end. All I can do is hold on to the memories," Metildi said. "I love softball. I love the game. It was my first love."
Kunz and Metildi left very different marks on the softball program, but they were both extremely influential in shaping it during their years here. "Both have helped this program to develop into what it has become and should be proud of the accomplishments they have had," Wiorkowski said.