by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
As high school sports thrills go, it’s hard for Bethani Athey to top what she experienced in ninth grade as the third baseman on a state championship softball team. But that was only her second of five seasons as a starter at Elk River and she has fattened her scrapbook quite a bit since then.
This Monday against Anoka, the powerful yet nimble 5-foot-2 catcher turned in one of the best innings any Elk ever had. She was mobbed by teammates in both the top of the sixth for a diving catch of a foul pop-up with two outs and bases loaded to protect a 7-6 lead, and again in the bottom half when she belted a three-run homer that clinched a 10-7 win. And this took place on her Bethani Athey Senior Day. “It was her special day, and she did something special,” grinned coach Stacy Sheetz.
A year-round softballer, Athey is hitting .340 with two doubles, a homer, team-leading 13 RBI and nine runs for the Elks. Behind the plate she has eight assists and no errors. She was an all-conference pick as a junior, hitting .323 with two homers and 15 RBI on a 17-8 team.
Athey was in sixth grade when she met Sheetz at an Elk summer clinic. “Bethani was just so STRONG, even then,” said the coach. “I told her, you’re coming out (for the Elks) this year. She ended up on JV as a seventh grader.”
Athey was always a catcher. Sheetz already had a good one (Hannah Sweet) but wanted Athey in the lineup her eighth grade year and stuck her at third base. Athey hunkered down at third for two years, just like she always does at catcher, scooping everything up and making laser throws to first base. With shortstop Kayti Hanson, she formed a solid left-side tandem when the Elks won state title; they were a big reason the team made zero errors in winning 1-0, 2-1 and 1-0 at state.
Athey batted .323 in 29 games that year and made a huge defensive play during the sectional, snagging a line drive to start a game-ending double play in a 6-5 win over longtime nemesis Big Lake. “Amy (Schrieber) the pitcher, I remember, ran at me and she was crying. So that was a big (highlight) for me.”
Sweet graduated and Athey took over her favorite position. Along with her sure glove and strong arm, Athey has the right intangibles. “She can calm down a pitcher and get her to throw to her spots,” said Sheetz. “She is a great talker out there, and gets the team going. She is energetic and fun and lighthearted all the time, but she is a gamer, too, and wants to win.”
This year Athey took over the cleanup spot for the first time, felt some pressure and got off to a slow start. “Bethani wanted to be more of a run producer and felt like she wasn’t doing enough, even though she was always around .300,” said Sheetz. Athey resolved to do something about it. “I made my mom buy the Big Ten Network and started watching college ball, and took advice from there,” she said. “And from Kayti Hanson.” Hanson, now a starter for a D-I team, Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne, related what she’d learned about “the four domains of the plate” (breaking down the strike zone) and Athey said it helped.
Athey, whose summer team is Minnesota Renegades (she caught 62 games in several states last year) is looking forward to a non-softball trip this summer, to Switzerland, that’s basically a reward for clean living. A family friend in the airline industry promised Bethani and her sibs that “if we get through high school without smoking, drinking or using drugs, she take us anywhere in the world. And I’ve earned it and I’m going to go to a gorgeous place.”
She intends to continue her softball career at a two-year school, Dakota County Tech, next year.
THE ATHEY SCORECARD
Personal file – Age: 18 … Family: Parents Wayne and Tammy; sisters Trisha, 24; Brittany and Crystal, 22; and Sabrina, 13 … Sport: softball … Academics: B’s and C’s … Next year: Dakota County Tech, softball, major undecided
Favorite stuff – Classes: Freshman Science with Mr. Osterman, Economics this year with Mr. Olson … TV show: “American Idol,” “Make it or Break It,” “Secret Life of an American Teenager” … Movie: “Despicable Me” … Food: mashed potatoes, with pizza or macaroni … Drink: Powerade Zero, blue … Team: Twins … Athlete: Joe Mauer, Adrian Peterson … Reading: “The Lovely Bones” … Kickback: movies, and reading “anything with gossip!” … Place she’d like to visit: Switzerland