Thursday, April 25, 2013
Agawam's Weiners not complacent
By John McGuirk
AGAWAM, Mass. -- There are many adjectives you could attach to Reilly Weiners: fierce and competitor are a few that quickly come to mind.
A senior catcher at Agawam High School, Weiners is considered by many to be the best at her position in the state, let alone New England.
The Brownies are a perennial state softball power and Weiners is a big reason why. Last year, she batted .531 with 32 RBI in 77 plate appearances, helping guide Agawam to the Division 1 Western Mass. title before falling in the state semifinal to pitcher extraordinaire Shannon Smith and the Milford Scarlet Hawks, who went on to capture the state crown.
Weiners says the bitter taste of that defeat still remains and will only disperse should the Brownies get back to the state championship round and a possible rematch with Milford.
“I think talent-wise we are a better team than we were last year,” said Weiners. “We were thrilled to win Western Mass. last year because that is always one of our goals. But we want to go beyond that. I’d love to get back to the states and face Shannon Smith again. As a team we think about it all the time and it is definitely something that drives us.”
With Weiners orchestrating the leadership among this club, a second meeting with the Scarlet Hawks (albeit it would be in the state final this year now that Milford has now moved to Eastern Mass.) remains a possibility. Presently sitting at 4-3, the Brownies still have some work to do in the hotly-contested Valley League.
Few catchers are able to master their position the way Wieners has. Not only is she exceptional defensively, whether it be blocking balls in the dirt or throwing out would-be base runners, but also has the high IQ to control a game. Earning the trust of her head coach Kathy Georgina, Wieners has been handed the responsibility to be the coach on the field. Quite often you will find her moving her defensive mates around the infield in preparation against a particular opposing batter or lining up players up on cutoffs and relays. Offensively, she is a natural contact hitter with power.
“She really is amazing,” said Georgina, now in her 11th season at the helm, and a star in her own right at Springfield College. “I’ve known Reilly since kindergarten and watching her throw a ball as a first-grader in my physical education classes, I knew then she would be a good one someday. She is very sound technically. It is a blessing for me to have a player like her on this team. She knows the game inside and out and is one of the best high school players I have ever seen. It is also a luxury to have a catcher who can run the team on the field the way she does.”
Of all the things Wieners has accomplished on the field, perhaps the biggest, and most-difficult, one took place off of it. Admitting she was not pleased with her physical stature a year ago, Weiners was determined to do something about it. Her struggles with obesity, she believed, was limiting her abilities as an athlete. Once the high school season was over last June, Weiners adopted a daily ritual of distance running, weight lifting, cardio-vascular drills and maintaining a healthy diet. The end result was her shedding more than 80 pounds over the fall and winter.
“I felt good hitting last season but I just didn’t feel I was able to give 100 percent of my physical self everyday,” Weiners said. “After last season I started to work out hard every day. I think what I have done and still doing is only going to make me better. I am one who wants to get better at something each and every day. I feel like I have proven to myself and those who had doubted me wrong. I feed off of that every single day.”
Weiners admits she wasn’t proud in having difficulty taking part in team conditioning drills. On numerous occasions she was unable to finish jogging laps or run wind sprints, often finding herself short of breath. Realizing she would be going into her senior year as a team captain and leader, Wieners knew her lifestyle and eating habits had to change immediately. Now, with the excess weight gone, Weiners says she feels like a completely different person.
“I go out now and lead both physically and mentally and it feels great,” she said. “I feel I get a lot more out of the practices now than I ever did before. I can do all the conditioning drills without any problems. I feel a lot better about myself. I enjoy being out here playing and having fun instead of struggling just trying to get through it like I did in the past. [My weight] really held me back. Now I am a lot more excited to come out here every day and show that I have been working very hard with my conditioning and it is starting to pay off for me.”
From a softball perspective, because she is such an imposing force at the plate, Georgina says some opposing teams have already decided to pitch around her, which, in turn, has limited her production at the plate up to this point. Teams seem complacent to put her on base rather than feel her wrath with the bat. But sooner or later teams will have to pitch to her and take their chances.
With five new faces on the Brownies roster this season, Weiners, along with the other returning players, are making a point to remind all of them what the Brownies mission is for this year.
“We relay a message to them all the time about the hunger all of us returning players have to get back [to the state tournament],” she said. “We want to make sure they understand that. It sucked losing 13-0 to Milford last year and we want to be the team that beats them this year. We have great team bonding sessions here and we talk about that goal all the time.”
While Weiners has been nothing short of spectacular during her time at Agawam, freshman pitcher Allison Wheeler has also begun to open up some eyes. Sporting a blazing fastball, to go along with a baffling change-up and curve, Wheeler says having a veteran player the likes of Weiners as her battery mate has made her transition to the varsity level much smoother.
“I feel so comfortable pitching to Rielly,” Wheeler said. “As a freshman playing on varsity, I am so lucky to have a catcher like her behind the plate. She has helped me out in so many ways and keeps me calm when I get into tight situations. I feel it is a real honor for me to be pitching to her. Our relationship is very good and I think it will only get stronger moving forward. She is the best catcher that has ever caught for me and probably will be the best that I will ever pitch to.”
There is no arguing the fact that Wieners is a Division 1 college talent. Enough so that she was heavily recruited by a number of quality programs, including national powers Tennessee and UMass-Amherst. An honors student, Wieners has remained true in her beliefs that academics holds a higher importance than softball. That being said, she has committed to attend and play for Wesleyan University next season, majoring in English/Journalism.
“Reilly has made it clear from the beginning that she wanted to go to a college that had her major and also had a solid academic reputation,” Georgina said. “She didn’t want to somewhere to just play softball. Wesleyan had everything she was looking for and I think is a perfect fit for her.”
Weiners is the latest in a line of outstanding catchers who have played here. In the early 2000s, Teresa Bonavita was a much-heralded backstop who went on to star at AIC and later Temple University. Amy Mantha followed Bonavita and carved her own notch at Agawam before moving on to a successful career at Post University. Says Wieners, both left an indelible mark at Agawam and to her personally. Having grown up watching Bonavita and Mantha only heightened her desire to follow admirably in their footsteps. Another inspiration came from her father, Don. Also a catcher in baseball, Weiners says she would watch her father play in a local 30-and-older league and quickly noticed the style in which he played and started taking mental notes.
“You could say playing catcher is sort of in my blood,” laughs Weiners. “I used to watch his games and he was very assertive behind the plate. He would take control of a game as catcher and I guess I picked up that trait from him.”
Weiners says her biggest fan is her mother, Dion Berte, who regularly attends Agawam’s games, cheering both her daughter and the Brownies on.
“My mother is truly amazing,” Weiners said with a smile. “She doesn’t know a lot about the game but is here all the time rooting us on. To be totally honest I don’t think I would have been able to do any of this without her and her support. She is so awesome.”
And in turn, Agawam would not be in the position it is in without her.