A veteran catcher definitely needs to wear many different hats and that was the case this season for Lincoln-Way East. With few returning players and many new faces on this year's team, the Griffins knew that earning a third state trip in four years would be a challenge.
But two seniors who were on East's 2015 team that lost, 1-0, to Marist in the Class 4A title game were still around, outfielder Ami Ill and catcher Christine Malito, and they would have to provide leadership for coach Elizabeth Pawlicki's team.
They not only did that but also were offensive sparks for their team. In addition, Malito and new pitcher Alex Storako developed a good relationship, and the net result was the Griffins going 30-4 and reaching the Class 4A finals, where they lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to defending champ Oak Park-River Forest.
Thanks to a .426 average with eight doubles, four home runs and 32 RBIs and for taking on a key leadership role while also helping her pitcher post a 22-3 mark, Malito shares The Herald-News Softball Player of the Year award with teammate Storako.
"I was very fortunate to be able to go to two title games because I realize that a lot of people don't ever get there," Malito said. "So being able to go there twice, even though they were tough losses, I'm so very grateful for the experience.
"As long as I've been here, we've had a very successful program, and I was very proud to be a part of it. One of the biggest things that's carried on from year to year are the traditions and the chemistry and having everything kind of working together. The chemistry that makes a team work has always been present no matter what new people we had, and especially this year. We've been fortunate enough to have that for the past however many years."
With so many newcomers, Malito knew that building team chemistry would be critical.
"One of the biggest things that I was worried about was our chemistry," Malito said. "I was nervous about what this season would bring, especially since we would be almost a new team. One of my goals was focusing on bringing the team together and having real chemistry since that would be important.
"Ami and I had been there before and we definitely talked about that a lot. You can't really teach about experience but you can kind of mentor others about working together and the chemistry and how much success that brings about. So that was one of our top priorities. We tried to bring everyone's' experiences together to making this into a successful team.
"The only common factor in those two title games was Ami and me. This was an entirely new group of girls so it's an amazing reflection on the program of how well we work to try to bond. Just having the ability to be able to carry that on was amazing."
She also had to get on the same page with Storako, which didn't take long.
"Getting used to a new pitcher, and especially one who throws well, is one of the most difficult parts of the position," Malito said. "But I feel like I got used to Alex's pitching really fast and we worked very well together. I had heard that she was a really good pitcher and I was up for the challenge of working with her. I was very excited to be able to catch her and was very proud of all of the things she accomplished this season. She worked very hard."
Malito, who will continue her education and playing career at Rutgers University, was also one of the key hitters that East relied on.
"Someone needed to get things going and then once that started, everyone caught on," Malito said. "We were very good at stringing hits together. So as a senior, I was very happy that I was able to step up and be a leader."
Beside the team's success, Malito is proud of the way that things came together.
"I'll remember the bond and the friendships that were made by bringing everyone together out of such a difficult situation with the closing of North," Malito said. "I'm sure that nobody really knew what to expect.
"But within the first week everyone was bonding really well and we kept that strong throughout the whole season. That's very hard to accomplish in three months and I'm very proud of us for that. And I'm very happy that I was able to make a new group of friends."