The shy girl could no longer be shy. “Quiet” and “starting varsity catcher” go together about as well as an ensemble of plaid pants and a striped shirt does. A shy Ellie Head had to become an assertive, talkative Ellie Head from the first pitch of New Trier’s softball season until the final pitch last spring.
It is never easy, burying a personality trait and replacing it with the trait’s polar opposite on softball diamonds. But that is what Head, a 2016 graduate, did while playing catcher and emerging as one of the Trevians’ top hitters.
“A whole new role,” Head, a designated hitter/designated player two springs ago, says. “I had to speak up, talk loudly, keep our infielders’ energy up. I had to communicate constantly with our pitchers to make sure those relationships were good. Had I not done that, they would not have trusted me. Being named a captain … that built my confidence.
“The season was a good growing period for me.”
Head’s offensive numbers in the 2016 season mirrored her voluble demeanor in uniform. Head’s bat made a lot of noise, turned a lot of heads. Batting No. 3 or No. 4 in the batting order for the entire spring, Head led a 16-17-1 team (8-2 in the Central Suburban League South) in RBIs (29), batted .358, hit six doubles and a pair of homers and finished with a .903 OPS. Her fielding percentage was a steady .988.
“Ellie’s hallmark was her willingness to work hard in order to develop as a hitter and as a catcher,” New Trier softball coach John Cadwell says of the all-CSL South pick. “She did a nice job handling our pitchers, and she continued to grow as a hitter. Consistently one of our top performers. We had expected her to make a difference for us, and she did. She was a tough out at the plate. She was a tough, gritty player on defense.”
New Trier edged visiting Loyola Academy 5-4 on May 16, Head driving in all of the Trevs’ runs, two via a homer. Not long after the game, still in her uniform, Head called up a former Loyola Academy softball player to report the final score and mention a few of NT’s highlights. The recipient of the call was Maddie Head, Ellie’s big sister, now 21 years old. Maddie caught and played first base for Ramblers teams.
“I watched my sister play, “Ellie says, “and then I got into it. I started playing in [the Trevians Girls Softball Association] and started to think, ‘I can do this.’ I fell in love with the sport. In high school I found my position, catcher, and I eventually felt comfortable playing it.”
She did not play behind the plate in any of New Trier’s postseason games in ’15, her junior year and her first varsity season. Head, though, received plenty of compliments for her clutch at-bats in playoff wins against Zion-Benton and Warren Township. She ripped two big hits against host Zion-Benton, both warping the fence in right field in a Class 3A regional final. Her team down by a run late against Warren in a Glenbrook South sectional semifinal three days later, Head knocked in the game-tying run in game NT would win 3-2. The victory avenged a nine-inning, 3-2 playoff loss in ’14 and improved NT’s record to 20-13.
Stevenson eliminated NT in the sectional final.
“Key hits,” Cadwell recalls. “Ellie propelled us in those playoff wins. She was undaunted. I remember how well she handled those challenging situations.”
The hits kept coming last spring, 34 in all, ranking Head third among teammates. Her on-base percentage was a leadoff-esque .419. She connected for a homer in a win against Waukegan High School, on April 29 — her 18th birthday. The one who provided firepower with a bat blew out candles on a cake later that day.
“If she fell behind in the count, she remained calm and confident,” Trevians second baseman Gillian Gossard, a senior-to-be, says. “One of our best hitters. Great leader, great captain, the one who’d tell us, ‘We need to work together.’ She loved giving pre-game talks; they got us going. She also reminded us during games, when we needed to hear it, ‘We’re a very good team.’ ”
Head’s softball team next spring will have five ex-Trevians on it. Five. Head heads to Denison University in Granville, Ohio, later this month, home of the Big Red and the school where NT graduates Ryan Lee (infielder), Laura Bagan (outfielder), Amanda Howell (infielder/outfielder) and Lauren Secaras (infielder/pitcher) play Division III softball. DU finished 22-16 last spring. Lee will be a senior, Secaras a junior. Bagan and Howell will be sophomores.
“Maybe we’ll have to call that school, ‘New Trier East’ … make that, ‘New Trier Farther East,’ ” Cadwell cracks.
Head and her family moved east of Ohio after New Trier’s graduation ceremony in the spring. The Heads, formerly of Northfield, now live in Richmond, Virginia. Ellie met a family in her new neighborhood this summer and learned three of its members had attended Denison.
“The softball coaches there are phenomenal,” says Head, assigned to room with another softball recruit, an outfielder from Georgia. “They’re there to help you, and not just in softball; they’re also there for you academically. They want their players to be well-rounded.
“It’ll be nice, knowing so many of my teammates before my first softball practice. I know many of [the ex-Trevians’] siblings, too. There’s a sense of comfort in that.”
In mid-August, Head was slated to go for her scuba diving certification. The other members of the Head family are certified to dive. The Head family had been primarily a ski family until Ellie’s mother, Roxanne, put on the scuba gear and espoused the wonders of the activity to her loved ones years ago. Their favorite dive site is off the coast of Mexico.
“The first time I tried it, I panicked,” Ellie recalls. “I now enjoy doing it. It’s why I’m interested in marine biology.
“I love watching the turtles swim effortlessly, seeing their shells, their green-and-brown coating,” adds the one who shed her shy shell to lead a squad of athletes, clad in green-and-blue-and-gray uniforms. “It’s beautiful underwater, so cool.”