Softball Area Player of the Year: Elizabeth Everingham
ST. JOSEPH — First there was Pele. Then Ronaldo.
There was Cher. Then Madonna.
For decades, stars in the athletic and entertainment industries have been recognized by a single name.
Baseball fans can identify "Babe" without a pause.
This spring, the area's premier high school softball player was known by a condensed form of her given name.
It's just a letter: E.
Perhaps this came about because there are nine letters in her first name and 10 in her last name. Between the two names, 13 letters of the alphabet are covered, including traditional scrabble-breakers 'V' and 'Z.'
Appropriately, her single-letter moniker is fitting for either her first or her last name.
To those not associated with the St. Joseph-Ogden program, it's Elizabeth Everingham. To her teammates and coaches, 'E' is sufficient.
'E' for excellence
SJ-O coach Randy Wolken knew about 'E' long before she first donned a Spartans uniform.
"She came to our pitching lessons in Ogden in sixth grade," Wolken said, "and was in the advanced group. Her change-up as a sixth-grader was ahead of most high school seniors."
Even at a young age, however, 'E' was not a one-dimensional player.
"We saw her play summer after summer," Wolken said. "Bob Biehl (SJ-O assistant) said she could be All-Area just as a hitter."
When area softballers were evaluated this spring, the choice as No. 1 player was as simple as looking at the alphabet's fifth letter: E.
Grade A player
No one else could match what Elizabeth Everingham — 'E' — did on the softball diamond in 2011. She was the winning pitcher in 21 games for a Class 2A squad that spent a large chunk of the season ranked No. 1 in the state.
A power hitter-deluxe, she crashed an area — and state — record 19 home runs while pounding 47 of her 67 hits for extra bases.
Pitching and hitting were only two parts of her story.
"Along with (All-Area first baseman) Abby Immke, she's one of our best defensive players," Wolken said. "A lot of times, 'E' covers bunts by herself.
Her third year at St. Joseph-Ogden was an ultra-successful one. Much more so than her first season.
As a freshman, the transfer from Georgetown-Ridge Farm was poised to make an immediate impact.
"I broke my hand in the third game of my high school career," 'E' said.
She also broke character upon learning the news.
"I cried when the doctor told me it was broke," she said, "and I never cry."
When given the green light to return, she was ready to go.
"After I got my cast off, my mom ripped out and re-worked an old glove of mine so I could fit my hand in it with a brace on to be able to get back on the field. I just wanted to play."
In the 2009 season, she pitched in nine games for SJ-O. The future Player of the Year had played so little she only warranted a spot on the All-Area honorable mention list.
Facing the best
Everingham is the best candidate to answer one of life's mystery questions: How would she pitch to the batter known as 'E?'
The right-hander starts with a disclaimer.
"I'm glad I don't have to pitch to myself," she said. "If I had to, I would probably start off with a rise, then keep it outside, maybe throw a change."
Batting against the pitcher known as 'E' would not require a transition.
"If I was batting against myself, I wouldn't change anything," 'E' said. "That's been the key all year for me; to relax, go up to the plate and don't think."
It's a challenge she would welcome, but only on a limited basis.
"I would like to face myself hitting and pitching just to see where I stand," 'E' said. "It'd be fun. I've always wondered what it would be like, but I would only want to do it once."
Wolken knows what it's like to throw to 'E.' He has frequently pitched batting practice and takes a hit.
"I'd pitch (her) 10 balls, and six would be out of the park," Wolken said.
A true home field
A two-sport standout — 'E' also starts in basketball — softball is a sport she literally grew up playing.
Some youngsters grow up with swing sets, sand boxes or trampolines in their back yards. 'E' had a bigger play area.
"Growing up with a softball field and batting cage in my backyard helped," 'E' said. "I'm always out there hitting with my dad.
"I've had to practice a lot to get where I am today. I owe a lot to my parents for pushing me, especially my dad. He's always putting a ball on the tee, throwing to me and catching me. You have to work year-round to get better."
The thought to transfer from G-RF — where sister Rachael graduated — wasn't made on a whim or without agonizing hours of thought.
"I've been playing softball since I was about 6 years old," 'E' said. "I started thinking about moving to St. Joe my eighth-grade year.
"I wanted to be able to have opportunities to go places and St. Joe gave me better opportunities, in the classroom and on the field. I am taking college courses and receiving credit for them, and am in accelerated classes."
Leaving what was known and familiar, however, wasn't done without trepidation.
"The idea to start at a new school was scary, but kind of cool at the same time," 'E' said. "It was tough to decide."
The hardest parts, she said, were "leaving my friends, not seeing my dad and brother. And, I miss my house."
Decision time nears
As for the future, 'E' has choices. She hopes not only to narrow down college choices, but also to make a decision by summer's end.
South Florida has shown an interest. So have St. Louis, Ball State and Loyola, among others. Illinois coaches have watched her play.
"What I picture her at the next level is as a third baseman," Wolken said. "She'll hit college pitching."
She remembers the initial recruiting letter she received.
"Bradley was the first to contact me, when I was a sophomore," 'E' said. "It was pretty exciting to be going through the process, but now, when I have to make a decision, it's a lot more nerve-racking. It can be stressful."
Better days ahead?
Wolken decided the most memorable moment for him watching 'E' play this spring was an estimated 245-foot home run she hit — "into the wind," Wolken said — against Shelbyville's Grace Moll, who wound up pitching her team to the Class 2A state championship game.
"She had a second hit that was a double on the fence," Wolken said.
For all 'E's' achievements and accomplishments, Wolken offered a prediction that won't be pleasing to future SJ-O opponents.
"As good as she pitched, she can still get a little better," Wolken said. "We're working on some things. We want to change the form on her drop ball."
Before long, there could be a new reason to refer to Everingham as 'E,' for her effort.