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With sister’s support, Andrean’s Gracie Wardingley tackles challenge of position changes: ‘No questions asked’

In this moment, Andrean’s Gracie Wardingley is in one spot.

But that’s a rarity for the senior utility player who has spent her softball career bouncing around the diamond.

“One time, someone needed me to play somewhere, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can try it,’” Wardingley said. “Then I played there — and then they needed me somewhere else.

“I started at catcher. Then I started playing third, alternated those, and then I moved to outfield as I’ve gotten older.”

Wardingley’s position could be described as “every one of them except pitcher,” providing a unique versatility for a team looking to build off its success last season, when Andrean (7-1) was the Class 2A state runner-up.

Wardingley entered this week hitting .357, the same average she had at the end of last season while finishing second on the team in both RBIs with 26 and home runs with three. She hit .333 as a freshman and .341 as a sophomore while handling just about any position on the field.

First-year coach Miranda Elish said Wardingley’s versatility doesn’t mean her performance is substandard in any of those spots.

“I’m always confident that Gracie will fill in an open position like she’s played there her whole career,” Elish said. “If we ask her to learn a different position, she learns it, no questions asked. She masters her skills, and it’s pretty awesome for someone her age to do that.”

Andrean's Gracie Wardingley, on right, and Elizabeth Voliva celebrate after two runs were scored against Illiana Christian in the class 2A Illiana Christian Sectional championship game on Friday, May 26, 2023. (Kyle Telechan for the Post-Tribune)
Andrean’s Libby Voliva, left, and Gracie Wardingley celebrate after two runners scored against Illiana Christian during the Class 2A Illiana Christian Sectional championship game in Dyer on Friday, May 26, 2023. (Kyle Telechan / Post-Tribune)

Wardingley will be occupying the left side of the 59ers’ defense for the most part this season, playing some combination of left field, third base and shortstop. Her primary focus in the offseason was adding a similarly versatile dimension to her approach at the plate even though she has been one of Andrean’s top hitters for multiple seasons.

“I’m still hitting the ball well,” Wardingley said. “But I need to work on hitting it to the right side of the field more, going to the opposite field instead of always pulling the ball.”

Despite all the changes, softball has been one of the few constants in Wardingley’s life. She moved among multiple Chicago suburbs as a kid and then briefly lived in Ohio before relocating to Indiana before she started high school. Throughout that time, softball activities were a staple for her. Once Wardingley started playing in organized leagues, her sister Madison, who has cerebral palsy, became a fixture in the crowd.

“She’s always been my biggest supporter,” Wardingley said. “She’s always pushed me to be better, always pushed me to keep moving forward. She wasn’t able to play, but she’s still always been there, and that’s made me want to play better and harder for her.”

Andrean's Grace Wardingley throws the ball to the infield during the Class 2A state championship game against North Posey on Friday, June 9, 2023 in West Lafayette. (Michael Gard / Post-Tribune)
Andrean’s Gracie Wardingley throws the ball to the infield during the Class 2A state championship game against North Posey in West Lafayette on Friday, June 9, 2023. (Michael Gard / Post-Tribune)

Madison Wardingley, who is two years older than Gracie, said she enjoys watching her younger sister flourish on the field.

“She makes me really proud,” Madison Wardingley said. “It makes me so happy to see her doing what she loves. I’m always pushing her to do more. Even in those times when she doesn’t think she can do something, I’ll tell her that she can do whatever she puts her mind to.”

This season, Gracie Wardingley is putting her mind to helping Andrean, which didn’t lose a single starter to graduation, make another deep postseason run.

“We’ve improved on a lot of things we needed,” she said. “And we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We’re kind of relaxed. We know what we’re getting into. We know we have a target on our backs. But we’re ready for anything that’s going to be thrown at us.”

Dave Melton is a freelance reporter.

Dave Melton , 2024-04-02 17:30:32

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