Junior Melissa Stahnke
"I see she brought her spudgun with her to high school," remarked one of Melissa Stahnke's summer league assistant coaches. The coach used to compare Stahnke's powerful bat to a spudgun rocket launcher, which sends potatoes flying 200 feet.
During her high school career, she ranked first in hitting, RBI, walks, and home runs, earning her the team MVP status four years in a row. She was also the Southwest Washington League Player of the Year in 1999 and 2000.
Why a spudgun, you ask? Raised in Ridgefield, Washington, Stahnke played softball for the Ridgefield High School Spuds, a small 2A ranked school with a student population of about 600. When coaches from larger, higher-ranked schools approached her with opportunities to play for them, Stahnke said no. "She was always proud to be a Spudder," recalls her father, Dan.
But her record as a Spud, and her performance during summer Amateur Softball Association (ASA) league play, brought her to the attention of Mona Stevens, University of Utah's head softball coach when Stahnke was just 16 years old. "Melissa is one of the best hitters I've ever coached and the most prolific hitter Utah has ever had," said Stevens. Stahnke currently ranks as Utah's career home run leader with 38, and has a batting average of .329 over her first two years with the Utes to go with 113 RBI.
Stahnke's powerful hitting ability throughout her softball career has led her to believe she carries an added responsibility for any team on which she plays. Because of this self-imposed perception, she hates to disappoint others, teammates and coaches alike, and her sensitivity can be quite apparent. Case in point, during a night game against Florida State, Stahnke missed a signal from Coach Stevens, who then expressed her frustration by kicking the dirt and yelling, "Stahnke! Stahnke!" Clearly upset about missing the sign, Stahnke began to cry, but cracked the ball out of the park on the next pitch, which created a two-run homer. She ran the bases and continued into home plate, crying all the way. "That's the first time I ever saw a player crying after a two-run homer before," Stevens said.
This is only one example of what her father claims is Stahnke's innate desire to see things through. "She's a finisher. She sees the play, acts on it, and finishes it. She gets things done. She doesn't like to talk about what should be done, but simply puts it into action." Another example of this characteristic was evident when, at age 14 or 15, Stahnke was playing second base during a game in Colorado and a player from the opposing team slid into her, breaking her right thumb. This injury made it impossible for the hitter to hold or swing the bat with her right hand. But that didn't stop Stahnke. She hefted the bat onto her left shoulder and nailed the ball six out of her next six at-bats.
Why does Stahnke work so hard? It could be from what she learned from ASA coach Randy Verbout, who taught her to "play hard for seven." Dan Stahnke explained this philosophy as, "Never let down, play hard during all innings, have fun, and don't go crazy. Play hard for seven." And as her record shows, Melissa Stahnke does.