Replacing a player with Michelle Honek's athletic ability, leadership and mental toughness will be close to impossible.
The Staples-Motley Cardinals basketball and volleyball programs have the daunting task of replacing her next year.
The Cardinals' softball team won the Section 6, Class 2A championship Thursday. The day when Honek's name won't be on the lineup card will happen, however.
"I think it's going to be extremely difficult to replace Michelle," said Cardinals softball coach Bruce Onischuk. "We'll have someone who can throw the ball well, but replacing her mental toughness, that's just so tough."
In the section semifinal victory over Foley, S-M's cleanup hitter was 2-for-4 with one RBI. The starting pitcher also earned the win by striking out seven, walking one and allowing four hits and no earned runs.
The senior struck out 11 and allowed three hits and one run in a 3-1 victory over Long Prairie-Grey Eagle in the Subsection 19 final May 28.
"I had a chance to talk to Bret Sergent, the Pequot Lakes head coach, and he described her perfectly by saying she was a warrior," said Onischuk. "She's so mentally tough. She doesn't rattle very easily, if at all."
The four-year varsity starter incorporates a drop pitch, natural curveball and an excellent changeup to get batters out. Onischuk said she moves the ball around and uses the corners.
In a 1-0 subsection semifinal victory over St. Cloud Cathedral, Honek struck out six and allowed just four hits.
Until that game, she had a 0.71 ERA with 138 strikeouts through 338 batters faced and had given up only 12 walks.
"The girls know she's going to come through," Onischuk said. "I really believe they have a lot of confidence in her. It's hard for them, though, especially the outfielders. Every once in a while a ball does get to the outfield. They may see one or two balls a game but not many. It's a little tough to stay focused."
Honek hits fourth in the 24-3 S-M lineup. The Cardinals' coach said she can hit with power and to all fields. He also said she's a capable bunter, but because she hits the ball well he rarely has her bunt.
The key to Honek is her intelligence.
"She's real smart when it comes to remembering what hitters have done before," said Onischuk. "She knows where to put the ball. She's very cognizant of the strike zone.
"Against Foley, she faced their No. 4 hitter in the bottom of the sixth and she wasn't giving her anything good to hit. After the inning she walked off and we talked and she said to me, 'I figured if I walked her, that would leave their No. 5 hitter at the plate. Then we would have their sixth, seventh and eighth hitters up in the seventh.'
"She kind of laughed it off, but I really believe she was thinking enough in advance to think that."
Other notable performances:
Golf -- Kate Gaffney, Crosby-Ironton, advanced to her second state tournament by finishing second at the Section 7, Class 1A tournament.
Kim Larson, Pequot Lakes, won the Subsection 6, Class 1A title with a 84. She also helped the Patriots to their third state appearance.
Megan Sorenson, Wadena-Deer Creek, advanced to her first state appearance by shooting a 90 at the Section 6, Class 1A tournament.
Softball -- Chelsa Beaver, Verndale, was 4-for-5 with a double and four RBI against Sebeka.
Track and field -- Kim Beaman, C-I, won the 800-meter run at the Section 5 meet to advance to state.
Laura Pace, Pillager, won the 100- and 300-meter hurdles and the triple jump at the Section 6, Class 1A meet.
Brittany Brenny, S-M, won the 1600 run at the Section 6, Class 1A meet.
Britta Binek, S-M, won the pole vault at the Section 6, Class 1A meet.
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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