By Tom Haley
LUDLOW — Drivers complain about the roads this time of year in Vermont — those ribbons of asphalt that have been ravaged by the force of winter.
They are nothing compared to the road Black River High School senior softball pitcher Andrea Stevens has had to travel. Her avenue has been challenging in all seasons. She has suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury three times, each necessitating surgery. The first two were to her right knee, the third to her left.
Yet, there was Stevens on a recent March day, throwing with impressive velocity and control in the school’s gym as she prepared for the upcoming season.
The first ACL injury occurred in a summer soccer game going into her freshman year.
She was cleared to play in November of her sophomore year when she tore it again.
The third came in the second basketball game of her junior year. She pitched through it, opting to go under the knife after the softball season.
The low point of this journey was the second ACL. If there was ever a time where emotions boiled to the point of giving up, that would have been it.
“The second was the most frustrating, because it happened on my first day back pitching. I had just gotten through the rough part, all of the physical therapy,” Stevens said. “It was a miserable year.
“The third time seemed kind of routine. I thought, I got through the first two, I’ll get through it.”
She always had the carrot and it was softball — her favorite sport by far, her passion.
It began in the fourth grade. The coach wanted everyone to try pitching and she took to it. Her father Scott told her if she was serious about it, they would put the work into it.
Females are four to six times more likely to have ACL injuries than males. But three? Why?
“I have inverted feet and it makes my knees go in,” Stevens said.
The good news is that her chances of another are likely less, because they always came through contact with another athlete. Had the injuries happened while simply running alone, there would be more worry of another.
Stevens will pitch and be in the batting order, but coach Zoe Trimboli will pinch run for her.
The ball was making a loud thud as her left-handed serves hit the mitt last week. She had the speed back, and the control was there. It was great to see for Trimboli and Stevens’ teammates.
“I feel like I am 100 percent. It’s the best I have felt in the last four years,” Stevens said.
She has had a regimen of throwing over the winter, either in the high school gym or the community building. She threw once a week in January, twice a week in February, and then three times a week in March until formal practices began on March 19.
She has worked with pitching coaches including Bill Olney, a Black River graduate himself. Olney is a noted teacher of the art. He was the pitching coach at Dartmouth College and now serves in that capacity at Castleton University.
“He helped me with my change-up and my rise ball. He’s helped a lot,” Stevens said. “He says that if you perfect the rise ball, it can make you unhittable.”
The high point of her high school career came her sophomore year, when she pitched the Presidents past West Rutland in a semifinal upset.
Can she and the Presidents go a step beyond that and win the Division IV state title game, which will be played on Castleton’s campus?
That’s a hefty goal, but Trimboli is cautiously optimistic.
“I’ve learned never to underestimate Andrea,” Trimboli said. “She really has high expectations for herself.
“Think where she would be if she hadn’t had these setbacks.”
Stevens said she would love to pitch in college, probably in North Carolina. One she mentioned is Division I High Point.
There are more immediate goals, though. A new season brings hope.
“I’m super excited. We lost a lot of key players, but we have a lot of younger kids,” Stevens said.
Those younger players have a great model in Stevens, Trimboli said.
“With everything she has gone through, she is a prime example of putting in the hard work. Her work ethic is impeccable,” Trimboli said.
Stevens has made this difficult journey with her father. He loves the diamond anyway, and serves as the Vermont American Legion Baseball Commissioner.
“My dad deserves a lot of the credit,” Stevens said.
The anticipation for the season is clear as the Presidents go about their practice.
“We have a bunch of kids who really want to be here,” said Trimboli.
And nobody wants to be there more than Andrea Stevens. Nobody had to work harder to get there.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @RHSportsGuy