Surprise leader emerges from pack
T-Wolves catcher changes positions, drives LC softball team to success
If Jessica Ross had to pick someone to blow her horn, it wouldn’t be herself.
The Lake City High senior softball and basketball player doesn’t gravitate to the limelight.
“I’m not usually the one that’s recognized,” Ross said. “It doesn’t bother me at all. I’d rather be behind the scenes. It’s built my character a lot. If I were recognized, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Ross is a four-year letterman and three-year starter in softball. In basketball, she lettered two years and started this season.
She’s not the flashy athlete who stands out above the crowd, but rather the one who gets the job done and goes largely unnoticed – all for the benefit of the team, not herself.
“She’s more of the star by example and work ethic,” LC softball coach Laura Tolzmann said. “She’s just workmanlike in her approach. You appreciate her because kids like her don’t come around very often.”
First-year LC girls basketball coach Royce Johnston was struck by a preseason conversation he had with Ross.
“She told me before the season that she just wanted to do anything she needed to do to win,” Johnston said. “She was a great role model for the young girls on our team. She worked hard every practice. She never complained about a thing. She had a lot to do with our success down the stretch and at state (LC took fourth). She was never about ‘me’.”
Her most important contributions in basketball came in defense, rebounding, steals and assists. Her season high for points, 10, came at state.
In the District I All-Star game for seniors last month, Ross had a career high 20 points.
“Someone asked her the other day how the all-star game went and she said it was fun,” Johnston said. “She failed to tell them that she had 20 points.”
When the story was told to Tolzmann, she chuckled.
“That’s Jessica,” Tolzmann said.
It’s no surprise that Ross, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average, made a personal sacrifice this spring. About two weeks before preseason practices began, Tolzmann found out that the returning starter at catcher decided not to turn out. Tolzmann’s depth chart had a freshman who she wanted to develop as a backup but not throw into the varsity fire.
Tolzmann knew that Ross, a two-year starter in center field, had played a couple of games behind the plate on her summer team. So she jokingly asked Ross if she would be willing to try catcher.
Soon thereafter Tolzmann bought the left-handed throwing Ross a right-handed catcher’s glove.
“I figured she (Tolzmann) was serious about the idea then,” Ross said.
Tolzmann and Ross admits that it looks unorthodox to see her behind the plate. But Ross has taken to the change well.
“It just sort of came natural,” Ross said. “Everything in softball sort of comes naturally to me.”
“She could play any position,” Tolzmann said.
“I have played all the positions,” said Ross, who has signed to play at North Idaho College.
Ross considered pitching as a freshman. But there were a couple of talented pitchers on the team, including then-freshman Lela Work, so Ross decided to be an outfielder. She’s pitched for her summer team each year.
“She would have been a good pitcher for us,” Tolzmann said. “I think having been a pitcher helps her behind the plate. It’s helped make her a complete player. I wouldn’t hesitate putting her anywhere on the field.”
Work, the Inland Empire League’s player of the year last season, was more than a little concerned when she found out before the season she didn’t have a proven catcher to work with.
“I was a little nervous at first,” Work said. “But I have complete confidence in her. She’s the only one on the team that could do it. It’s different because she’s left handed. That’s not very common, but she’s done a really good job. I respect her a lot. She made a pretty big sacrifice.”
The biggest thing Ross had to get used to was adjusting to the different speeds of Work’s pitches. Ross has had few passed balls and has thrown out a couple of players trying to steal.
Being a catcher has forced Ross to be more of a vocal leader.
“She’s really stepped up in being a team leader,” Tolzmann said. “She was pretty reserved in the past. This year she has come out of her shell, vocally. She was always a leader in terms of work ethic. I’ve never seen her work less than 110 percent.”
While moving Ross to catcher filled a big hole, it created another vacancy.
“I think we suffer a little bit not having her in the outfield,” Tolzmann said. “Last year, I knew she’d get everything hit her way.”
Ross, who hits second in LC’s lineup, brought a team-leading .474 average into the week. She also leads the squad in stolen bases (seven) and doubles (five) through 11 games.
Ross and Work want to get LC back to state. The T-Wolves haven’t qualified for state since their freshman year.
That year, LC had to win a play-in game to earn a state berth. The T-Wolves trailed Borah 5-1 going into the bottom of the seventh, but they rallied to score five runs to win.
Tolzmann used Ross as a pinch hitter to lead off in the decisive inning, and Ross hit a home run. Work, the final hitter in the inning, capped the comeback with a two-run homer.
LC finished second at state, losing to rival Coeur d’Alene in the title game.
If LC makes it back to state, it’s no doubt Ross will be a big reason why.
“Whatever she can do to make the team better has always been her motto,” Tolzmann said.
You just won’t catch Ross tooting her own horn.
Reach staff writer Greg Lee by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (208) 765-7127.