RCTC's Stanger has made a statement
Don't let that hair fool you.
Don't let that hair fool you.
Christina Stanger might have foo-foo locks, which rise up in a kind of big blonde nest at the top of her head. But there is nothing foo-foo about her game.
Rochester Community and Technical College softball coach Niki Peterson found this out in a hurry. This was two falls ago, when Stanger walked on to the Yellowjackets team.
"When I first saw her, it was almost like I saw prom hair coming at me," Peterson said. "She wears it in a big poof, with it teased up higher than I've ever seen."
It took all of one swing of the bat for Peterson to realize that Stanger is a whole lot more "ball player" than "fashion statement."
"In our second day of practice, (Stanger) hit a home run that must have traveled 250 feet," Peterson said. "It cleared the fence and ended up in swamp.
"After that, I just said to myself, 'She can wear her hair any way she wants.' "
Stanger wasn't a softball unknown in these parts. It's just that her game had gone into hibernation for two years. After graduating from Stewartville, she fulfilled her training as a member of the Air National Guard and worked toward her licensed practical nursing degree at Southeast Technical College in Winona.
Once the latter was in hand, it was on to RCTC to pursue a registered nursing degree.
Turns out that there was also one more thing to pursue.
"After high school, I really didn't think I'd ever be playing softball again," said Stanger, who'd fallen for the sport at Stewartville, where she was a three-time all-Hiawatha Valley League outfielder.
"But when I saw an opportunity (at RCTC) to play, I just told myself that I might as well go for it. And I'm so glad I did, because I'd missed it so much."
Stanger has gone from satisfying that craving the last two years at RCTC, to now being on the verge of missing her beloved game all over again.
But she doesn't want to think about that. Instead she wants her RCTC team to just keep winning, so she can put off her impending fastpitch softball retirement.
RCTC is playing in the Region 13 tournament beginning today in St. Cloud — and if things go to Stanger's liking — will finish in the championship game Saturday.
Win that title, and more games are coming May 19-21, in the NJCAA Division III national tournament in Rochester.
RCTC finished one win from nationals last year when Stanger was outstanding, batting .419 with eight home runs and being named All-American. But Stanger — and maybe her No. 6-ranked team, too — is even better now.
Stanger wasn't about to let the former be up to chance. The Yellowjackets sophomore is the hardest worker that Peterson has ever witnessed. That starts in the fall, when she literally sprints from one workout station to the next during team workouts, continues through winter with her weight lifting and conditioning, and then has stayed full throttle all of this season.
It's helped her bat .414 with nine home runs, 10 doubles and 45 RBIs for 31-15 RCTC.
"Christina is always going 100 mph," Peterson said. "Even in drills where she could jog, she sprints. And she tells the other girls to hustle up. Our other players look up to her big time."
Stanger, who at 23 is many as four years older than some teammates, is just glad to be around all of them. She's doing what she cherishes most, playing winning softball with people she enjoys. It's been a heck of a way to go out.