Northwestern head softball coach Bryan Smith remembers a day back in 2011 when his team was playing in a tournament at Myrtle Beach. Things were not going well in one particular game, so bad that even star pitcher Kori Wancheck was replaced after control problems.
“After the game we - the whole team - practiced at that field,” Smith recalled. “I wasn’t happy and the team wasn’t happy because they wanted to enjoy the beach. Later on (after practice), I looked down the beach and saw Kori throwing with her mom.”
Wancheck, an eighth grader at the time, said, “Since I had such a bad game I, and my mom, went down four or five hotels to get away and practice my pitching. And then I see both coaches (Smith and assistant Morris Dickson) walking and they see us.”
Although that event may have been somewhat embarrassing for Wancheck it magnifies the work ethic and desire that the junior has possessed for her entire career at Northwestern. It’s those traits that have made Wancheck the most dominant pitcher in the region and one of the best in the state.
“She is an extremely hard worker and sometimes I have to tell her to back off and rest some,” said Smith. “She does whatever we coaches ask and whatever the team needs. She has a great work ethic and her mental approach has improved this year. She is playing at another level.”
Recent statistics bear out what Smith said. Through April 14, Wancheck has an unblemished 14-0 pitching record, 172 strikeouts and just 53 hits surrendered in 94 innings of action in the circle. She has double-digit strikeouts in 13 out of 14 games this season, including 13 K’s in a five-inning win over McBee March 5, 15 in a nine-inning win over Nation Ford March 20, 15 against York on March 27 and a season-high of 18 in a win over South Pointe on April 1.
Included in those outings are three one-hitters and a no-hitter against South Pointe on March 11, a game in which Wancheck also collected four hits - including a home run - and five RBI. Currently at the plate she has an overall .435 batting average in 14 games that includes 20 hits, three home runs, and 16 runs batted in.
Wancheck has been playing high school softball at the varsity level for the Trojans since seventh grade. Every year, the stats have jumped. As a freshman, the righthander pitched 102.67 innings, finishing with 10 wins and an overall ERA of 2.59., while batting .453. As a sophomore, she cranked out a .729 slugging percentage that included five homers and 26 RBI in 23 games. She also threw 143 innings over 23 games with a 2.15 ERA.
A diligent training and recuperation regimen has helped her throw more than 400 innings already in her career. Family support has also been very beneficial to Wancheck’s game.
“It has meant a lot,” she said. “When I was little my mom (Lisa) played softball (also at Northwestern) and I have always liked softball the best. She never misses a game. Even when you do bad they are very encouraging when you get back home.”
There’s even family on the softball diamond a few feet away at shortstop - younger sister Cassie.
“She is always cheering,” Kori said. “I hear her behind me after every pitch. I love playing with my sister.”
“We lift each other up,” said Cassie, a freshman. “The whole team is working very hard. We hope to make it farther than last year.”
Echoing her daughter’s comments, Lisa added, “The team and coaches have built a great bond this year. Kori knows they have her back. She is a a self-driven hard worker at everything she does.”
And dad Chuck, who can often be found standing off in the background at games, says there is no undue pressure at home for both Kori and Cassie to excel on the softball field; only that they give 100 percent.
“As long as they love the game I want them to play,” he said.
Wancheck’s athletic talent on the softball field is well documented within the Northwestern family but has certainly not gone unrecognized by other Region 3-AAAA coaches. Nation Ford head coach Michael Kidd, who has seen his team drop two hard fought 1-0 contests to the Trojans this season, said, “We work a game plan around how to handle Kori. She is a true competitor and what makes her dangerous is she has the talent to back up that competitiveness.”
Clover head coach Shea Hall’s team is the defending region champs, but they trail Northwestern by two games after the Trojans, led by Wancheck, won both of this spring’s regular season meetings.
“Kori’s a great player. She can beat you at the plate, and certainly can beat you on the mound,” said Hall. “She deserves the recognition of being one of the top players in the state.”
Wancheck is verbally committed to USC-Upstate, ranked 24th in the country this week, and plans to pursue a career in nursing. She is quick to point out that the team’s success reaches beyond just her prowess as a pitcher, just as any nurse would defer credit.
“It’s not about how well I pitch,” she said. “We wouldn’t win unless we hit the ball. We play as a team and we always pull for each other.”
Wancheck’s softball performances may look as effortless as an afternoon on the beach. But anyone that plays with or against her, knows the sometimes-sandy hard work that’s shaped her game.
“I know most people see Kori’s talent, but what they don’t know is how hard that kid worked to get there,” said Kidd. “It is paying off for her now and, even as an opposing coach, I’m proud of her. I have known her for many years and even coached her some when she was younger. She is, in my opinion, one of the best players in the state.”