While in high school, Katie Saluga, former Champion softball player, had one wild ride. As a freshman, she started at catcher and helped her team get to the final game of the state tournament.
"It was the best game of my life," Saluga said. "It was so cool to see all of the people in the stadium."
Now as her collegiate career has come to a close, she has been given one more memory to end this chapter of her life.
On Thursday, Saluga was named the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference's West Player of the Year as the starting catcher for Slippery Rock University.
"I was actually very shocked,"?Saluga said. "I?worked very hard, and I?knew I?had a good year, but I didn't expect that at all. Honestly, I?thought I'd get some sort of honor, but I?never thought I'd get Player of the Year."?
The honor is the perfect, and fitting, way to close the 2009 Champion graduate's softball career.
Katie Saluga, Slippery Rock
Alma Mater: Champion, 2009
Major: Sports Management
The skinny:?First on the team in batting average, home runs, and RBIs... Hit .434 for the season with 56 hits in 129 at bats... Earned PSAC Athlete of the Week twice.
At Champion, Saluga lettered four times in softball and three times in soccer. In her senior year for softball, she earned all-league, all-district and all-state honors. She took her team to the district finals as a senior. She made her presence on the field known by hitting on target ending her final season with 42 hits, eight homeruns and 35 RBIs. By the end, she accumulated a batting average of .467 and a slugging percentage of .844.
"I made varsity as a freshman actually starting and playing," Saluga said. "Then was when I realized that I probably could play in college but I didn't honestly know that I wanted to play until I started to get offers. I just knew that I didn't want it to end."
Her love for the game hits close to home.
"I owe everything to my father," Saluga said. "He taught me everything I know. He taught me how to play, how to mature with the game, and how to hit with different pitchers. My batting coach, Dave Flickinger, also has helped me a lot."
After attending West Liberty University for her first year of college, she decided that she wanted to attend Slippery Rock University.
"I got a call and visited the school," Saluga said. "I just took a chance and went there. At Slippery Rock, they needed a catcher so I went for it."
Her coach, Becky Sciacca, worked with Saluga throughout her career, but began as her head coach in Saluga's junior year.
"She came here sophomore year and was recruited by coach Johnson," Sciacca said. "I was the assistant coach her sophomore year. I was in charge of pitchers, so I was with her a lot the last three years."
Saluga had great things to say about the program.
"It was an honor to play in this program," Saluga said. "It's a great school for Division II and highly respected. I'm so glad I started and played there. The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference definitely has the best Division II competition around here. Some of the girls in this league could play Division I if they really wanted to and that made the games harder. I am glad I made the switch because I think that it is more at my level."
Saluga has a batting average of .434 and started in every inning of her senior year. She also has the most at-bats of the team with 129. Saluga is second on the roster with 25 runs. She leads the team blasting out 56 hits, 12 doubles, and nine homeruns with a slugging percentage of .736. Out of the starters, she has the highest fielding percentage with .985. She also was named PSAC player of the week two times this season. The team was 16-20 overall and 6-10 on the PSAC.
"I think I have gained more knowledge and maturity of the game while playing in college," Saluga said. "I learned a lot like how to adapt to different pitchers because in high school everyone pitched about the same. I think I learned how to play the game a lot better."
Saluga and Sciacca are very aware of her role on the team.
"I feel like I am an asset to my team because in pressure situations I am the one that everyone looks up to make things happen," Saluga said. "My team and coaches could depend on me."
"She is a leader," Sciacca said. "All of the girls look up to her. She has started every inning of every game catching and has gained a lot of respect. We have played 36 games this year and she has never complained once because she wanted to play every single inning. Her confidence, attitude and knowledge of the game gave us an edge. It's hard to find players like that. She has great dedication. We have six pitchers and all six pitchers wanted her to catch for them during the day and she would set up time slots with all of them every time they asked. She just loves the game. I wish I had nine of her on the field. It's going to be hard to replace her."
Saluga was a great leader and confidant to her teammates.
"Sometimes when the girls don't want to ask us coaches for help, especially with batting, they will go to Katie with questions instead because they feel more comfortable asking her," Sciacca said. "It makes Katie a better player. She's going to make a great coach one day."
Saluga has one more year left of school and plans on helping out with next year's team.
"I will absolutely be a part of next year's team and I do want to coach one day and I feel like I have the opportunity here to learn to be a great coach," Saluga said.
And while her playing days might be over, going out on the high note she did was the perfect way Saluga said to end her career.
"I?would have been content leading my team,"?Saluga said. "Earning Player of the Year, that's more than I could have ever asked for. I couldn't imagine ending my career any other way."?