At Long Reach High School, softball coach Chuck Struhar said "a coach could go an entire career without finding another player" like senior catcher Michelle Gravdahl.
"She's the hardest working athlete I've ever coached," said Struhar, who has been coaching for more than 20 years. "She's maybe the best defensive catcher I've seen. Everything she does is right. She does the things you see and don't see. She's fast, runs well, slides inside and outside. She knows how to play the game."
Gravdahl, 17, leads the Lightning in hitting (.429), doubles (4), triples (2), home runs (1) and stolen bases (12).
Used to hitting in the No. 3 spot in the batting order, Struhar moved her up to lead-off and has been pleased with the results.
"She was the one getting all the RBIs," said the coach. "But I needed her on base more. Now she's leading the team with stolen bases, and the girls batting behind her are seeing better pitches and they're driving in more runs."
Struhar says the 5-foot-8, 150-pound three-sport athlete (she also plays basketball and golf) could play any position on the softball field equally well.
Gravdahl is a member of the National Honor Society and school yearbook staff. She has a 3.76 grade point average and plans to attend Salisbury University next year to pursue a nursing career.
When did you start playing softball?
"When I was nine. I had played baseball for as long as I can remember, but at nine being a girl playing with the boys started to change. I was growing up. So I went to softball. I had been a pitcher, but decided to try something new when I switched and chose catching."
That's a very difficult position, isn't it?
"Oh, yeah. You're blocking balls, getting lost of bruises, lots of cuts. You get dirty. But it keeps me focused. You get the ball on every pitch. When I first started catching, I think I liked it just because it was fun. Now it's a little different."
"You have to be dedicated to the game. You know you might get hurt, but blocking the ball could make the difference in a game. I have bruises and scars all over. My knees have taken it especially hard - plus they creak and stuff from all the use. But I like being in an important position on the team. I like that there is a lot of action, plus you pretty much run the game. You call the pitches and make a big difference. That's what I like."
Was it disappointing to you when your coach told you he wanted you to move in the batting order to lead-off?
"At first I was a little - I wasn't very excited about it. My whole softball career I've batted third or fourth. I always thought lead-off was for small, quick people. I just thought it was for players who were different from me. But then I realized I could help my team. Getting on base is a big deal because we need someone to start us off. And as long as I score, it's all the same. It's all good."
When you were a freshman your team won the county championship. How different is it for you comparing this season's team with the championship team?
"It's still fun because it is softball. Winning is more fun. But the most important thing is the people you surround yourself with. When you're playing with good friends, it doesn't matter how great or not great you are, you still enjoy the game."
Did you set goals for this year?
"Yes. I wanted to do well in sports, as well as get good grades. I wanted to get into college and be well prepared for next year. I want to play well this summer on my travel team, The Maryland Chill, and I want to go to the beach. I love the beach and playing any kind of ball on the beach. I love summer."
games to watch
Wilde Lake at Atholton:
WHEN: Monday, 4:15 p.m.
OUTLOOK: After back-to-back double-digit shutout losses to Hammond (10-0) and Marriotts Ridge (11-0), Atholoton appears to have righted itself with three straight wins and a chance to clinch second place in the Howard County League. Against Wilde Lake, Atholton faces a team that is eager to end its season on a positive note after three losses dropped its record to 8-8. The Wilde Cats would also like to avenge a loss to the Raiders earlier in the season.
THE SUN'S PICK: Atholton
No. 5 Spalding at No. 8 Hammond:
WHEN: Wednesday, 3:30
OUTLOOK: This game is an ideal primer with two of the area's top pitchers doing battle. The defending Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference champ Cavaliers lean on first-team All-Metro pitcher Elaine Nescio and a strong defense behind her. The host Golden Bears have three-time All-Metro pitcher Stephanie Speierman, who has thrown six no-hitters this season and tossed a perfect game in the Class 2A state title game as a sophomore. Runs will be hard to come by, and execution will be a must.
THE BALTIMORE SUN'S PICK: Spalding