Marissa Panko does a little bit of everything for Northwestern
Every team needs a utility player. Someone to do whatever it takes. Someone to do the dirty work. For the Northwestern University (NU) softball team, Marissa Panko is that player.
"Utility player is the best way to describe Marissa," Doug Meffley, Northwestern's director of digital and social communications, told the DuPage Policy Journal.
Panko, a sophomore from Naperville, Illinois, did a little of everything for this year's Wildcats squad, starting games at third base and occasionally platooning in the outfield. Her versatility helped NU through some rough patches earlier in the season.
"We primarily use her at third base," Meffley said. "We had an opening there this year, and we have a freshman there that's very talented that we actually like at shortstop for us next year. But while she was getting acclimated to the college game, Marissa filled in as a starter at third base for a number of our early games."
The former three-time ICS All-state award winner and Defensive Player of the Year in high school at Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois also used nimble feet and a high game IQ to make a mark on the base paths. The Wildcats frequently used her as a pinch runner, where she's helped the team with her intelligent play.
"She's not as fast like (Wildcats leadoff hitter) Sabrina Rabin," Meffley said, "but she's a smart baserunner and she's quick."
Panko's multi-faceted skill set also has her pegged as a big part of NU's future as they look to rebound after a somewhat disappointing 27-28 finish. The Wildcats did play the 16th-hardest schedule in the NCAA this year, but for a program that's rich in a winning tradition, they'll be expecting to improve next year. The team will be looking to Panko to not only continue her utility and pinch-running roles, but to contribute at the plate as well.
"Marissa can do it all, Meffley said. "She's a left-handed batter, she can slap, she can hit for power, gap-to-gap, but she hasn't had enough at-bats to get going in college. As she gets more regular time, you're going to see her numbers go way up."
With the type of confidence that the team has in her all-around abilities, it's easy to see why she takes so well to the jack-of-all-trades description. She's good at it, and the team appreciates her flexibility. Not to mention, gaining such a wide variety of experience on the playing field only helps advance her future development.
"She's gotten better in all facets of the game," said Meffley. "She's willing to take on any role, which has been her role for us."
Despite finishing third in the Big Ten conference, the Wildcats will be looking to up the ante in the coming season. The seven-time conference champs have made five appearances in the College World Series over the years and it's players like Panko that will lead the Wildcats back to the top of the softball heirarchy. She was not only a prime asset to the squad this season, but she's pegged as a key team member for NU's future as well.