Fox Chapel junior catcher keeps opponents in check on bases

| Thursday, April 12, 2012

Elly Wagner isn't short on frequent flyer miles.

The Fox Chapel junior has been to softball tournaments all over the country, some as far west as California. She and her parents routinely drive five-and-a-half hours to New Jersey for travel ball — and that's for home games.

She recently went on a 10-day school Spanish trip to Costa Rica.

Wagner's logged thousands of mile, but it's a much smaller distance that concerns the 5-foot-10 star catcher most — 60 feet.

Wagner can make opponents' trips — around the bases — much less pleasant. She has one of the most coveted throwing arms in the WPIAL.

Now that she's back from Costa Rica, she can get back to working on that zesty throw.

"That was the longest I have gone without practicing softball," Wagner said with a laugh. "It was amazing. We zip-lined through the rain forest and went white water rafting."

Most of Wagner's snap throws to second are on a zip-line.

Few steal against her and there aren't many catchers with more power at the plate and field awareness behind it.

"I love being able to throw people out," she said. "As a catcher, you get to be involved in every single play."

Wagner has traits major college coaches long for, which is why North Carolina offered her a scholarship to play in the ACC in two years.

Wagner attended a Tar Heels' camp last summer, and, after impressing UNC coaches there, validated her talent with a strong showing at a tournament in Florida in November.

The day before Thanksgiving, she got the offer and gladly accepted. She also considered Virginia.

"I didn't really see much during conditioning last year because she was still playing basketball," Foxes' first-year coach Tom Walmsley said. "I kept hearing about her. Once basketball ended, she started coming around. It didn't take long to recognize she was a Division I kid."

Wagner plays on one of the East Coast's elite travel teams, the New Jersey Intensity 18-and-under squad, which is loaded with Division I talent.

Wagner is hitting .400 out of the clean-up spot and Walmsley anticipates her offensive numbers to incease. But its Wagner's defense and leadership that make her one to watch, and have helped the Foxes to a 3-0 start.

"The most impressive thing

abilty to keep runners on base," Walmsley said. "Nobody gets big leads. She's only allowed one steal this year."

Although Wagner could see a position change at the college level — she has also played some third base and outfield — her most viable option now is behind the plate.

"She can play other positions, too," Walmsley said. "I feel her best position is catcher. Not only is she talented, but she's a field general. She knows so much about the game. She is the quarterback of our team."

Wagner said there is a slower pace to the high school game compared to travel ball.

"There are different approaches," she said. "With travel, anything close to a strike, you swing because you won't get many to hit. In high school, you can wait for a good pitch."

A former soccer player and black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Wagner comes from an athletic family.

Her father, Robert, was a golf standout at Franklin Regional and played at Bucknell. Her mom, Mary Ellyn, played field hockey and swam at Fox Chapel.

One older sister is on the dance team at Boston College, the other a field hockey player at Rochester.

Elly, who once made a highlight reel on ESPN 3 for her help in a double play that dashed a double-steal try during a travel tournament, admits she has always had an edge.

"I was always the tom boy in elementary school," she said. "I always wore the gym shorts and T-shirts. In middle school, I became more feminine.

"I have always been competitive in whatever I do."

And softball is her passion. Everything else — aside from school where she carries a weighted 4.3 grade-point average — doesn't get as much attention.

A third-year starter, Wagner is a member at Oakmont Country Club but doesn't play golf.

"I tried it, but my swing has a hitch because of softball," she said.

What if Oakmont put in batting cages?

"That would be nice," she said. "I have a net in my backyard.

"I'm kind of a simple girl. I like coloring with crayons. I give the pictures to my grandparents. Oh, and I like to bake."

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