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Softball ace Shannon Caliri

caliriTaking her game to the next level seems to come naturally for Shannon Caliri.

Caliri, a right-handed batter, became a left-handed slap hitter around the age of 12 with the help of her coaches on the Wasco Diamonds’ travel team (based in Elburn) in order to fully utilize her speed. (Slap hitters are good at aiming the ball to a specific spot in the field where an opponents’ defense is weakest.)

Caliri spent most of last spring pitching for St. Charles North High School’s junior varsity team, where she compiled a 14-2 record. But towards the end of the 2011 season, she got called up to the varsity team, and was part of a squad that marched to second place in the Class 4A state tournament.

“It’s really exciting going down there (to state),” she says. “Being part of the experience is fun, and it’s exciting to get involved with the girls there and share the experience with them.”

Last summer, the South Elgin resident competed for the Downers Grove Outlaws’ U18 travel team that finished fifth in the nation. Caliri also plays for the Naperville Diamonds’ U18 club, which has a fall schedule in addition to a summer schedule.

“My team goes to a lot of college-exposure tournaments in the fall,” she says.

During the fall campaign, Caliri became interested in Cardinal Stritch University, a private Roman Catholic NAIA school located in Milwaukee. She e-mailed the university’s softball coach, Jade Geuther, and asked Geuther if she would be interested in attending one of the Diamonds’ games in order to watch her play.

Geuther agreed, and was impressed with Caliri’s abilities, so much so that Geuther asked Caliri to join the Wolves for the 2013 season.

Caliri signed a letter of intent to play for Cardinal Stritch last December, becoming Stritch’s first signee for the 2013 season.

“Shannon is a well-rounded player,” her new coach said after the signing. “She understands the game within the (pitching) circle. We are very excited Shannon has chosen Stritch.”

And Caliri couldn’t be more excited to begin her college career.

“She (coach Geuther) definitely said that I was going to be one of their starting pitchers, and that I might get to play a little bit of second base or the outfield,” Caliri says. “I’m ecstatic that I’ll be able to start there and get right into the program.”

Shannon’s mom, Jodi, is excited, too, and says her daughter getting a scholarship to Cardinal Stritch is a culmination of years of hard work — not only on the softball diamond, but in the classroom. Shannon, an honor roll student who has received the Prairie State Achievement Award for excelling in math, plans to major in either pre-dentistry or biology.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” Jodi says. “My husband (Sal), all the hours spent in the back yard since she was 4 or 5 years old, hitting and pitching lessons. To have her be successful and have multiple colleges want her is a dream come true for all of us. It makes us all so proud of her.”

Shannon, who graduates from St. Charles North in June, has been one of the senior leaders on a young North Stars’ team.

“It’s a fun experience to get to help lead a team and be able to try to help everyone out and play together as a team,” she says.

The North Stars were decimated by graduation losses, including six NCAA Division I recruits who started for the 2011 state runner-up club.

“Shannon is really a positive role model and leads by example,” says Tom Poulin, her coach at St. Charles North. “It’s been very beneficial for me to have someone like Shannon as a senior leader.

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“We brought her up toward the end of last year. We were loaded (talent-wise) last year, and I thought it would be good for her to be the No. 1 pitcher at the JV level. She was able to use that experience to get better and improve as a leader. We were really proud of her and her attitude last year, and we’re reaping the rewards this season because she’s pitching very well.”

Shannon has several pitches in her repertoire — a fastball, curve ball (which includes a back-door curve), riser, screwball, drop pitch and changeup, which, she notes, is her bread-and-butter pitch.

“She mixes them up very well,” Poulin says. “From last year to this year, her changeup has improved dramatically. Shannon’s been doing a great job of pitching to location, changing speeds and she’s really disrupting the timing of hitters.”

Shannon is a second-generation Italian American. Her grandfather, Sam (who is Sal’s father), came to the United States from Sicily when he was 8 years old.

“He used to live on a farm in Sicily, and he worked on the farm that his family lived on,” Shannon says. “I want to visit there sometime soon.”

About Mike Sandrolini

Mike Sandrolini has been published in the Elmhurst Independent, Voyager Media, the Daily Herald, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Bear Report. His stories and columns have been recognized for editorial excellence at regional, state and national newspaper contests over the years. He also has co-authored two books: "Bear With Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears" and "All the Good in Sports." His father, Raymond, is a native of Gaggio Montano, a small village around 30 miles southwest of Bologna.