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Friday, February 6, 2009

KU softball catcher’s No. 1 goal: stay healthy

The 2009 softball season begins Friday for the Kansas Jayhawks.

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Maybe it’s an even-year, odd-year thing with Elle Pottorf. Then again, perhaps it’s biorhythms. Or her horoscope. Or sun spots.

When all is said and done, however, you can probably just chalk Pottorf’s injury woes up to fate.

A fifth-year senior catcher on Kansas University’s softball team, Pottorf makes no bones about her No. 1 goal.

“I just want to try and stay healthy,” she said.

Pottorf missed the entire 2006 season, red-shirting after undergoing surgery on a shoulder she had first injured when she dove for a ball while a senior at Washburn Rural High.

Pottorf had played her entire freshman season in 2005 with that injury, often having to have the shoulder popped back into place. Then she had an injury-free sophomore season in 2007 after the red-shirt year.

Last spring, however, the even-year factor came into play again when she tore an ACL while sliding into second base in early March, and was done after just 21 of the Jayhawks’ 56 games.

Now Pottorf is back for her last competition as a collegian and, says coach Tracy Bunge: “She’s come back with a vengeance. She’s extremely motivated.”

At the same time, Pottorf has become a motivational instrument for her teammates because they’re fully aware how she struggled to overcome the shoulder and knee surgeries.

“She’s been through just about everything,” pitcher Val George said. “She has a lot of heart. She makes you more passionate to play the game.”

Just because they respect Pottorf doesn’t mean her teammates don’t tease her from time to time.

“I’m the butt of every joke when they (talk) about how old you are,” said Pottorf, who turned 23 last October, with a smile.

But does she really feel like the oldest player on the team?

“Oh my goodness, I do,” she said. “A lot of the girls that haven’t been around near as long as me will ask questions about things they’re unsure of.”

One thing coach Bunge is sure of is that she won’t be using Pottorf behind the plate in every game.

“Coming back from an ACL is tougher for a catcher,” Bunge said, “so we’ll be smart with her.”

When Pottorf went down last March, Bunge used freshman Brittany Hile behind the plate in just about every game. Now Hile and Pottorf will share the catching duties with Pottorf scheduled to be the DH when Hile dons the gear.

“Elle’s bat will be in the lineup,” Bunge said.

Although not blessed with speed, Pottorf is a gap hitter with power. She has 15 career home runs and a penchant for driving in runs.

Hile, meanwhile, packs some punch, too. A Blue Valley West product, Hile led the Jayhawks in doubles last season. Curiously, both Pottorf and Hile posted the same .245 batting average in 2008.

“I’m definitely glad Brittany’s here,” Pottorf said. “I’m prone to injuries for whatever reason. Hopefully, she’ll allow me to play more games without getting injured.”

Kansas will open the season this weekend at a tournament in Phoenix where they’ll face nationally ranked Arizona, Northwestern and Stanford as well as UTEP and Nevada.

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