Being named Conference Player of the Year for high school softball is a major accomplishment. So when you’re given the honor three out of four years like John F. Kennedy High School senior Amanda Cabrera, you know you’re good. She helped lead her team to a successful 20-5 record, ending the season as District Champions. But even with her success, Cabrera remains focused on also having fun. A co-captain for the second year in a row, the pitcher took her leadership position seriously and made sure her teammates valued every aspect of the game. “I’ve had leaders who made everything about winning, and where’s the fun in that? Enjoying the game is equally as important as anything else,” she says.

Cabrera should know what she’s talking about, having played softball since the first grade. “I was the kid who tried every sport, and my mom suggested softball. She played competitively in high school and had the opportunity to play in college,” she explains. “It turned out I was good at it!” She says since her mom didn’t want to force the game on her, she took a hands-off approach. “My dad was the one who would go out and practice with me, but both my parents were fully supportive of my decision to commit to the sport,” Cabrera says.

Her commitment involves extra training on top of typical practices, which were every day after school. Afterward, she did a CrossFit workout either at the gym or on her own. Cabrera explains that pitching practice is about protecting the muscles you already have and building stability and core strength in order to throw harder. “It’s not a lot of arm exercises like most people would think,” she says. “We focus on legs and abs.” Now Cabrera plays with her club team, Collinsville Extreme, and is focused on conditioning and getting ready for the off-season with Tennessee State, where she has committed to play.

When you hear of her accomplishments on the field, it’s easy to understand how she caught the eye of the university’s head coach. Cabrera holds Kennedy’s all-time record for wins, strikeouts and innings pitched and at the plate, is the school’s all-time record holder for home runs, RBIs and batting average. She’s been named first team All Conference and All District all four years and first team All Region for two years.

More than anything, the senior loves that the sport has allowed her to connect and form relationships with lots of different people. “I love playing a team sport,” she says. “Sometimes it can be frustrating, but it teaches you great life lessons because you’ll come across the same issues elsewhere!”

ready, set, go! – gabby blossom
Sports-gabby-blossomEven though she’s only a sophomore, Gabby Blossom already has made her mark on the volleyball court. In fact, she’s even finalized college plans for when she graduates from St. Joseph’s Academy. The 16-year-old verbally committed this past summer to play at Penn State, a Division 1 school known for its nationally ranked volleyball program.

“I grew up watching them,” Blossom says. “Penn State always has been my dream school. Its quality education matches the top-ranked volleyball program, and I wanted a good balance.” After attending a camp at the university, Blossom was offered a spot and committed the next weekend. “When I was there, I fell in love with how hard the team works and how hard they push to get better, and I knew it was the right fit for me!” As Blossom explains, volleyball is “crazy with recruiting,” so it was much more than luck that got her where she is today.

“I started playing volleyball with St. Louis CYC when I was 9,” she says. “My mom played at Central Missouri State and took my sister and I to play on campus growing up, and I loved it. My older sister got into it, and I always knew I wanted to also.” Blossom still plays with the same club program and has made it to Nationals with her team every year. She started playing for her school as well when it was offered in the third grade. “When I was younger, the school season only lasted a couple months, so club was a much bigger deal,” she says. “We traveled three to four times a year, and it was tons of fun.”

Now, a lot of the focus has turned to her position as a setter with St. Joe’s, where she has played varsity since freshman year. “I’ve always been a setter,” Blossom says. “It’s my favorite position because you have so much control over the game. You touch the ball in every rally and run the offense. It’s the most fun because you’re super involved in the game at all times; you’re always watching what’s happening on the court.”

Blossom, who was heading into the State tournament when we spoke, says the St. Joe team was hoping for a strong finish like last year. “We got second at State last season, and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had with volleyball,” she says. “We worked really hard to get there.” (The team finished fourth this year.) Blossom truly values her relationships with her teammates. “That’s one of the greatest things about volleyball,” she says. “You have to rely on the other players, and I love the bonds you form. We’re all best friends.”

talk to … aj anthon
Sports-AJ-AnthonThe Chaminade senior was so modest about his accomplishments on the soccer field that assistant coach Tim Sartori jumped in on his behalf. “He scored seven goals in a row over the course of three games this year, and almost all of his goals were game-winning this season, both very impressive achievements,” Sartori says. “He was the heart and soul of our team this year and always put the other players first, never worrying about his personal accolades.”

Q| When did you start playing soccer?
A| Way back when in preschool for a CYC league.

Q| What made you stick with it?
A| My dad got me involved with a couple of select teams starting in the fifth grade, and I realized I really enjoyed the game. I played for St. Louis Scott Gallagher through last year and have played varsity at Chaminade since I was a sophomore. Freshman year, I was on JV.

Q| What position do you play?
A| Forward, which is what I’ve played since I started. I was the person who got the ball a lot and just ran toward the goal!

Q| How did the Chaminade season end this year?
A| We lost to SLUH in District finals, but it was a good year. I’m not going to continue playing in college, so I’ll just play for fun now.

Q| Any accomplishments you’re especially proud of?
A| Last year, we made it to the State finals, which was pretty special. It was really cool to play that game; the atmosphere was unreal, and the fans were awesome.

Q| Do you like the team aspect?
A| I love it. Daily practices were so much fun because of my teammates and coaches.

Pictured: Amanda Cabrera