If her IQ on the softball field is any indication, it should not come as a surprise that Makenza Goleniecki has a 4.0 in the classroom.
The junior is in her third season as the starting catcher for Bordentown High, mostly because she has talent and has a tremendous knowledge of what to do at the plate and behind it.
Perhaps the most impressive facet of Goleniecki’s defensive prowess is that she is not always looking toward the dugout to see what pitch to call. That is rare in high school softball and baseball.
“She’s great with our pitchers,” coach Hillary Tucker said. “She calls the games for our pitchers, and that goes back to her knowing the game really well. She not only knows the game very well but her teammates well too. You have to read the emotions on the field. A lot of times before I call timeout she’s calling timeout and bringing the team in together. You get a lot more of the girls talking to each other that way. The fact she has ability to recognize that shows you how much of a strong player she is.”
Goleniecki admits to having pride in being allowed to call games, which she has been doing the past few years in travel ball as well as for the Scotties. Unlike professional players, she has no video to study, she just has to figure things out as the game goes along.
“I’m always looking at their swings, seeing what I think is the best thing to throw to them; working the count,” Goleniecki said. “I usually look at a batter’s stance, where they are in the box and the how their feet are set up. After a pitch or two, I see where they are in the count, if they’re ahead or behind. It’s one of my favorite parts of the game, I can definitely say.”
Goleniecki is pretty fond of hitting as well, as witnessed by the numbers she has put up. As a freshman, she batted .518 with an .839 slugging percentage and .550 on-base percentage, with three home runs, two triples, five doubles, 21 RBI and 19 runs. Last season she hit .382 with an .824 slugging percentage, eight home runs, four doubles, 28 RBI and 21 walks. She has struck out just eight times in 141 plate appearances.
“She has power and she has hit a lot of home runs,” Tucker said. “But she is situational too. Like most batters that are competitive, they recognize what’s on the field and what their job is. When she sees a situation where it’s beneficial to move runners over she will move them over. If I give her the green light to swing hard, she’ll swing hard and make contact all the time. That’s the really nice thing about our team, they want to win together, they want to focus on the team.”
About the only thing Goleniecki cannot do is slap. She tried it as a youngster “and it didn’t work out.” But she still understands what needs to be done every time she steps in the batter’s box.
“It depends on the situation,” she said. “When we’re ahead by a run or two I’ll take a different swing than if I need to get on base or need to get a runner over. I’m always waiting for the first pitch. I know the first pitch is usually the pitcher’s best pitch and it’s usually the first pitch you’re gonna see, so you have to be ready to hit it.”
Goleniecki has been a catcher pretty much since the start of her softball career, which began at age 9 playing for the Bordentown Bandits. She started as an outfielder but an injury forced her behind the plate mid-game, and she immediately took to it.
“I love being able to see everything on the field, being in control and helping out my teammates when I can,” she said. “I always admired leaders and I always knew that catchers were leaders. And I love being part of every play. Whether you’re getting runners out stealing, calling signs or just catching the pitch, you’re always involved in the play.”
Goleniecki’s dedication to the game led her to play travel ball for the Staten Island Saints, which makes for a traffic-laden commute to practices and games at times. But because of the competition, her parents do not mind making the trip, which also includes Scotties teammates Mackenzie Drummond and Michaela Luyber.
Luyber, the team’s third baseman, and Goleniecki have both been starters for Bordentown since their freshman year. Despite her youth back then, Goleniecki praised the juniors and seniors for allowing her to serve as a leader. Tucker noted that is par for the course on Bordentown.
“With our girls it doesn’t matter if they’re a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, they’re all a very united team, which is nice,” the coach said. “They don’t focus on what age each other is, they all just push each other to play well. Makenza really motivates the girls and it’s amazing the way she can rally them in a game.
“A lot of it has to do with the position she plays; but when she came out for the first time you couldn’t tell she was a freshman at all. She just clicked with all the girls. She just took that position from day one and has been a big leader for us ever since.”
Surprisingly, despite her confident, fiery attitude, Goleniecki was a little stunned she stepped right in as a 9th-grader.
“I think I did fairly well at the start of my freshman year, which really shocked me because I haven’t been the most confident person, I guess you could say,” she said. “But I knew I was in control of the game. I definitely had to learn a lot, but we had a good group of girls and the juniors and seniors scooped us under their wing. It was really easy to get into it.”
The Scotties lost several key players from Goleniecki’s first two years, and are in a transitional season as they come off a 14-7 campaign that produced a trip to the Central Jersey Group II championship game. The Scotties lost that one, 2-0, to eventual state champ Robbinsville. The catcher feels that Bordentown has several good, young pitchers that she looks forward to working with.
“I’m definitely hoping to get into the sectional championship again, but even if we get through the first round it would be great,” said Goleniecki, who also plays field hockey, is in the National Honor Society and on the yearbook committee. “Personally, I just want to keep up the same amount of hits. The goal is always 100 (for a career). And I definitely want to help the younger girls coming in and get them ready for the years to come.”
Fortunately for the Scotties, they have Goleniecki for the next two years to come.