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Catching with heart, soul

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Catcher Sandra Nessler, left, shown here tagging out Lehi's Annie Nielsen, is a main cog in the progress of American Fork's program.

Catcher Sandra Nessler, left, shown here tagging out Lehi’s Annie Nielsen, is a main cog in the progress of American Fork’s program.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

American Fork softball catcher Sandra Nessler might not be cut out to be a ballerina, but it was ballet that brought her together with the sport she loves so much.

"When I was 5 I was in ballet, and it was across the street from a baseball field. I kept telling my parents I wanted to play it," Nessler said. And her parents finally gave in and let her play baseball with the boys.

For a while she was the only girl on the team, eventually joined by now softball teammate Cydne Mason, but as most girls who play baseball with the guys say, it made her tougher.

She's had to test out the tough-girl theory a few times with rolled ankles and a broken finger, which was a bit of a freak accident. She and a teammate were hanging out on a diamond during fall ball when she was hit on the finger by a swinging bat.

"The knuckle part of my finger was on top of the other part," Nessler noted, adding that it put her on the sidelines for a couple of weeks. And she found out just how difficult it is to sit out and watch your team play without you.

And for the ultimate team player, that is a tough pill to swallow.

"She's the heart and soul of our team," said American Fork coach Duke Sorenson, who is a first-year coach for the Cavemen but has been on the sidelines of the American Fork summer league team for about five years.

"One thing Sandra is really good at is teaching the younger girls and taking them under her wing. The girls love to give her a hard time, but she takes it well. Everybody likes Sandra. Even during a bad game, she is always ready to play. She's the hardest-working player on the team," said Sorenson, who was happy for Nessler when she finally accomplished something on the softball diamond earlier this high school season that she hasn't managed before.

The Cavemen were playing a game in a blizzard at Timpview High School, and Nessler stepped to the plate with bat ready in the top of the fifth. She connected with the ball and smacked it over the center-field fence, giving herself her first-ever, over-the-fence home run.

"Right when I hit the ball, I could tell it was just gone, then I saw the girl flip over the fence trying to catch it, and that was pretty funny," said Nessler.

Both she and her coach noted that the long ball was probably the best moment Nessler has had in softball because she's been working on that particular aspect of the game for so long.

"I've always loved hitting. I also remember one time during fall ball when I hit the game-winning double. That was pretty cool," she said.

But she's also had plenty of great moments with a catcher's mitt in her hand. It's really the only position she's played since she switched from baseball to softball in junior high. She even caught a little bit in baseball, saying it's her favorite position because she's involved in every play from beginning to end.

"I really enjoy the throw to second," Nessler noted, but her coach disagrees when it comes to her best defensive maneuver.

"She's had tons of outs on third this year," he said, to which she added that "it's fun to throw to third, too."

Sorenson reiterated that Nessler is not only key to the American Fork softball team this year but for years to come, as she is a huge cog in a growing Caveman softball program that he hopes to see progress a great deal in the next few years.

So far the Cavemen have compiled eight wins this season after enjoying a 10-win season last year and making it to a play-in game against Lone Peak. Even with the loss in that game, the team had taken huge strides.

In the two seasons prior to last year, they only managed one total win, which gives Sorenson great hope that the team is growing leaps and bounds from what it once was, and much can be credited to Nessler's help in teaching the younger players the ropes.

"Catcher is the most mental position on the team. You have to be sharp," Sorenson added.

For the player that has achieved Academic All-Region status and wants to be a physician's assistant in her future because she loves to help people — and loves to watch surgeries on the Discovery Channel that make most others nauseous — helping the team improve in the future gives her great satisfaction.

"I enjoy playing with everyone, and I like them all," she said about the extremely young team she goes to war with on the softball diamond all spring, adding with a smile and laugh, "except when they make fun of me."

E-mail: jolsen@desnews.com