SALT LAKE CITY — When inquiring about what 2019 Deseret News Ms. Softball recipient Huntyr Ava brought to West this year, it might be easier to ask what qualities she didn’t contribute to the Panthers.
“What didn’t she bring to the team? She brought leadership, she brought that tenacity to win, she brought that passion to play the game of softball. She was just all-around. It was fun to be around just that kind of intensity when it came to competition,” West head coach Keith Lopati said.
For West’s superstar infielder, the game of softball seemed to come so naturally to her, as if she was playing at half speed while the rest of the players were playing at full speed. Nowhere was this more apparent than when she was in the batter’s box. Ava’s batting average for the 2019 season was an astounding .699. The senior leader had 51 hits, 19 home runs and 70 runs batted in as she dominated the high school landscape, leading the state in home runs. One of the many games that demonstrated Ava’s prowess at the plate was a 10-2 win over Box Elder in the second round of the playoffs in which she hit three home runs.
Lopati’s favorite moment watching Ava was every time she came up to bat, because he knew that Ava had a high probability of coming up with a big hit.
“You don’t go .699 for the season for nothing. Just watching her approach in the box and just seeing her passion playing the game of softball every single inning, every single pitch, was fun for me to see every game. Just seeing her love to play the game of softball, that was my favorite part,” Lopati said.
From her freshman year to her senior year, Lopati witnessed Ava grow from a “shy behind-the-scenes kind of a girl” to a vocal leader that “makes things fun for everybody.”
When it came down to game time, Ava was a full-blown gamer.
“At the same time, when it comes down time to practice and to compete, I hadn’t seen anybody better when it came to that. She loved the limelight. She loved the part where if it comes down to it, where she’s got to come up with a big base hit or make a big defensive play, she’s the one that wants that,” Lopati said.
Ava’s leadership and playing abilities were on full display in West’s 2019 5A state championship, in which the Panthers came from the one-loss bracket to win the state title. On the final day of the playoffs, West had to win three games in a row in the same day to win the state tournament.
Ava was able to inspire her team following a loss to Roy in the quarterfinals of the winners bracket.
“I think it was her body language and her demeanor after we had lost to Roy in that quarterfinal game, because she kind of took the team on her shoulders and really held everybody accountable in regards to what we had done to that point and, in order for us to get to where we want to be at the end, they’ve got to be able to come out and just compete. She let that be known, she was very vocal about it, in a positive way, and the girls responded, obviously,” Lopati said.
“It was like playing with a chip on our shoulder. It was nice because it felt like we couldn’t slack off, because if we did, it was one and done. Just knowing that, the pressure was nice,” Ava said.
First, West beat Roy 6-1 to advance to the championship from the one-loss bracket, then defeated Bountiful 12-2 to force an “if” game. The Panthers handily defeated Bountiful in the second game to claim their second state championship in three years.
Ava launched a home run in the Roy game, a home run in the first Bountiful game and a home run in the second Bountiful game.
“She told the girls, ‘Let’s go, follow me, and we’re going to win this thing.’ That resonated to the way everybody else performed. We relied heavily on her leadership and her at-bats and what she does and communicates on the field. Just seeing that was incredible in itself,” Lopati said.
Ava was named the 2019 Gatorade Utah Softball Player of the Year, which came as a happy surprise to her.
Ava committed to Brigham Young University, where she will be playing softball next season.
“Committing there, my family will be able to come see me play. It’s close to home, so if I ever get some kind of homesick, I would be able to come home on the weekends,” Ava said.
For Lopati, coaching Ava, 5A MVP Mikala Ulibarri and the rest of the senior class was an honor.
“It was just an honor and a privilege to be able to get a chance to coach two student-athletes like those two. The whole group of seniors that I had this year, you don’t get too many senior groups like that. To see how much they worked hard and were all together in the same goal, the same vision. To see it come true was amazing to be a part of,” Lopati said.