POLAND — High school athletes dream of an unbeaten regular season, a league championship and a long playoff run. Imagine what it must feel like to experience back-to-back seasons with those accomplishments.
Poland senior Brooke Bobbey knows that feeling. As a junior, Bobbey was a guard on the Bulldogs’ girls basketball team that recorded 27 consecutive wins before losing to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the Division II regional final at Barberton High School last March.
A little more than two months later, after the Poland softball team won its first 24 games, the Bulldogs fell to Jonathan Alder, 6-3, in the Division II state semifinals at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
A three-sport varsity athlete, Bobbey is the Bulldogs softball team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder. An ace student, she also earned four varsity letters in soccer throughout her high school career.
“She puts in a ton of time in the offseason,” said Nick Blanch, Poland’s girls varsity basketball head coach. “She goes so much deeper than athlete.
“She’s going to be a valedictorian. She has a 4.0 [grade-point average]. She’s going into pre-med. She’s got a ride to St. Bonaventure, not only [to study] pre-med, but [to play] Division I college softball,” Blanch said. “She’s the total package. She’s intelligent. She’s athletic. She’s got it all.
“But she’s a great teammate — I know I’m lucky to have her.”
Bobbey describes what she experienced as a junior as “amazing.
“A lot of athletes don’t ever get to experience a perfect season,” Bobbey said, admitting that in some ways that success still hasn’t sunk in. “To have the community come together and support all of our hard work and the practices we put in was a really good pat on the back.
“I just play to compete, and whatever happens happens,” she said. “I’m glad to have [so many] girls around me who feel the same way about winning.”
Science, specifically biology, is her favorite subject.
“I love biology because I like to know how and why things work,” Bobbey said. “And I think biology [provides] a great explanation as to how the entire world works. You can always discover new things, and that’s interesting to me.”
She plans to major in biology at St. Bonaventure, then go on to medical school to become a dentist.
“Dentistry is perfect for me,” Bobbey said, citing art (creativity) and math (business aspects) as other subjects she enjoys that will come in handy. “I love working with people, being able to form relationships.”
She declined to name a favorite teacher, explaining, “Each teacher has taught me something unique.”
Bobbey said St. Bonaventure in Allegany, N.Y., is about three-and-a-half hours from home.
“The campus is beautiful. I fell in love with the environment,” Bobbey said. “The professors that I met were so nice and helpful. The class sizes are perfect. But probably what really stood out to me was [the feeling of] a family environment, like what I am used to at Poland, with the community so tight.”
“And then when I met the softball team … that was kind of the cherry on top.”
Bobbey is no stranger to softball success. She was a pitcher/outfielder on Poland’s two Junior League Softball teams that qualified for the World Series in 2016 and 2017. The first time her team traveled to the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, Wash., Poland finished fourth.
The next summer, Poland won the World Series crown and received a hero’s welcome when the team returned.
To Bobbey, traveling to the regional tournaments in Illinois and the World Series way out west was the best.
“Traveling [with best friends] is so fun, getting to go to the Seattle [Space] Needle and look out over the city,” Bobbey said. “Riding the subway, even just sitting in our rooms and telling funny stories or talking about the games to come.”
Her favorite tourist stop in Chicago?
“The Bean — I’ll never forget those moments,” she said.
Like many Mahoning Valley ballplayers, Bobbey first played tee-ball when she was 6, then progressed to coach-pitch softball. She was 9 when she started playing fast-pitch softball.
What she likes about the sport is the team aspect.
“Each person has their own thing to contribute to the team,” she said. “I like that my team can trust me in the outfield and know that anything in the air, I’ve got it. Same [for me feeling about] my infield, my pitcher, my catcher.”
Last season, Bobbey shared pitching duties with Ashley Wire and Kai-Li Gross, who was limited to the Bulldogs’ first 13 games after transferring from Canfield in the first week of the season. Wire, who was the team’s ace and named The Vindicator’s 2019 softball pitcher of the year (the final honoree, it turns out), is now in college.
Bobbey said the plan this spring is for her and Gross to share pitching duties “to not wear each other out. I hope to get as much time as I can in the outfield because that’s where I’ll be playing in college, and that’s what I love — catching any ball in the air and getting to dive, running into fences.
“But whenever they need me in the circle, I’ll be happy to help.”
Last spring, the Bulldogs softball team won the Northeast 8 Conference title by sweeping their seven league rivals. They captured the initial Division II district title at Youngstown State University, defeating Cardinal Mooney and Ursuline before winning the regional at Firestone Stadium.
“It was great,” Bobbey said of the 24-game winning streak. “No matter what happened, we never gave up.”
She enjoys playing for Jim Serich, her varsity softball coach for all four seasons.
“He understands the game and he really lets us have freedom on how we run our practices and on what [to work on that] would help us individually,” Bobbey said. “He really pushes us to never give up.”
As a freshman, Bobbey played on the basketball junior varsity team, then became a role player on the varsity as a sophomore.
Last season, senior Sarah Bury was the Bulldogs’ main point guard, but Blanch sometimes would rotate that position with Bobbey and Jackie Grisdale. This season, Grisdale is the main point guard, but Bobbey takes a turn.
“Sometimes I’ll run it as much as her,” said Bobbey of Poland’s six-sport varsity athlete (basketball, softball, soccer, golf, cross country and track and field). “I like that my teammates trust me to handle the ball and get them into sets. And sometimes it relieves pressure on Jackie.
“She’s amazing — I’ve gotten to play soccer with her, basketball with her, softball,” Bobbey said of her World Series teammate. “I’ve gotten to travel with her. We’ve really formed a strong bond where one of us knows what the other is thinking before we do it. We have really great chemistry on and off the court or field.”
Bury was the lone senior starter last season, but three key role players — Kat Partika, Marlie McConnell and Elena Commack — also graduated.
This season, the replenished Bulldogs are 18-2 and again champions of the NE8. Their losses came early against Canfield and Warren Harding.
“From those games we learned we need to focus on boxing out because obviously we’re never going to be the tallest on the court,” Bobbey said. “We’ve really improved since those games. “
“I’m looking forward to playing Canfield again to see how much we’ve improved since the last time.”
Poland has the second seed in the Division II district tournament at Austintown Fitch that begins later this month. West Branch (17-2) has the top seed.
“That bullseye is not getting any smaller on our backs,” Blanch said. “We take everybody’s best shot. Coaches will tell me all the time, ‘That’s the best my kids have played.’
“Well, no kidding, because they want to beat us. I totally get it,” Blanch said. “Teams will give us their best shot, and we’ve been doing a good job of dealing with that.”
Bobbey credits Blanch for molding her “into the competitor I am today. He knows it’s his job to make us the best players we can be. He does that by challenging us and caring about us, whether it’s keeping up on our grades, making sure we’re getting all of our [assignments] done, thanking [players] when they deserve it.
“He’s always making sure we’re always doing the right things, not just to succeed in basketball but to succeed in life.”
Her mom, Carla, played several sports in middle school and at the beginning of high school. Bobbey credits her dad, Matt, for instilling her love of softball.
“My Mom played softball, too,” she said. “But my Dad was an outfielder, so that’s where I get my outfielding abilities. He’s taught me [just about] everything I know about softball.”
Bobbey will graduate with 11 varsity letters — four in soccer and softball and three in basketball. She says she’s pretty much enjoying her final year.
“It’s great to experience all these lasts with my class of 2020,” she said. “It’s a happy/sad moment with all of the people you want to be with. And it’s really fun because we know [that soon] we’ll be going our own way.”