Here’s to Justin, NIU’s very own unsung hero

By Jeff Kirik

Every so often an athlete comes along who is a step or two above the rest in his/her sport.

In a year where the NIU athletic department has been in turmoil, one Huskie athlete has stood out as something special. Jill Justin, the softball team’s All-America candidate, has been a major star in a minor sport. She is not exactly a household name on campus, but her performance merits this type of recognition.

Justin burst onto the scene as a freshman last year by hitting .435 (third best in the nation) and setting numerous NIU offensive records. She gained a spot on the Mideast Region All-America team, even though the team was made up predominantly of upperclassmen.

Now closing out her sophomore season, Justin might get the national recognition she deserves. She leads the NIU team in every offensive statistic except sacrifices. The most staggering of those statistics is her .522 batting average, which could lead the nation.

Justin said, during this season, it was her dream to hit .500, but the way she is hitting, next year’s goal could be .600. At 5-foot-4, Justin is not large, but her quick, powerful swing makes her a threat to take the ball deep on every pitch.

owever, even with these impressive credentials, NIU coaches Dee Abrahamson and Donna Martin still think there is a chance that their star center fielder might not make the first-team All-America unit. They know she deserves it, but say she could be passed over for a second straight year because of the politics involved with the way All-America teams are picked.

Because most of the top teams are in California, the coaches who pick the All-America team tend to be biased toward players on the West Coast. Those coaches seem to look down on Midwest talent, because they feel the competition isn’t as stiff as theirs.

Justin proved Tuesday, though, that she belongs among the nation’s elite players. Facing two-time All-America pitcher Lisa Ishikawa of Northwestern for the first time in her career, Justin showed she could hit any type of pitching. She hit a first-ball fastball from Ishikawa, smashing it over the left-center field fence to give NIU a 3-1 lead over the record-setting hurler.

NIU lost the lead and the game, but that could not belittle Justin’s accomplishment. If ever anyone secured a spot on the All-America team in one swing, Justin had to do it with that one.

This great clutch hitting is nothing new for Justin. On many occasions this season, she has brought her team back with her bat.

For those of you who didn’t get a chance to watch her and the Huskies play this season, you might not think you missed much. But what you missed is one great athlete. Rarely does anyone dominate a sport like Justin did this year.

Even though Justin has rewritten the softball record book at NIU and led the Huskies to numerous wins, there is one thing about her that pleases her coaches the most—she still has two years to go.