Jessie Olownia spends most of her time with a softball bat in her hands. At practice, in between games, at home in her bedroom or in her front yard, she can usually be found practicing her swing, over and over.
All that practice--the constant swinging--has helped Olownia become stronger (thanks to her heavy, 25-ounce bat) and become one of the top hitters on her 14-and-under team, Northern Virginia Blue Ice.
"At the beginning of the summer, my coach had to tell me to put my bat down, because in between games I'd stand there and swing, swing, swing," Olownia said. "Finally, he told me to put the bat down and back away slowly. Later, he saw me with no bat in my hands and he asked if I was okay, like if I was going through withdrawal or something."
Northern Virginia Blue Ice is one of the nearly 300 teams that will be competing in the PONY National Tournament of Cham-pions, which begins Tuesday at sites in Loudoun County. The tournament, which features round-robin pool play followed by double-elimination bracket play, will conclude Sunday.
Blue Ice (55-4) is having a terrific summer; the team has played in 10 tournaments, advancing to the championship game in each, and winning seven titles. The team, which has a batting average of .371, averages 8.6 runs a game, while allowing only one run per game.
The players figure their toughest PONY competition will come from the Vienna Stars, the team Blue Ice beat in the championship of the National Softball Association Virginia State Championship in Salem in late June. Two years ago, when most of the current Blue Ice players were on the 12-and-under Baseliners, the Stars beat the Baseliners in a 10-inning game to win the PONY championship.
"The Vienna Stars are our big rival," Olownia said. "We expect to play them, hopefully in the final."
Olownia recently completed a remarkable freshman season at Broad Run High, earning first team all-Liberty District and honorable mention All-Met honors. She batted a team-high .498--a number that continues to bother her, because she had hoped to finish over .500.
This summer, Olownia leads Blue Ice with a .492 batting average and .650 on-base percentage. She has hit five home runs (second on the team to pitcher Karie Morrison's eight).
"Jessie is having a very good season. She has such quick hands, we have to slow her down a bit," Blue Ice Coach Karl Morrison said. "She's nearly taken our third-base coach's head off a few times this season."
And still, Olownia is not satisfied.
"It's not that good. In the beginning of the season I was hitting so well; I was over .550 at the beginning of the summer," Olownia sighed. "At the end of the season, I usually hit well but not as well as I did at the start. I don't know why. . . . There are a million little things you have to do right [to hit well]. I think the real key is to practice a lot."
Olownia does that--she often goes into her front yard and enlists her father, Stan, to toss spongy practice balls that she hits across the yard toward her house. Last year, her father talked about possibly building a batting cage in the back yard, but Jessie, surprisingly, wasn't too keen on the idea.
"I practice hitting a lot at practice already, and I swing on my own all the time," Olownia said. "If we had a batting cage, it'd be like every free minute, 'Come on, let's go hit balls.' "
PONY National Tournament Of Champions
Schedule of Events
Coaches check-in and meetings for 19-and-under, 16-and-under and 14-and-under teams.
Round-robin play begins for 19-and-under, 16-and-under and 14-and-under teams.
Coaches check-in for 12-and-under and 10-and-under teams.
Round-robin play begins for 12-and-under and 10-and-under teams
NFCA college recruiting camp and clinic at Potomac Lakes Sportsplex, 8 a.m.-5:45 p.m.
Opening ceremonies at Potomac Falls High School, 4 p.m.
Round-robin play continues.
Elimination play begins.
Elimination play continues.
WHEN: 4-9 p.m. Wednesday.
WHERE: Potomac Falls High School, Sterling.
WHAT: Festivities include a DJ, food, beverages and an exhibition game by the King and His Court, a comic softball troupe.
There will be no parking available at Potomac Falls. Spectators should park their vehicles at Park View High School or Claude Moore Park. There will be continuous shuttle bus service between those locations and Potomac Falls, starting at 3 p.m. and ending at 10 p.m.
Weekly or daily tournament passes are required to attend the opening ceremonies.
For more information, call 703-729-0617.
Sterling-Ashburn Area: Claude Moore Park (7 fields), Potomac Lakes Sportsplex (4), Trailside Elementary School (3), Sully Elementary School (3), Crittendon Park (2), Park View High School (1), Sterling Annex (1).
If needed: Farmwell Middle School (2), Ashburn Elementary School (1).
Purcellville Area: Franklin Park (3), Woodgrove Park (3), Round Hill Elementary School (2).
Area Participating Teams
Host organization: Lower Loudoun Girls Softball League.
Assisting Host Organizations: Fire and Ice, Loudoun Storm.
Baseliner Blue, Baseliner Gold, Loudoun Storm.
Baseliner, Fire and Ice, Loudoun Storm.
Baseliner, Fire and Ice, Loudoun Storm, Blue Ice, Sterling Silver.
Baseliner Blue, Baseliner Gold, Loudoun Storm.
Baseliner Blue, Baseliner Gold, Fire and Ice.