Former Illini softball player enjoys professional success with Chicago Bandits


Photo courtesy of Dina Kwit

By Chad Thornburg

Danielle Zymkowitz hit six triples for the Illini softball team last season, but one in particular stands out.

Back in March, Zymkowitz hit one in the third inning of Illinois’ victory over Longwood in the ESPN Citrus Classic that left an impression on one man in particular.

That man was Darrick Brown, head coach of the Chicago Bandits, and just a few months later Zymkowitz signed with the eventual 2011 National Pro Fastpitch champions.

“Right away she stood out to me because of her speed and her energy that she brought to the University of Illinois,” Brown said. “She’s always smiling and having fun. She brings a lot of energy. She’s like the little engine that never quits.”

Brown’s Chicago Bandits went on to win the NPF Championship at the end of the summer, and Zymkowitz played a significant role on the team offensively and as a second baseman.

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“It was amazing,” Zymkowitz said. “I’m having the time of my life. I can’t ask for any better team to play on. I love Chicago out there, and I had the best experience playing softball with some great athletes.”

The Bandits finished the season third with a 20-20 record in the four-team NPF league, but elevated their play in the playoffs to bring home the 2011 NPF Cowles Cup.

“We were just trying to fix all the little mistakes in our regular season games and just be at our best when it comes to championship time,” Zymkowitz said.

The Bandits defeated the USSSA Pride, who finished first in the regular season, in two games of a three-game championship series.

“We had that belief the whole entire year, so when we got there it just seemed natural,” Zymkowitz said.

The California native closed out her career as a four-year starter at Illinois atop the record books in several career categories including batting average (.384), hits (277), runs scored (202), stolen bases (91) and stolen base percentage (.858), but said she wasn’t ready to stop playing when her senior season ended in May.

“I just wanted to try out and just have an open mind,” she said. “I’m glad I did. I had the best summer ever.”

Illinois softball head coach Terri Sullivan said there is usually an adjustment period for players transitioning to the professional level, but Zymkowitz found success as a rookie.

“She’s just a very special offensive player,” Sullivan said. “The love of the game, the competitive will are what really takes that pro player to the highest level.”

Zymkowitz finished second on the Bandits in batting average at .298. She also tied for second in runs scored with 16 in 34 games played.

“She came right in and brought that moxie every coach likes,” Brown said. “You know, plays aggressive, isn’t afraid to get dirty, talking on the bench … that excitement and that love for the game.”

Zymkowitz is currently finishing up her communications degree at Illinois and with her four years of eligibility already spent she is serving as a student coach for the softball team.

“She knows how we do things,” Sullivan said. “She knows what our program stands for and she loves Illinois. I also think she’s got a little bit of an itch to coach.”

Both of Sullivan’s assistant coaches, Donna DiBiase and Katie O’Connell, are former players of hers, and she didn’t rule out the possibility of Zymkowitz joining her staff in the future.

“She is absolutely someone that I would keep my eye on,” Sullivan said. “Z’s got some awesome qualities that you’d want a coach to have on your staff, and that’s just a tremendous enthusiasm and passion for all she does.”

However, Brown believes Zymkowitz still has a promising future on the field as well.

“I think she could have a big future and because she’s from the University of Illinois, I think that the Chicago Bandits are a perfect fit for her,” Brown said. “If she has that good of a year as a rookie, there’s only one way to go and that’s up.”