Scrappy, versatile Zymkowitz sets table for Illinois softball

Finding a hole in the Illinois softball lineup has been next to impossible early on in the 2010 season. Leading the charge for the streaking offense is Danielle Zymkowitz, junior captain and Agitator-in-Chief for opposing pitchers.

The 2009 third team All-America second baseman has picked up right where she left off last season, leading Illinois to a 5-0 start and a tournament title in Las Vegas last weekend. Aside from swinging the bat at a blistering .563 clip, Zymkowitz has proved to be a menace on the base paths, picking up four steals and causing headaches for opposing pitchers.

“I know the team always scores me when I get on base, so my job is just to get us going at the beginning… because no matter what, there are (so many) people in the lineup who can score,” she said. “That’s what I’m thinking, ‘Just get on base and do whatever you can to score. Kick, scratch, pull.’”

No one is happier to have Zymkowitz setting the table than head coach Terri Sullivan.

“(Zymkowitz) is the exact type of leadoff batter you’d like to have … She’s a tough out because she’s what you call a “triple threat” as a lefty, which means she can swing away, slap, and bunt … It doesn’t matter if she has two strikes on her, or what the count is. She’s going to be a tough battle,” Sullivan said. “I know our opponents don’t like to see her up.”

Growing up in southern California, Zymkowitz didn’t have to look far for a role model. When it comes to baseball, she is partial toward former Los Angeles Angels utilityman Chone Figgins. Though Figgins signed with the Seattle Mariners this offseason, the scrappy Figgins served as a fitting model for Zymkowitz to follow in his eight years in an Angels uniform.

Similar to the switch-hitting, multi-positional Figgins, versatility is the name of Zymkowitz’s game. She is a natural righty but started batting from the left side of the plate at the recommendation of her high school coaches. Doing so enables her to utilize her speed, and she is now part of the “triple threat” variety that Sullivan mentioned.

Another part of Zymkowitz’s success at Illinois has been her passion for the game and her ability to hold others accountable.

Redshirt freshman Jessica Davis forms half of the Illini’s double-play combination up the middle at shortstop. Davis praised Zymkowitz for keeping the team focused yet loose at the same time.

“She’s always the one to keep everyone’s head in (the game),” she said. “She has a lot of heart, she’s always wanting to be out there. (Softball) is her favorite thing and she loves being in the game. When we come to practice it’s like a playground to her.”

Sullivan had a similar view.

“It’s just that love of the game, which as a coach you hope all of your players have. I think ‘Z’ would probably play softball any time of day, any day of the week if she could. It would be her major probably in school if she could,” Sullivan said with a laugh.

“She does very well in school, but just that love of the game … I always say nothing communicates to coaches better than enthusiasm, and she has that.”