Illinois softball’s Breanna Wonderly jumping right in

By Cole Henke

Illinois sophomore pitcher Breanna Wonderly has not taken long to adjust to the life of a Division I softball player.

This past summer, she transferred to Illinois from Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois. That jump is difficult for some, but hasn’t been for Wonderly.

Wonderly pitched well at Heartland, posting a 17-7 record with 115 strikeouts and only 25 walks in 153.0 innings last season. Her game was good enough to attract the attention of Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan, and after one season at junior college, Wonderly was headed to play for the Illini.

Wonderly has had no problems fitting in with the team so far, and she attributes that to how close-knit the team is.

“The team has made it really easy for me,” Wonderly said. “They are all really nice and helpful, and I immediately felt like I was part of the team.”

Sullivan said the closeness of her team is one of its biggest strengths, and long road trips allow the players to really get to know each other.

It didn’t take long for Wonderly to be thrown into the mix: She has already pitched 20.1 innings in six appearances for the Illini through the team’s first two weekends. Wonderly did not expect to have as big of a role as she has had at the beginning of the season, but her improvement this fall has keyed her rapid development

“She already had such a great mental side to her game,” Sullivan said. “Now she has gotten so much stronger just since the fall after working with our strength coach and developing her pitches.”

Sullivan often praises Wonderly’s presence in the circle, and how she becomes a different person once she is inside it. Normally shy, Wonderly becomes a fierce competitor when she has the ball in her hand.

Wonderly has made a pair of minor changes to her game since coming to Illinois. She has adjusted to the smaller strike zone that comes with pitching in Division I and is trusting her defense more — she credits the Illini fielders for a lot of her success so far.

Relying heavily on a strong sinker, Wonderly’s hallmark is her accuracy, making her a valuable asset to the Illini’s pitching rotation, Sullivan said.

Outside of softball, Wonderly has made adjustments with her academics and normal life. According to her, the hardest part about adjusting to life at such a big school is working on her time management skills, similar to the average new Illinois student.

Junior college provided a more relaxed feel for Wonderly academically, who said she now has a hectic schedule. She relies on her team for help with academics, too — the players often study together on their long road trips, making the difficulty of her school work much more manageable.

It has been a smooth transition for Wonderly, but she isn’t the only one who has had to change her lifestyle. Wonderly’s hometown of Centerview, Missouri, is about six hours away from Champaign, and according to her, lands right in the middle of “Mizzou country.” Born and raised a Missouri Tigers fan, and now a converted Illini, she was not the only one who needed to make adjustments.

“My parents had to basically get a new closet,” Wonderly said. “They even posted on Facebook that they were selling all of their Mizzou gear.”

Cole can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @cole_Henke.