College coaches will tell you they evaluate a potential recruit from the time they get off the bus for a game until they get on again.
They watch how players react to adversity, how they interact with their teammates and whether they give 100% on every play. They want players who play hard, are passionate about their sport and who fight to the end.
Ottawa High School senior pitcher Abby Bukantis definitely checks all the boxes.
Last week, Bukantis officially signed a NCAA Division I Letter of Intent to play softball for the University of Nebraska Omaha after her graduation from OHS in 2021.
The Mavericks are one of nine member schools in The Summit League. Under third-year head coach Amanda Eberhart, they were 12-12 this past spring before COVID-19 forced the rest of the season to be canceled.
Eberhart became aware of Bukantis through Orland Park A’s travel ball recruiting coordinator Liz Jagielski, a friend and former teammate of Eberhart. Bukantis led the A’s to a runner-up finish at the PGF 16U Platinum Nationals in July 2019.
“[Nebraska Omaha] invited me to a camp in January, and while there I was able to tour the campus and the sports facilities a little bit,” Bukantis said. “To be honest, I really didn’t know much about the school going into the camp. But after being there, meeting and talking to coach Eberhart face-to-face and just seeing how everything was so breathtaking throughout the campus and surrounding area, I just knew I really wanted to go there and it was the school for me.”
In her freshman and sophomore seasons, Bukantis – who plans on majoring in business with hopes of pursuing a career in human resources/human resource management – has recorded 1011/3 IP, 112 strikeouts, a 2.42 ERA and an 11-2 record.
“I remember back when Abby first started pitching, she was maybe 8 or 9 years old then, and I was watching her throw to her dad,” OHS head coach Adam Lewis said. “She was a natural at it from the very beginning. The biggest thing I remember from that day is that she literally smiled the entire time, and I think that personality is something that suits her well.
“She’s not a kid that gets rattled easily. She is comfortable and confident in what she does, and that is because she works hard on what she does. She also has such a great attitude; I can’t say enough good things about how she handles herself.
“On the technical side of pitching, I feel what is going to give her a leg up going into the college game is her changeup. It’s a devastating pitch for her, and she sells it so well with great arm action. She gets the best of hitters way out in front.”
Bukantis lost this past spring because of COVID-19 canceling the season and didn’t play this summer after suffering a torn labrum in her pitching shoulder at the end of February. She had surgery in May. Still rehabbing, she just recently started throwing again, but said she will be more than ready if there is a high school softball season in the spring.
“She pitched so well at the PGF for the Orland Park A’s and really carried her team throughout that tournament – that takes a special kind of kid with a little bit of grit, a will to want to get things done and find ways to help their team win games,” Eberhart said.
“Talent-wise, she already has it, but I think her character in wanting to get better, wanting to understand why we want things done like we do, will make her a better pitcher as she grows and matures.
“She is the type of player and person we look for. We are looking forward to and are excited for her to get here.”