2024 Northwest Herald Softball Coach of the Year: Huntley’s Mark Petryniec

Red Raiders finished an area-best 30-10, won 4th straight Fox Valley Conference championship

Huntley’s head coach Mark Petryniec congratulates his Red Raiders after a win over McHenry in varsity softball at Huntley Friday.

After Huntley lost its top two hitters and ace to graduation, Red Raiders coach Mark Petryniec wasn’t sure how his team would respond.

Despite the big losses, Huntley was as tough as usual.

The Raiders, led by Petryniec in his 20th season, still finished an area-best 30-10 and won their fourth consecutive Fox Valley Conference championship.

Huntley extended its Class 4A regional championship streak to nine, won its third sectional championship in program history and fell one win short of its third state appearance with a season-ending 2-1 loss to Mundelein in a Class 4A Rosemont Supersectional.

For leading the Raiders to a successful spring, Petryniec was named the 2024 Northwest Herald Softball Coach of the Year by the sports staff with input from area coaches. Prairie Ridge’s Scott Busam also was considered for the honor.

Petryniec recently talked to sports writer Alex Kantecki about the Raiders’ memorable and fun season.

What was the biggest challenge you faced this year?

Petryniec: Coming into the season on paper, we lost a lot of our offense with Clara [Hudgens] and Katie [Mitchell] graduating and going onto the next level. The biggest question was how are we going to replace the speed and the stolen bases. We had a lot of question marks coming into the season and it took a lot of time to figure out what our new plan of attack for this season was going to be.

How would you describe the personality of this year’s team?

Petryniec: It’s cliche, but it was almost a family approach. [Senior first baseman] Meghan Ryan was our statistical leader, but we didn’t have a D-I superstar on our team. The kids really bought into the approach. It’s going to take all of us to collectively be successful. They did a lot of stuff off the field on their own. They had organized breakfast and team dinners together. This group was a real collective whole group and it was fun to watch.

Which one of your players inspires you?

Petryniec: It’s not just one. It’s what they do collectively. When someone’s struggling, to see someone picking someone else up who’s not a coach was awesome to see. Maybe some kid had a bad round in the cage, and you see one of other kids giving them a hug and say, ‘Let’s go on, move on, it’s over.’ It just wasn’t one person. It was nice to be around with that.

You just won a million dollars. What is the first thing you would buy?

Petryniec: Field turf for our field. 100%. We’re making our field look like Barrington.

What is your perfect meal?

Petryniec: Still has to be my mom’s eggplant parmesan. As you start to get older, you start to appreciate it a little bit more.

If you could spend a day with anyone from history, who would it be?

Petryniec: It would have to be Phil Jackson. Younger me would have probably said a ton of superstar athletes. At this point I’ve been coaching for 20 years. I would love to pick his brain and how his brain worked and the mental approach. He always got players to play above their abilities, and he had egos he had to coach. I would love a sit down with him.

What is a game that stood out to you from this past season?

Petryniec: Honestly, it was 100% Lincoln-Way Central against [2023-24 Gatorade Illinois Softball Player of the Year] Bella Dimitrijevic. Even though she threw a perfect game against us that day, I looked at my coaches and said, ‘We’ve got a team here.’ She was dominating us. We were cheering for foul balls. When we put a ball in play, you would have thought we had just won state. We had a mantra of ‘Anyone, anywhere, anytime.’ That’s not anything about, ‘Hey, we’re going to beat anybody.’ It was more about no fear about being able to challenge ourselves against the best. And they were excited to see one of the best pitchers in the state of Illinois.

What is the toughest decision a coach has to make during a game?

Petryniec: It’s your starting lineup, especially when you have kids on your bench that are all such great athletes. On a daily basis you have to make a decision which kids who are really talented aren’t making the starting lineup.

What are three of your favorite movies?

Petryniec: “Friday Night Lights,” “Remember the Titans” and “Miracle.” Before the season and even before big games, those are my go-tos.

Who was your funniest player?

Petryniec: Our middle infielders, we call “Frick” and “Frack” [Sadie Svendsen and Aubrina Adamik]. They’re just goofy and silly. Makayla Rasmussen is right up with them, too.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Petryniec: This is where I want to be. I love my job. I love working with the kids. You can say an ocean, you can say a beach, you can say any place in the world. Coaching makes me happy, especially with a season like this and what we have coming back . Next year we’re returning so many. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

What will you remember most about the three seniors and the season as a whole?

Petryniec: The best part about the seniors was they had such different things they brought to the table. Meg, Christina [Smith] and Elly [Winter] each played a significant role in our success this season, but it was all from different styles. The kids embraced that and it was fun to watch. And I can’t go without saying something about [junior pitcher] Gretchen [Huber]. We knew she had some abilities, but we were kind of surprised with what she brought every day. She kept us in every single game, and we’re really looking forward to watch her be back next year.

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