Joliet West’s Avery Houlihan ready for next step at Notre Dame

Joliet West’s Avery Houlihan waits to bat against Joliet Central on Monday, May 6, 2024.

Joliet West shortstop Avery Houlihan didn’t lack options when it came time to choose a college where she would continue both her athletic and academic careers.

Turns out, the right choice was the one she had dreamed about.

Houlihan will attend and play softball for the University of Notre Dame. It was a pretty easy choice for her.

“I had some interest from a few Big 10 schools and a few SEC schools,” Houlihan said. “I am Catholic, and I wanted to stay close to home, so Notre Dame was always the dream. When they reached out, I was so excited.

“Then I went to visit, and I just loved the campus. It felt like home to me. I met some of the players and got along really well with them. I am going to be getting a top education and be able to play softball for a top school.”

Joliet West’s Avery Houlihan connects for a triple against Joliet Central on Monday, May 6, 2024.

Houlihan, who plans to major in finance, has been the leadoff hitter for Joliet West since her sophomore season. She has undergone a bit of a transformation in her career, going from a slap-only hitter to one that now has slapping ability but also can take a full swing and do extra-base type of damage.

Her skill at getting on base and driving in runs, as well as stellar defensive work at shortstop, has helped the Tigers to a 15-10 start while averaging nearly six runs a game. In a match-up at the WJOL Tournament earlier this season, Houlihan hit a pair of home runs off Lincoln-Way Central junior Lisabella Dimitrijevic, who has committed to Florida State. Soon, the two will square off in college as opponents in the ACC.

Houlihan credits coach Jerry Quinn of the Illinois Chill, her summer travel team, with helping her adjust her swing.

“I joined the Illinois Chill after my sophomore year,” she said. “They have really helped me prepare for playing at the college level. I was originally just a slapper, and I have come a long way. I am able to take a full swing now anytime I want. That’s great because I come up with runners on base a lot because our team is good about getting on.

“But I also still have the ability to slap if we need it so I can get on base for some of the people behind me in the lineup.”

Houlihan has six home runs on the season, second on the team to cleanup hitter Brooke Schwall’s eight.

With Houlihan and company constantly on base, the dugout is in a constant state of excitement. As a result, the Tigers may have the loudest dugout in the area from the start of the game to the finish.

“We have non-stop energy,” Houlihan said. “Everyone is always up in the dugout, and we are always cheering for each other. We try to keep that energy consistent throughout the game, and we’re usually able to do that.”

Joliet West’s Avery Houlihan fields a ground ball during warmups before the game against Joliet Central on Monday, May 6, 2024.

Houlihan’s ability on both offense and defense has drawn the attention of opposing coaches as well.

“Houlihan really gets them going offensively,” Joliet Central coach Jonathan Rashid said after facing the Tigers recently. “She can slap for a single to get on base, or if there are runners to drive in she can swing full and drive it into a gap.

“Then, when she is out there at shortstop, there isn’t much that gets past her. She makes some plays that other girls don’t make.”

Before she heads to South Bend, Houlihan has a season to finish with her teammates.

“We have some big goals,” she said. “We want to win a regional and make it as far as we can in the postseason. Everyone is contributing to our team’s success, and we want to use that.

“We want to keep doing the little things well, like hit the ball hard and trust our teammates. If we can do that, we should be in good shape.”