Niagara Gazette

June 24, 2013

Niagara Falls' Toni Polk named Gazette Player of the Year

By Mike Meiler mike.meiler@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — By any measure, Toni Polk had one heckuva season.

The Niagara Falls sophomore hit .611 and accounted for 57 runs — 29 scored and 28 knocked in. But it wasn’t the grand slam in a two-run win over Kenmore West that she remembers most fondly, nor was it one of her five games with five-plus runs accounted for.

Polk said her favorite moment was teammate Jerri Ann Orfano’s two-out, walk-off home run in a 5-4 win over rival Niagara-Wheatfield, a play Niagara Falls coach Martha Amoretti remembers quite well.

“We were in position (to score down one in the seventh),” Amoretti recalled. “Stephanie (Bielec) got on with no outs, and we had Amanda (Boyle) bunt. But Stephanie got thrown out trying to go from first to third for the double play. Toni came up with two outs, and I told her to just get on, and she did. She didn’t try killing it and tying the game herself, she just got on, and Jerri Ann took the first pitch she saw over the fence.”

For harnessing the natural ability that has made her an All-Niagara Frontier League athlete in three different sports, and for being the offensive catalyst on one of the highest-scoring teams in Western New York, Polk has been named the Niagara Gazette’s 2013 Softball Player of the Year.

The honor is the latest for Polk in a year full of them. During the fall, she was named first team All-NFL in volleyball, where she’s been a varsity starter since she was in eighth grade. She followed that by making second team all-league in basketball, where she plays guard. In addition to the first-team softball award, she was named the NFL Player of the Year, as voted on by the coaches.

“If she’s not the best female athlete in school history, she’s definitely one of them,” Amoretti said. “She’s good at every sport she’s tried.”

Polk first started playing softball at around 7 years old, she said. As a sixth grader, she “played up” with the 14-and-under Western New York Sting, which she recalls as a special summer for her.

“That was a big year,” she said. “I played a lot of games that summer, and I loved the game. I realized that if I’m (playing up), maybe this could be something big.”

Amoretti coached Polk as a junior varsity player in seventh grade and has seen her progress over the past four years. She also coaches her during volleyball season, and she said Polk’s breakout season came from a change in mindset and hard work.

“She really seemed to have a little bit more fun this year,” Amoretti said. “We worked on a lot of individual stuff, and I think she’s more relaxed.”

Polk prides herself on being a versatile player, and her mother, Rose, said there were days her daughter would go to school at 8 a.m. and not get home until 9 p.m. after practices and trips to instructors for individual training.

She plays third base for the Wolverines, but will play shortstop this summer for the Gold Coast Hurricanes — a showcase team out of Florida that participates in tournaments across the country. She offered to catch next season after the graduation of senior Nicole Terrana, and though it’s not the plan, Amoretti said she’d “probably be very good at it.”

Polk also prides herself on her versatility at the plate.

“She’s fast, hits from the left side, and can bunt or slap or hit for power,” Amoretti said. “It’s very hard to defend her.”

“I want to mix it up at the plate,” Polk added. “I want to be unpredictable.”

Polk also plays on a 23-and-under team over the summer with former Gazette All-Area stars and current Division I players Caitlin Attfield (Alabama-Birmingham/Nia.-Wheatfield) and Meghan Cuda (Canisius/Lewiston-Porter).

She said the high level of travel play puts her in more close games where she can play in big situations, which makes her more mentally tough.

She’s hoping it pays off with a Division I scholarship, and has been in touch with a number of schools, including South Carolina, Fordham and Boston College.

With two years of high school remaining, her future is certainly bright.

“I don’t know what her ceiling is, and I hope she doesn’t either,” Amoretti said. “The thing with Toni though, is she works on stuff. She’ll say, ‘Can we work on my backhand?’, or she’ll ask to get to the pitching machine and work on a certain thing. She’s obviously a very good athlete, but she doesn’t settle for that.”

Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.