By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, April 8, 2014 – It would have made sense for Winter Park, Fla., native Veronica Gajownik to continue her softball career at UCF, but a leap of faith landed the versatile infielder in a pretty good spot at USF.
Gajownik walked onto head coach Ken Eriksen’s squad prior to the season and she’s swung a mean stick so far, ranking third on the team with a .370 batting average in 34 games (27 starts) heading into the Bulls’ three-game series against the rival Knights this weekend at the USF Softball Stadium.
“She comes to play every day. She’s enthusiastic and a nice leader on the field that plays the game hard,” Eriksen said. “Those are all the accolades I can give to a kid that took a chance to come here to walk onto this team and to get playing time.”
Gajownik, primarily USF’s starting second baseman, also plays third and shortstop with a fearless approach that helped her land a spot on the team.
“She walked up to me last year during one of the ballgames and said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if you know me, I’m Ronnie Gajownik, and I’m coming to the University of South Florida next year,’” Eriksen said.
Eriksen knew a little bit about Gajownik from her first days as a college player at Jacksonville University and travel ball, but USF’s 18th-year head coach didn’t expect her to make such a splash this early at the Division I level. However, Eriksen said Gajownik quickly proved her worth after earning all-conference honors at Indian River State College last season with a hard-working approach and great attitude.
“She’s always in the batting cage, always taking ground balls and always trying to get better in the game,” Eriksen said. “There are a lot of great players on this team and there a lot great players vying for playing time, but Ronnie has elevated her game. She’s made it tough for me not to put her in the lineup every single day.”
Gajownik’s love for the sport started when she was 10 years old and the game has taken her quite a long way. The 20-year-old made a name for herself at Paul J. Hagerty High School, which is close to UCF’s campus, while she traveled the softball circuit in the summer with Team North Florida, Team Florida and the Tampa Mustangs. Gajownik also has played for the Chicago Pioneers and has excelled on a bigger diamond for the U.S. women’s national baseball team as a pitcher and three-position infielder.
“It’s so different,” she said. “In baseball the ball moves a lot more and in softball it’s all about reaction time.”
Playing different positions or a different sport isn’t a big deal for Gajownik, who likes to keep her options open, especially when it comes to a future career.
Gajownik got accepted into UCF’s athletic training program when she was trying to make a college decision after Indian River State College and decided to give herself more options at USF. The junior is currently majoring in interdisciplinary social sciences with focuses in environmental science and religious beliefs, but her dream is to become a softball coach at the Division I level someday.
“My main goal is to be a head coach, retire and then work with little kids out in Yellowstone or Yosemite or anywhere out West,” she said.
Gajownik developed an appreciation for the outdoors thanks to family trips to state parks growing up and she’ll continue the experience with her parents at places like Yosemite and Zion this summer.
“All my family trips have been based on national parks,” she said. “My parents have raised me to be an outdoorsy person. I feel like a lot of people miss out on that and I feel like one of my callings is to educate people on the environment and see really how important it is.”
It also helps that Gajownik’s father, Glenn, is the chief meteorologist at WOFL-FOX in Orlando.
“It would have been kind of cool to see my dad on TV when I’m like, “Alright, let’s see what the weather is going to be tomorrow for our game,’ but they really like (USF) and wouldn’t change where I’m at,” Gajownik said.
Gajownik’s father and mother, Marcel, make it out to the USF Softball Stadium to catch games pretty often and Gajownik is motivated to give her parents a show while she plays on the smaller diamond as a Bull.
“I just want to make my parents proud because of all the days they drove me, did my laundry, fed me and everything,” Gajownik said. “They’re so happy to see my playing on that field and playing to my best capabilities.”
Gajownik said she never really knows where she’ll be playing for the Bulls until she sees Eriksen’s lineup card on game days, and in a way that’s probably a good thing for an emerging softball star that Eriksen said has a "cool demeanor." Gajownik posted a 3.29 grade point average in the fall and continues to step up in the classroom while she anxiously waits to get back to softball.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “I wake up every single day and I can’t wait to get out to the field.”
Watch Gajownik and the Bulls take on the Knights this weekend. The series starts with a doubleheader Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday’s single game is slated for a 1 p.m. start. Purchase tickets HERE, like USF Softball on Facebook HERE and follow @USFSoftball on Twitter.
The Gajownik File
Hometown: Winter Park, Fla.
Hobbies: Going to state and national parks, scuba diving
Season Stats: .370 batting average, four doubles, one homer, 15 RBIs, five steals, 34 games (27 starts)