30th Softball season a special one for family

Category:  Sports
Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 at 10:02 PM
30th Softball season a special one for family by Chris Rosato Jr.
Photo: Christopher Rosato Jr.

The pressure on a student-athlete with an athletic bloodline can be daunting, especially when attending the same university that their parents did.

It probably increases if you have a relative on your own coaching staff.

But with her father at the helm of the softball program, her brother as an additional coach, and her mother in the stands for every game, Lauren Gierlak faces an entirely different kind of pressure.

“It doesn’t stop on the field,” she said. “I go home and I get it. I go in the car, I get it. It’s constant work for me, but I think that’s what makes it better.”

Gierlak is one of the experienced athletes leading her father’s softball team in his 30th season as head coach. A junior, she’s also coached in the outfield by her older brother, Joey Gierlak, the only one in the family who went to school elsewhere.

Their oldest sister, Alex, also played softball at Edinboro, and Amy, the matriarch, was the 1989 Nancy Acker Award winner — Edinboro’s top senior female athlete honor.

Amy Gierlak’s senior year of softball was Dan Gierlak’s first season at the helm. 31 years later — Dan took a year off to concentrate on his role as an assistant football coach in 1995 — and Amy can be found sitting behind the backstop at nearly all of Edinboro’s games.

Joey Gierlak makes it to every game he can — sometimes having to show up during the game — but has to balance his time at Edinboro with a paid position as a baseball coach at Cambridge Springs High School. He chose to attend Clarion University to play for their baseball squad in his college days.

“I am definitely the black sheep of the family,” he said of his decision.

Dan Gierlak himself was also an athlete at Edinboro, lettering as a defensive back on Edinboro’s football team.

Lauren Gierlak said having her family at her games is a motivating factor more than anything.

“It’s definitely big. It means a lot,” she explained. “It means the world to me to have them all here and to prove to them that I deserve to be here.”

Game time means family time

For the Gierlaks, Edinboro softball has always been a family tradition.

“Part of it is my kids have grown up in the field,” Dan Gierlak said. “They’ve been in the dugout since they’ve been really young. Joey used to throw a baseball against the back of the dugout when the kids were playing. They were here at practice. They’ve grown up here.”

Dan Gierlak speaks fondly of bringing the kids to the ballpark while they were young. For years, their family vacations would take place when his softball squad traveled south to Florida for their spring break games.

“Growing up, I always idolized these girls,” Lauren Gierlak said, remembering being around the school’s softball program. “And being one of them is pretty big. They’ve always been the most amazing softball players to me, and to be one of them is like a really big accomplishment.”

Dan Gierlak also said he enjoyed having his family on the field rather than only in the stands.

“The nice thing is I’ve been around a lot of other people’s kids for a lot of years, and now I get to see my own kids go through that,” he said, “which is great.”

Joey Gierlak said that his role on the coaching staff started off as a translator, helping pass messages along from his father. Being the black sheep of the family already, he also tends to be the dissenting voice “just because I know him really well and I’m able to fight back with him.”

He said he sees himself as the whole team’s big brother, not just Lauren’s, but enjoys spending time with her in the field.

“First off, she’s an outfielder, [and] I do a lot of the outfield stuff,” he explained. “So she’s with me most of the time, and I try to do as much as I can to not treat her like she’s my little sister. I try to be as open as I can with everybody and treat her the same way, and after that I can start picking on her.”

Dan Gierlak stressed that he treats his daughter the same as the rest of the team, but his daughter expected that when she chose to play at Edinboro.

“Those kids have grown up knowing that they’ve got to be better than other people to play,” he said. “And Lauren’s been up and down, but she gives you everything she’s got every single time. So I think there is some pressure, but they’ve also grown up with that.”

Lauren has a breakout season

Lauren Gierlak is rounding out her best season yet, with a career-high 15 hits, 21 runs, 10 stolen bases and a career-low seven strikeouts heading into Wednesday’s doubleheader against California.

She has yet to post a high for season batting average, but remains a force on the basepaths. She is 10-for-11 in stolen base attempts, second only to Danna Heh, who is 19-for-22.

She struggled out of the gate, failing to reach base in six plate appearances through the first three games. Batting ninth in the team’s fourth game of the season against University of Mary during their spring trip, though, she doubled down the left field line in her first at-bat.

“She hit a double and went up to second and just screamed her head off,” Joey Gierlak remembered, saying it was a special moment for him as her brother. “It was almost as if this cloud was taken off her head, like the monkey was off her shoulders. She was ready to go. And it was like she proved [to] herself on the field that she should play.”

She has been contributing from near the top of the order since the team returned to Florida, including an RBI-double in game one of Edinboro’s sweep of Slippery Rock on April 18 that helped the Fighting Scots come back to tie the contest and force extra innings.

“It’s a fun time, it really is, to see her up there and doing well,” the head coach said of her breakout season.

Lauren Gierlak said she has been motivated to improve every year and hopes to continue that into her senior season in 2020.

“I definitely want to show that I’m a leader on the team,” she said. “I kind of want to prove to my dad, my brother and my mom how good I can be in four years.”

For now, her father is enjoying the time he has.

“I’ve talked about it being a family — our team being a family — for years, and now it is,” he said. “Not only my family, but also my family, which is kind of a unique situation.”

Christopher Rosato Jr. | sports.spectator@gmail.com

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