- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Most softball pitchers hated that the mound was being moved back 3 feet beginning this season.
One would assume Fremd senior Lena Brottman would follow that trend. Brottman has been one of the state's most dominant pitchers the past three seasons from 40 feet out, and just last season she went 21-4 and struck out 280 batters in a 173 2/3 innings while leading the Vikings to a third-place finish at state.
But Brottman approved of the change. Never an overpowering pitcher, she actually felt she could be even more successful from 43 feet.
So far, Brottman, the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week, has been right. Through five games, she is 5-0 and hasn't allowed an earned run in four of those games.
"You definitely can't rely on your fastball from 43 feet," said Brottman, who has 58 career wins. "You definitely have to throw more junk pitches. I think it's fun because it gives you 3 feet to work with spinner pitches. I haven't found much trouble with it. Because there's 3 extra feet, there's more room to make the ball dance around a little bit. I personally like it."
The hitters who face Brottman don't. She has a solid fastball -- it ranges in the mid-50s -- but she has five junk pitches to torment batters with. What exactly those five pitches are, she wouldn't say.
"I don't know if I want to publish that," said Brottman with a laugh. "I make sure I move the ball around."
Fremd coach Jim Weaver can attest to that. Weaver described Brottman's off-speed pitches as "nasty" and has seen her take noticeable steps in her pitching ability this season.
That isn't a surprise to Weaver. Even though Brottman has been starting for him on varsity since she was a freshman, she has never been the type of player who has stopped working to improve.
"I think what you're talking about is kids hitting their peak," Weaver said. "It's upstairs. It's mental. They think, 'I'm on varsity. I'm a recognizable player. I can relax.' They take it easy. Lena has never done that. I've never seen any stagnation."
Brottman's explanation for her motivation is simple.
"Honestly, I still love it," she said. "I still love throwing and pitching and playing softball. I know it's cheesy, but I still love it. Our team is so close. We're pushing each other to work harder every day."
Brottman is a self-motivated person, and she's driven even more this year as Fremd, which made the state tournament last season, is the favorite this season.
Last season, Fremd lost in the state semifinals 1-0 to eventual champion Loyola in extra innings. Brottman allowed five hits, no earned runs and struck out 11.
"Those tight games are the best types of games," Brottman said. "For us, it was so great to get downstate. It gave us more motivation for the offseason. Obviously, it's one of our goals for this season. That's the ultimate. But our biggest thing is try our best and be the best team we can be. Hopefully that will take us to the state championship."
Winning is important, but it's not all that matters to Brottman. That showed in her college decision. She opted to commit to Emory, which has a competitive Division III program and a well-known business school, even though she could have possibly gone to a higher level to play.
"She didn't want to play Division I," Weaver said. "She told me early on, 'I want to be a student that plays softball. I don't want to be a softball player that sometimes takes classes.' … She's always been a very mature person. I had no reservations putting her on varsity as a freshman because she was 15 going on 30."
Brottman's maturity is also exemplified in the charity she has been running since she was in fifth grade. She began Heart to Heart because she saw what a waste candy and greeting cards could be for Valentine's Day and how it would serve everyone better if that money was donated to charities.
Since then, the charity has grown every year. It now collects from Fremd and an assortment of local schools through donations and fundraisers. In years past, the money has gone to the Make a Wish Foundation, but this year it went to an orphanage in Thailand.
It's one of many reasons Weaver will miss having Brottman around next year.
"She's just a phenomenal kid," Weaver said. "We're lucky right now that we're surrounded by people like Lena."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
Fremd pitcher Lena Brottman is ESPNChicago.com's Player of the Week.