In just 13 days, Justine Szetela will guide Morton High School for the first time as varsity softball head coach.

The former Metamora Township High School standout takes over the reigns this spring.

In just 13 days, Justine Szetela will guide Morton High School for the first time as varsity softball head coach.

The former Metamora Township High School standout takes over the reigns this spring.

The Potters were 16-21 last year, just their second losing record in the last 15 seasons. They tied Pekin for fifth place in the Mid-Illini Conference at 6-8.

“I am very excited. I was really sad when my softball career ended after playing four years collegiately and then when this opportunity arose, I just couldn’t pass it up,” said Szetela.

The Illinois Central College and Olivet Nazarene University graduate takes over for 14-year head coach Stacey Buescher, who is the program’s career leader with 312 victories.

Szetela aims to help Morton players aspire to play college softball, which was a memorable experience for her.

“I learned so much being a collegiate athlete and have so much excitement for the game,” Szetela said. “I could not wait to share my knowledge and make younger athletes better and hopefully continue their softball journey into college.”
 
The transition has gone well, Szetela said, with the help of sophomore coach Megan Hasler. But the whole squad is anxious to get outside.

“Practicing in a gym can only be effective for so long,” said Szetela. “Needless to say, I am ready for some warm softball weather.”

Szetela, formerly Justine Phillips, played second base as a freshman at Metamora, then was a three-year first-team all-Mid-Illini Conference shortstop. She was an Illinois Coaches Association Class 3A second-team all-state selection as a senior.

She was a member of the Redbirds’ 2010 3A state championship team that went 39-1.

Szetela played softball for two years at ICC for head coach Heather Doty, then transferred to ONU and played two more seasons for head coach Ritchie Richardson.

She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and is a reading aide at Morton’s Lincoln Elementary School. Szetela also is a Mary Kay Independent Beauty consultant.

Morton softball has five state trophies in its heritage, the most of any team sport at the school, but none for first place.

“I would love to take a team to state and win the whole thing. It is an unforgettable experience and I would love for these girls to be able to have that experience,” Szetela said.

Short term, Szetela desires the team to be better at the end of the season than at the beginning. A young group, there is a lot of room for improvement, she said.

This is a chance for previous Potters regulars to reestablish themselves and gives other returnees an opportunity to earn larger roles. Varsity newcomers get to share the transition with the coach.

“I honestly did not know much about any of my players, and so basically they have a clean slate and have the chance to really show what they can do,” Szetela said. “I have been very pleased with the effort and hard work from these girls.”

Home games this year will be at Birchwood Park. The hope is for the new field to be ready for the 2016 season.

Szetela is satisfied with the way the current schedule is constructed, but is seeking to add an overnight tournament eventually.

“We did one when I was in high school and it was such a fun experience getting to spend time with the team,” said Szetela.

The Potters still are searching for a freshman coach to join the staff.

Weather permitting, the Morton season starts March 26 at Manito against Midwest Central. The home opener is two days later, a twin bill against Downers Grove South.