McHenry’s Lauren Sena went to her first college softball camp at Valparaiso as an eighth grader.
Ever since, the Warriors junior has dreamed of playing softball at the Missouri Valley Conference school. On Monday, that dream became a reality as Sena announced her commitment to softball coach Kate Stake and the NCAA Division I Crusaders.
Sena last went on a visit to Valparaiso two weeks ago and talked with the coaching staff. They offered her not long after she left, and Sena waited a couple of days before making a decision.
“Valparaiso has always been at the top of my list,” Sena said. “I was honestly waiting to see if it was going to happen. It feels like a dream. ... I waited a few days to let it sink in, but I’ve always known I wanted to go there.”
Sena’s persistence and hard work paid off.
Sena’s travel softball coach at the Bartlett Silver Hawks, Lauren McNulty, a former standout player at Butler University, has coached Sena for three years. She remembers one of their first conversations.
“I talk to the girls before tryouts and ask what their goals are,” McNulty said. “At the time, she was a freshman and said, ‘I want to play softball at Valparaiso.’ I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Where else do you want to play? She said, ‘No. I really want to play at Valpo.’ For it to come true, it doesn’t always happen that way. I’m really excited for her.”
Sena, an outfielder, also made visits to Loyola, Bradley and Indiana State, but Valparaiso was her first offer and first choice.
“It means a lot,” said Sena, who also plays on McHenry’s varsity volleyball team. “Growing up, I always knew I wanted to play softball in college, so being able to go Division I is amazing. All of my coaches and teammates helped me get there.”
Sena liked the way Valparaiso coaches communicated with players. The Crusaders were 16-31 and 4-22 in the MVC last season.
“Coach Stake is super positive, and I love the way she runs things,” Sena said. “She takes extra steps to help you learn and get through stuff. The camps are super informal, and they get better every time I go there. I just fell in love with the campus. It always felt like home to me. It just felt like the right fit.”
McHenry was 23-13 last season, improving by nine wins, and won its third straight regional title. The Warriors lost to eventual Class 4A state champion Huntley, 4-3, in a Huntley Sectional final.
McHenry graduated five starters, leaving many big roles to fill. Sena still expects the Warriors to come back strong in the tough FVC.
“That was an exciting game,” Sena said of facing Huntley. “It was really exciting because we had beaten them earlier in the year. Our No. 1 goal was to get through them again. In the end it didn’t work out, but I think that was one of our best games.
“I think we’re going to come back strong and have a really good team again.”