Sports

SMU’s Dani Wall “the epitome of the unselfish player” as Saints softball’s utility player

Dani Wall calls her home position for Saint Martin’s University softball team — for this season, anyway —first base.

As a utility player, Wall has done a lot of learning on the softball diamond during her four-year career. Coach Rick Noren said the senior has a rare combination of willingness, desire and heart to do what’s in the best interest of the team, even if that means learning new positions on the fly throughout college.

“She’s the epitome of the unselfish player,” Noren said.

The seventh-seeded Saints (41-18) prepare for their second NCAA West Regional appearance in three seasons, playing No. 2 seed and tournament host Dixie State (44-7) to begin the double-elimination tournament at 2:30 p.m. (PDT) Thursday in St. George, Utah. Wall, who graduated from Tenino High, is a big part of the team’s success.

The Bucoda native was recruited out of high school as a middle infielder, but needs in various positions in the Saints’ lineup put her everywhere defensively but pitcher. She’s played first base, second, shortstop, third, left field, center, right, and even fall-ball catcher.

Wall has adapted just fine. Practicing infield one day, outfield the next.

Wall looks back and chuckles — “I wasn’t the best at it,” she recalls, “but I did what I could for the team to make it work.

“I want to be in a spot where I’m needed the most. It doesn’t matter to me where that is. I want to help the team in the best way I can.”

Noren said two qualities make a good utility player, and Wall has them: attitude and adaptability.

“If you give her a challenge,” he said, “she’s going to do her best to succeed at it.”

As lucky as the Saints are to have Wall, she’s as happy with the path she took. Wall was uncommitted to a college program during the summer of 2011 when her plans to attend Hawaii-Hilo fell through. Wall caught Noren’s attention during a summer tournament, and she signed a month before enrolling at SMU.

Her statistics with the Saints have improved every year to her most productive year this season. In 56 starts, her .351 batting average ranks sixth on the team and her five strikeouts is tied for fewest among the Saints’ everyday players.

She also has career highs in hits (65) and RBI (39), crediting her breakout senior season for wanting to end her career on a strong note. During a key 2-1, 4-3 home sweep of Central Washington on April 18, Wall went a combined 4 for 7, including an RBI walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning in the second game.

“I’m trying to stay positive and have a good time, and have fun play this game because it’s something I love,” said Wall, a two-time all-Great Northwest Athletic Conference honorable mention performer.

“The more I try to enjoy it and have a good time, the easier it is for everything to flow and it makes things easier to be successful when you’re having a good time.”

Wall was a sophomore two years ago when the Saints made the NCAA West Regionals for the first time. Wall said she believes this year’s team has the talent to go further than ever before, and a big part of the Saints’ success is the team chemistry.

The 41 wins ties the 2013 team for most in school history, but Wall said she believes more is ahead of them this weekend.

“We can go a long ways,” she said.

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473

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@theolympian.com

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