Naturally talented Duhart led Nicolet softball team to new heights this season
Third baseman earns All-Suburban honors
Glendale - Most of the players who make the NOW All-Suburban softball team have been playing the sport for years, some since they were toddlers.
It's the way they got better and got a step on their competitors.
Consider Nicolet junior third baseman and 2012 NOW selection Lanoira Duhart a natural.
She just took up the sport her freshmen year.
"I was in a slow-pitch league when I was younger and when I was a little kid it was between soccer and softball," she said. "I went with softball and it was a good choice.
"I just like everything about the sport. There's a great atmosphere. The people around the game are nice, and I like a challenge."
Yes, she does as you can see when you examine her second sport, basketball.
For you see, this past winter, the sturdily built but only 5-8 Duhart had to work hard, buck up and make like she was both the 6-1 Gabby Bronson and the 6-5 Alex Cohen rolled into one as she was one of the Knights' few true physical presences. The pair of now-graduated, all-state front-liners were stars on the 2011 state champion Knights girls basketball team.
Softball is her passion
Duhart did work hard, did buck up and helped the guard-heavy Knights to another 20-plus win season and their fourth North Shore Conference title in a row.
"Basketball was fun and it became easy by the end of the year," Duhart said, "but softball is my love and passion."
And because of her love and commitment and the steady build of the Knights program, Nicolet was able to have its first winning record (13-12) in close to two decades and also win a WIAA regional title. Duhart also earned a rare first-team All-North Shore Conference selection.
"Like I said, I like a challenge," Duhart said. "We were an underdog team all season, but we always knew we had the potential to be good, but we had to work at it. It was an attitude the coaches try to instill in us."
And Duhart adapted along with the team. She started her career at shortstop, but coach Brad Kuehl found her to be more comfortable at third. She started this season in the leadoff position in the batting order and moved to third so she could drive in more runs (she led the team in almost all major offensive categories).
"She really had a breakout year," Kuehl said. "She hit for power, she hit for average and she makes all the plays at third.
"I think I'm pretty adaptable," Duhart said. "When I was younger, I played stickball with the guys, so I was a bit used to the speed of the game. I was nervous the first couple of games, but I was able to contribute. And at third, you have to be mentally tough (because the ball comes at you so fast). My freshmen year was decent and last year was a little rougher than it should have been.
"But I like being in clutch situations."
Working to improve
She said she got a great deal of help from assistant coach Amy Heinzelman and Nicolet's 2011 NOW Softball selection Emily Gadzichowski. Work in the Whitefish Bay summer league last season also helped.
"Emily was always around to help," Duhart laughed, "and coach Heinzelman really helped me get over my nerves at the plate. It became a good year. We had some good moments and it gives us something to work on for next year."
She'll continue to work hard at softball and have fun at basketball, because although Duhart knows she's a natural, she knows can improve.
"A winning record, a regional title, those are great things," she said, "but we can do better."
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