First she was sick. Then she was hurt.
Mononucleosis prevented Emily Naegele from playing much basketball for Oak Forest last winter.
A broken middle finger on her right hand put the bulk of her softball season in doubt.
"At first they said I had to sit out six weeks," said Naegele, a junior catcher. "I stressed that I really wanted to play, so they said I could if I could tolerate the pain."
The splint she wore for six weeks made it difficult to write in school, but hitting and throwing were another matter. Naegele performed well early in the season despite the encumbrance. She's been nearly unstoppable since it was removed.
Suddenly powerful, the 5-foot-7 Naegele has five home runs in her last five games and is batting .603 with nine homers, 33 RBIs, nine stolen bases and a .995 fielding percentage this season for No. 10-ranked Oak Forest (17-3 through Friday).
She is the Tribune/WGN-Ch. 9 Preps Plus Athlete of the Month for April.
"I don't know what it is," Naegele said. "I go to hitting lessons every week, and that really helps. I didn't plan on hitting all these home runs. Last year I had a good average, and I was just trying to keep up that reputation."
Naegele entered high school without one, at least in Oak Forest coach Paige Stryczek's mind.
She was not among the incoming freshman Stryczek called up to play with the varsity in the summer of 2008, a fact Naegele reminds Stryczek of often.
Stryczek first noticed Naegele's athletic ability while watching an Oak Forest basketball game. When she heard she was a catcher, a state-championship team was born.
"Emily Norton was looking for someone to throw to over the winter," Stryczek said. "I told Norton to get together with this kid and see what she's made of."
Norton, the Tribune/WGN-Ch. 9 Athlete of the Month last April, had her doubts.
"To this day she will admit she hated throwing to me," Naegele said.
It didn't take long for that to change.
The young battery — Norton was a sophomore, Naegele a freshman — led Oak Forest to the 3A state championship in 2009, and there as good a bet as any to win again in '11.
Norton will continue her career at Radford University in Virginia, where she will be joined by Naegele the following year.
"I guess we're stuck with each other," Naegele joked, "whether we like it or not."
Oak Forest's Emily Naegele will be featured during a segment on WGN-Ch. 9's "Instant Replay" at 9:40 p.m. Sunday. If you miss it, watch the video Monday at prepsplus.com.
Athletes of the Month
September: Kapri Bibbs, Plainfield North, football
October: Stephanie Miller, Stevenson, golf
November: Haley Sims, Downers Grove North, swimming
December: Ryan Boatright, East Aurora, basketball
January: Jewell Loyd, Niles West, basketball
February: Danny Thomson, Hinsdale Central, swimming
March: Kayla Beattie, Woodstock, track and field
ATHLETE OF THE MONTH