Utica circles up during a matchup with Utica Eisenhower May 13 at Eisenhower High School.

Utica circles up during a matchup with Utica Eisenhower May 13 at Eisenhower High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blene

Utica’s young core, veteran leaders have softball program back on track

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Shelby-Utica News | Published June 3, 2024

 Utica senior Katelynn Perry runs to first base after a hit.

Utica senior Katelynn Perry runs to first base after a hit.

Photo by Patricia O’Blene


UTICA — It was only a matter of time before Utica High School varsity softball took off.

If there was any indication for the potential the Chieftains had heading into 2024, it was a 7-6 district finals loss last year to Utica Ford, a Macomb Area Conference Red team who reached the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 state semifinals last year.

Utica had been holding its own throughout the season to the tune of a 17-12 record and third place in the MAC White, but playing Ford down to the wire when the Falcons were at their best was a sign of what Utica softball could bring this year.

Immediately out the gate, the Chieftains flexed their muscles with wins over teams who were penciled in as losses in 2023, such as Armada and St. Clair.

Courtesy of a senior core led by Katelynn Perry, Samantha Patrick, Aeryn Harris and Elyssa Frezza, Utica finished second in the MAC White with a 26-9 record (10-2 in the league), its highest placement in the league since the Chieftains took home the league title in 2016.

“The seniors this year are great leaders,” sophomore Violet Smith said. “Even though they’re a couple years older than us, they don’t treat us like we’re younger. They give us good, constructive criticism if we need it and are always happy to see us succeed.”

Smith is one of the seven extremely talented sophomores for Utica who made a name for herself this season alongside Ava Brunning, Kylie Condon, Rachel Durecki, Alora Hogsten, McKenna Bock, and Sarah Plociniak.

Condon, Smith, Durecki and Hogsten were able to dig their cleats into varsity ball for some of their freshman season, but the 2026 class as a whole has burst onto the scene this year. Condon’s play in the outfield with her elite-level speed and range can stack up to just about anyone in the MAC

“That’s actually my favorite transition — from freshman to sophomore year,” Utica head coach Deonna Giacona said. “You can definitely see the maturity. Not only softball- or athletic-wise, but personally. I do believe they understand it a little bit better and they know what it takes to compete at this level. I think they took that in stride and continued from our season last year to summer ball and just continued to get better every step of the way. That’s actually shown a ton this year. You can definitely see the maturity.”

It also doesn’t hurt for the sophomore class to have a veteran group as knowledgeable as the core four Utica has, especially in the pitching department with Perry, Harris and Frezza showing Smith and Brunning the reins and having Patrick behind the plate.

The rotation has been lights out, there’s no question about that, but the Chieftains’ offensive firepower alone is winning the games day in and day out courtesy of leaders like Perry.

Perry sets the tone at the plate, providing the capability to drive in a game-winning hit, clear the bases with a double or triple, or lead off the inning to get the rhythm started.

She’s the clear-cut offensive leader, but Perry said it took some time to understand her role and what was expected of her.

“Being a senior leader is definitely different, because I am so used to being the underclassman, but I love helping my teammates out and giving them tips,” Perry said.

Perry and the senior core stepped onto the field as Chieftains for the final time on June 1 in a district championship matchup with Macomb Dakota, a MAC Red team.

Utica defeated Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 12-2 earlier in the day to earn a matchup against Dakota for the district title, but Utica’s journey would end there in an 8-1 loss.

Giacona will return an array of talent in 2025 with a junior-heavy roster and freshman Ava Mazza, who was an immediate contributor this season, having another year under her belt and a cast of veterans inching Utica one step closer toward a league title.

It’s been progress after progress the past couple of years for Utica, especially after winning district championships in 2019 and 2021, but Perry believes this season could set an expectation for the underclassmen moving forward.

“This season was unique because it was all sophomores and seniors, except for one freshman, and we had a good bond and a lot of success together,” Perry said. “The underclassmen are very talented, and I think they will have a decent season next year.”