FRASER — Bryana Opalewski didn’t have to keep on playing.
In fact, some tried to convince her to stop.
After playing through what doctors and coaches believed to be a severe case of shin splints, Opalewski was told that she had in fact played her first year of softball at Macomb Community College on a pair of stress fractures in her legs.
She was then told that if she kept on playing, she might crack the tibia bones in each of her legs.
Apparently, that news didn’t bother her.
Her sophomore year, Opalewski hit .424 with four home runs to go with a .954 fielding percentage.
To top it off, she was named Macomb Community College’s 2013-14 Female Athlete of the Year.
“I never thought I was going to win it,” Opalewski said. “There were four other nominees along with me at the event, and I didn’t think our athletic director was going to call my name.”
“As he started to talk about the player it was going to be, he started saying ‘this girl pushed through injuries both years, but worked hard on and off the field.’ That’s when I finally realized it was me. I just thought to myself how amazing it is to be in the Macomb Hall of Fame.”
MCC softball coach Joe Cavataio praised Opalewski’s efforts to stay on the field and put herself in a rare class of Macomb athletes.
“For a lot of kids, it would’ve just been easier to give up, but to her credit, she never did,” Cavataio said. “She put herself on our Hall of Fame wall, which is a great honor. We’ve been playing softball since 1976, and she put herself in a very small and elite group.”
To prepare for her second season, Opalewski followed a different course of action.
She was again sidelined from Macomb’s fall league, but she was able to follow a training regimen specifically catered to her now diagnosed injuries.
“Even walking to my classes was so painful during the season, because I never got a day off,” Opalewski said. “Every day, we had practice, but the coaches understood (my injuries) this year, so I laid back on all of the running so I would be prepared to play in the games.”
“Every day, I would do all of my stretches that I needed to do. I would ice my legs constantly. This year, I wore shin guards to protect my legs more because they could bruise more out of nowhere.”
On the field, Opalewski’s second season at MCC capped off a journey that began when she was 8. She began playing travel softball for her father, Jeff, who she credited for developing her skills to become a college athlete.
“He is the best coach I have ever had,” Opalewski said. “He taught me everything I know, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. He is definitely my biggest role model, and I don’t think I could ever thank him enough,” Opalewski said.
In addition to travel ball, Opalewski also earned All-State honors at Fraser High School while leading her team to the MAC Blue title in 2012. She hit .562 her senior year, and that caught the eye of Cavataio.
“She was very highly recruited coming out of Fraser because she had a lot of awards coming out of high school. She had a lot of experience in high-level travel programs as a versatile middle infielder who hit left-handed, so we saw a lot of potential that we really liked, and she lived up to that,” Cavataio said.
Cavataio called Opalewski a “student of the game,” while describing how her intelligence on the field helped her have two strong seasons at MCC.
“That’s one of the big qualities she has, on the field, that allowed her to adapt to the injuries, was that she started to use her head a little bit more than if you’re fully healthy,” Cavataio said. “You start to anticipate things, and you play within your ability or limitations. I think that makes you more of a complete player at times.”
Cavataio, who is in his sixth year as head softball coach at MCC, said that Opalewski exemplified everything he wants in a student-athlete.
“When I look back at her career, she typifies what a Monarch and a Macomb collegiate athlete is,” Cavataio said. “Every year, you expect to establish what your program is about, and build on that. That’s what we think about with Bryana, you talk about the kind of student-athlete that we were very proud to have and set the tone of the program for kids coming in, that’s what you look for.”
To continue her playing career, Opalewski will be playing for an 18-and-over travel team coached by her father.
She will be finishing her associate’s degree at MCC this fall, and she hopes to pursue a degree in physical therapy at Oakland University or Wayne State.