When Emma Valainis stepped into high school four years ago at Davenport Assumption, she anticipated basketball would be her go-to sport.
Given she had some height and her older sister, Alyson, excelled on the court for the Knights, it seemed logical.
But during her freshman softball season, one in which she played about every position on the field other than pitcher, former Assumption coach Bob Mathys said something that stuck with Valainis.
“He said, ‘Emma, this is your sport. You’re going to find a love here, you’re going to fall in love with it,’” Valainis recalled. “I never really thought about it at the time. I used to love basketball, and I think it was always because I wanted to be like my sister.”
Softball has turned into a passion for Valainis, a five-year starter for the Class 3A top-ranked Knights.
The Northern Iowa signee will be behind the plate when Assumption (41-1) meets 10th-ranked West Marshall in a state quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Monday in Fort Dodge at the Rogers Sports Complex.
Valainis has filled up the stat sheet for the Knights during her storied career. Involved in 161 wins, she has recorded 220 hits (45 doubles and 38 home runs) and driven in 186 runs.
Numbers, though, are not what grab her teammates’ attention.
“She’s been a great leader every year that I’ve been here,” shortstop Nicole Yoder said. “All of us are close with Emma. She’s just a good role model for us.”
When Assumption’s infield or pitching staff needs guidance, they often look behind the plate to Valainis for direction.
“She is a workhorse and been great for the program,” Assumption coach Ron Ferrill said. “She has represented this program very well for five years and will be greatly missed.”
Assumption was below .500 in Valainis’ first season. The program has increased its win total each year she’s been there — 20, 28, 31, 41 and 41.
The Knights lost in a regional final to Mount Pleasant two seasons ago. They made it to the state championship game last year and have designs of finishing the task at state this week.
“It has been one heck of a ride, loved every moment,” Valainis said. “This is the greatest way a senior could ask to go out, making it back to Fort Dodge and continuing our season. We’re beyond thankful for this chance.”
With early success in high school along with the encouragement of her coaches, softball supplanted basketball as her favorite sport.
Valainis batted over .400 as a freshman and was a first team all-state selection as a sophomore after smacking a school-record 15 homers and driving in 45 runs.
In fact, Valainis discontinued basketball after her ninth-grade season.
“I kind of lost the love for it,” she said. “I overplayed and got burned out with it.”
A college softball career came into focus her sophomore and junior seasons. Invited to play with the Quad-City Firebirds ‘98, an ASA program, Valainis elected not to go out for volleyball her junior season. Instead, she played softball and went to various camps.
“Giving up a sport I also love, it took a lot for me it but also opened a door to a whole new level,” she said. “As much as I wish I could play my junior year of volleyball, I’m very happy with my decision.”
It eventually led to an offer from UNI. Valainis committed in the fall of her junior season.
She has not taken anything for granted.
Valainis was an all-tournament selection at state last year after going 4-for-5 in the state quarterfinal win over Atlantic and mashing a home run in the semifinal rally over Solon.
That momentum has carried into her final season.
Valainis is batting .427, the highest average of her career, along with 8 home runs and a single season, career-best 49 RBIs.
“This year, one of the biggest things she’s brought to the table is her clutch hitting,” Ferrill said. “She has come up with some very timely hits for us.
“She’s really shouldered the work load for us behind the plate.”
Valainis has made lifelong friendships through softball. A state championship would top it off.
Assumption is the favorite to capture the gold trophy this week.
Other than a season-opening loss to Moline, Assumption has conquered every challenge the last 41 games. It hasn’t surrendered a run in three postseason contests.
“We’re going to keep the same mentality we’ve had the entire season,” Valainis said. “We’re not going to get complacent, and we’re going to look at every team as they’re the best in the state. We can’t take anybody lightly.”