She is only 17, but already is a licensed humvee driver who can diffuse bombs. She can challenge any area boys athlete to a push-ups contest and like her chances. She can withstand grueling physical and mental punishment and keep coming back for more.
She is Hannah Cole. Most know Cole as a Muncy softball phenom who likely will soon become a four-time all-state selection. As great as she is on the field, Cole is becoming even more well-rounded off it. Cole is a National Guard Reservist, joining the Reserves on St. Patrick's Day, 2011. Some like to pretend the playing field is a battle field but this teenager is preparing for the real thing.
Cole is a terrific softball player, but she is a whole lot more. She cannot even vote yet, but Cole is a patriot who has put her country above all else.
"My parents were in shock when I told them this is what I wanted to do," Cole said. "I researched everything I could and they said it's your decision and we'll support you, but they were concerned. When they came out to my (basic training) graduation their expressions were priceless. It was like the best feeling in the world to be up on the stage and see everyone's faces and thinking that I did something bigger than myself."
After finishing her junior year last June, Cole headed to Missouri for three months of basic training. She was the youngest Reservist in her 342-person company, creating quite a bit of culture shock. Throw in demanding drill sergeants and constant draining physical exercises, including rolling in mud and sand in average 100-degree temperatures, and Cole had every reason to be scared.
Truth be told, she was at first. But Cole has never ducked a challenge and attacked her training like she does a riseball, flourishing in her new role. A quiet person who always let her play do her talking grew on and off the training field and a bonafide leader was born.
"A lot of stuff I can relate somehow to basic training. I learned a lot of leadership, that's the big thing," Cole said. "I'm usually shy and don't put myself out there, but they were like, 'you do this and you do that,' and I couldn't say no. They pushed me and it was rewarding. That will help me in college."
It will help her beyond as well since Cole has received the kind of education that rarely can be found in a classroom. She is a jack of all trades now and her path toward a career in criminal justice seems that much clearer.
Still, Cole is just at the start of her Reserve journey. The all-time Muncy home run leader goes to Wellsboro every weekend for more training. Between that, school and softball she literally has no off-time. And yet she continues to excel.
Cole is a National Honor Society member and is having another fantastic softball season. A Division I recruit who will play for St. Francis next spring, Cole is hitting a staggering .725 while belting an area-high six home runs, scoring 30 runs and driving in 21 more. She leads Muncy in just about every offensive category and also is tied for the team-lead in stolen bases while again being the area's top defensive center fielder.
Cole sometimes finds herself scrambling after games. Last month, after delivering three more hits in a win at CMVT, Cole had to dash off the field and quickly make the two-hour trip to Wellsboro since her weekend training already had started.
It is a testament to Cole's talent and drive that she is playing this well despite having limited offseason work time. Because Reserve training took up much so much time Cole could not dedicate herself as much to the game she loves. Opponents can hardly tell, however, and often intentionally walk her rather than challenge her. They know how Cole deals with challenges.
"I'm doing better than I thought. I really wasn't expecting too much. I hadn't trained that much so I was worried, but I'm doing all right, I guess," Cole said. "I'm trying to carry this team through playoffs and we're coming together real nice."
Cole has helped lead Muncy to four straight playoff appearances and was a huge reason it captured its first District 4 Class A and HAC-III championship in 2009. Now she is leading the Indians with more than just her play. Cole is doing things most high school athletes never would consider. She is prepared to handle just about anything that comes her way and is mature beyond her years.
"The training gets me stronger and I've learned a lot of leadership skills and discipline," Cole said. "I'm trying to set examples on and off the field."
Strong in body and mind, Cole is a modern-day renaissance woman. She is one of the state's best softball players and could shine at the next level, so be impressed with her as a player.
But be more impressed by the person Cole is.
DR. MASSE'S TOP FIVE
1. Jersey Shore (12-2): The Bulldogs stayed in the running for the district's top Class AAA seed, recording two impressive wins over Danville and Bald Eagle Area before eliminating Shamokin Saturday. Jersey Shore edged the Ironmen in nine innings for a second time while blanking BEA, 2-0 as Arika Stopper threw her fourth shutout. Jersey Shore plays a demanding schedule every season and that has helped it capture two straight district championships while reaching the playoffs in more consecutive years than any other district team. Shortstop Hannah Yost has made a smooth transition after playing first base her first two seasons. The junior made some huge plays against BEA and also is a good team leader.
2. Williamsport (14-2): The Millionaires can capture their second straight outright Central Penn League championship if they win at St. Mary's today. Doing so will not be easy against a hard-hitting team that is 9-2, but if Williamsport succeeds it assures itself of one of the top two seeds in the District 2-4 Class AAAA tournament. With an undefeated league record, it likely would be the top seed. Williamsport broke out offensively last Thursday against Troy, winning 10-1 while pounding out nine hits. Left fielder Dru Heller played one of her best games, going 3 for 4 with a home run and five RBI. Pitcher Alexis Bower homered and went 2 for 4 in that game and has been selected as a candidate for the Gatorade Statewide Player of the Year Award.
3. Warrior Run (15-2): The only thing standing between the Defenders and their first league title is a victory over winless Lewisburg. Warrior Run also is closing in on the district's top seed and leads Mifflinburg by a game in the HAC-II despite losing to it 5-4 Saturday. The Defenders have lost two one-run games to Mifflinburg but also beat it by a run and edged Loyalsock in eight innings last week. The offense has come on strong down the stretch, producing 37 runs and 49 hits in the last four games. Senior shortstop Carisa Swartz hit a home run Saturday, highlighting a 17-0, 3-inning win over Lewisburg.
4. Loyalsock (8-10): How scary could the Lancers be in districts if they win their last two games and qualify? They gave an indication Friday when they thumped Mifflinburg, 13-9, scoring runs in bunches against one of the district's premier pitchers, Allison Lloyd. Loyalsock has lost five games in extra innings while playing one of the district's toughest schedules so it's record could be much better. Tough games remain against Hughesville and Jersey Shore, but this team has all the ingredients to make a run if it gets in. Sophomore Kay Kay Lupo has heated up at the right time and highlighted the Mifflinburg win with a grand slam while Casey Ulmer earned the win and hit a key three-run home run.
5. Montgomery (10-5): Comebacks have been a staple of Montgomery's success during a nine-year stretch in which it has reached the playoffs each time and advanced to the 2010 Class A state final. It seemed fitting than that the Red Raiders clinched another berth last Thursday by erasing a two-run seventh-inning deficit and edging St. John Neumann, 8-7. Seniors Courtney Wilk, Rebecca Hite and Kiersten Warzel have been vital to the program's success the past four seasons and each had two hits in that win. Montgomery has won 10 of its last 12 games and is fighting for the district's No. 3 seed.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK-Rebecca Hite, Montgomery: The senior outfielder went 5 for 7 last week and helped Montgomery rally for two wins in late innings. Hite has been one of the HAC-III's best hitters this season and is 7 for 11 over her last four games.
GAME OF THE WEEK-Montgomery at Muncy: By itself this game would earn this honor since these archrivals have 23 combined wins and always seem to play great games, the last three which have been decided by four runs. What makes Tuesday's contest even more meaningful is that it is a "Strikeout Cancer" game. There will be a "Lavender Out," and cancer survivors Daryl Bixler (Muncy) and Brad Laidacker (Montgomery) will throw out the first pitches. Both are faculty members at their respective schools. All revenues will be donated to the American Cancer Society.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com