DePaul Hall of Fame Class of 2013: Cheryl (O'Dekirk) Katalinic
Jan. 15, 2013
(Fourth in a series of feature stories portraying the Class of 2013 inductees into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame)
CHICAGO – The whole time Cheryl (O’Dekirk) Katalinic played shortstop for DePaul, her coach could relax any time a ball was hit to the left side of the infield.
That’s because in the illustrious history of Blue Demon softball, Katalinic ranks as one of the best fielders ever at that most critical position. She was also at the forefront of a softball class that elevated the program to one of the best in the Midwest.
For all she has done on and off the field to enhance the DePaul softball program, Katalinic is being inducted Sunday into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I was really surprised about the Hall of Fame,” said Katalinic (1985-88) who was an Academic All-American, North Star Conference co-MVP and is second all-time in career assists. “It seems so long ago that I played at DePaul. It’s exciting that everything you did all those years ago still matters.
“Even though my kids are most excited about going to the DePaul men’s and women’s basketball games on Saturday, they are bragging to their friends that mom is going into the Hall of Fame. Kevin, Carly and Brett are doing things you don’t see teenage kids normally do.”
That’s because their mom did things you don’t see college kids normally do. The two-time, All-North Star First Team selection led the 1985 conference tournament in hits while batting .357 in the postseason. The 160 assists she recorded in 1987 is the third-highest season total in DePaul history. Thanks to her gold glove at shortstop, the Blue Demons were fifth in the nation in fielding percentage her sophomore year.
“It was so important having her at shortstop,” said DePaul softball coach Eugene Lenti. “She was as good a defensive shortstop as we’ve ever had at DePaul. I was comfortable anytime the ball was hit to her. Once she finished her career, she became a great recruiter for us and helped bring in Barb Fogarty and Laura Griffin. We still get a lot of talented players from the suburbs like Kirsten Verdun, Mary Connolly, Staci Bonezek and Morgan Maize.
“Not only was Cheryl talented in softball, but she was also a very good volleyball and basketball player. She was a really special all-around athlete and one of the consummate student-athletes we’ve ever had at DePaul. She excelled in both facets. Because of her constant work ethic and leadership skills, I always knew she would be successful.”
As a senior at Oak Forest High School, Katalinic led the volleyball team to third in the state and the basketball team to the Elite Eight. The Bengals lost in the state quarterfinals to a York team that went on to win the state championship. One of the stars on that York team was Kandace Nied Lenti, who wound up being Katalinic’s teammate and roommate at DePaul and was inducted into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006.
“The athletic department was much smaller when I played at DePaul and softball was in its infancy,” Katalinic said. “I was part of the first softball recruiting class. We played for the love of the game. Kandace played softball and basketball for DePaul.
“The sport was beginning to get athletes to be more focused on softball. We weren’t as specialized as the game is today. None of us were slap hitters. We did some traveling, all by bus.
“My freshman year we played our home games at Oz Park. Before games, we would pick up all the glass and rocks on the field. I was able to play on Wish Field my last two years.
“It was exciting times for DePaul as we started to get some of the top local recruits and do well in the North Star Conference, winning the league title in 1985 and 1987. We were getting players who really wanted to play softball in the Midwest. Each year, it seemed like our budget got bigger and better.”
Katalinic has remained close and very supportive of her alma mater. She played 100 innings of errorless ball at shortstop in the August, 1986 Blue Demon softball fundraiser. She repeated that feat five years later in the 100-inning game won by the alumnae team 45-28.
“After I graduated, I got Barb Fogarty and Laura Griffin to come play at DePaul and Kandace helped bring in some talented players from the western suburbs,” Katalinic said. “I still give Eug a hard time and check on him about bringing in Illinois players. Who do you have from the south suburbs? I know he is able to recruit nationally now, but it’s also important to bring in the best local players.”
Coach Lenti is fond of recalling how he set up his former shortstop for life. Marc Katalinic played football at St. Francis de Sales where Lenti was a teacher and sophomore football coach. Katalinic listened to his favorite coach and teacher and came to DePaul, where he became the softball team manager and began dating its shortstop. Cheryl and Marc were married in 1990, and Marc is currently a partner at the Nielsen, Zehe and Antas law firm in Chicago.
“I like to tease Cheryl that I set up the DePaul connection that got her a college degree, and then I set her up with the love of her life,” Lenti said with a smile.
Katalinic recalled her route to Lincoln Park.
“Being the first in my family to be recruited, I had no idea about the process,” Katalinic said. “Illinois State recruited me, but when I had a partially torn ACL my senior year, they wanted me to redshirt. Eug never backed off me. I wanted to major in business, and DePaul was the best choice.
“When I got to DePaul, I played softball and really focused on my academics. It was awesome playing for Eug, and doing well in school was really important to him. We were all students first, but it was enjoyable playing something you love.
“I met Jeanne (DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto) when I was 18 years old, and she has been so special to me ever since. She is so motherly, and took me to lunch with Eug when I came for my visit.”
Lenti realizes Katalinic has a special place in the rich tradition of his program.
“Cheryl’s class was the group that lifted the program from being a good local softball team to a good regional team and on its way to becoming a part of the national scope,” Lenti said. “It was the beginning of DePaul getting some of the better players in the state, and that group took us to new heights.”
It was a Division I program just beginning to realize its enormous potential.
“When I look back on everything, I feel like we made a difference in the program,” Katalinic said. “It’s not like we were pioneers or the first to ever play softball at DePaul. But we were able to boost the program up to the next level and really get it rolling.”
NEXT: Otis Dunson, Men's Track & Field
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