Canon-McMillan senior Yaszmin Kotar pulls double duty with softball and javelin
Yaszmin Kotar grabbed her purse and a pair of black, low-top Converse tennis shoes and walked across the wet grass adjacent to the West Mifflin High School football stadium, her softball bag strapped to her back and two bats pointed toward the sky.
There was, however, one notable difference with Kotar’s postgame routine.
Kotar, the starting center fielder for Canon-McMillan’s softball team, wasn’t leaving a softball field; she had thrown the javelin four times, her best traveling 110 feet, and qualified for Thursday’s WPIAL individual track and field championships at Baldwin.
About 90 minutes into the WPIAL Class AAA Southern Qualifier, Kotar had to go. She had a softball game.
Kotar has been playing softball since she was 7 years old but took up the javelin this season as a way to perhaps land a college scholarship.
Managing the two sports hasn’t always been easy, and on this day Kotar faced a 30-mile drive during rush hour to make it back for a 6 p.m. first pitch on Senior Night.
“It’s all new to me,” Kotar said of throwing the javelin. “It’s something I know I have to work and get better at.”
No one will debate that.
But there’s also little arguing that Kotar has plenty of natural talent.
Canon-McMillan javelin coach Lance Vallee recognized Kotar’s arm strength, speed and body control and tried to convince her to try javelin. Finally, as a senior, Kotar decided to give it a shot.
There was obvious concern about playing two sports in one season, though Vallee and Canon-McMillan softball coach Michele Moeller have worked together to allow Kotar to do both.
“We’ve made it work for this season, and I think it has helped (Vallee) out,” Moeller said. “I know it’s helped Yaszmin.”
Kotar is certainly not the first athlete to play two sports in one season, but she might be doing it for one of the area’s most high-profile programs; the Canon-McMillan softball team won its first-ever WPIAL Class AAAA title last year, reached the PIAA semifinals and returned nearly everyone from that team.
There have been times when she has arrived at a softball game late, with barely enough time to take a couple swings in the cage before the game starts.
She usually changes in the car, as was the case last week.
And the bag? Purely out of habit, Kotar insisted.
“It’s hard because my main focus is softball since I’ve been doing it since I was 7,” said Kotar, who’s hitting .246 with five RBI, a double, a triple, seven steals and 23 runs scored for the Big Macs, who are the top seed in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. “I try to make it to track as much as I can.”
That frequency could soon increase – in the short term because Canon-McMillan earned a first-round bye in the softball playoffs, allowing her to compete at Thursday’s WPIAL individual championships at Baldwin, and maybe even in college.
Despite her truncated career, Kotar has been offered a scholarship by the University of Pittsburgh, contingent upon her improving her SAT score, which she will try to do June 1.
“That’s where I want to go,” Kotar said.
Because of her newness to the sport, Vallee hasn’t been overly technical with Kotar. His most complex piece of advice at the qualifiers was to aim at a tower in the distance and let the javelin ride the left-to-right wind.
Vallee estimates that Kotar has tapped into around 30 percent of her potential.
“Compared to these other girls, she’s probably thrown a tenth of the time that they have, and she’s right there with them,” Vallee said.
Much of that is a credit to Kotar’s natural talent in the sport, one that she never really took seriously until a couple of months ago.
“She’s a center fielder on the softball team, so that’s what I keep telling her: I don’t want her to hit home plate; I want her to throw it over the backstop,” Vallee said. “Coach Moeller is probably screaming at me when I tell her that, but that’s the theory. I want it in the air and to go over the backstop.”