Olivia Lorusso sat across from Canon-McMillan softball coach Michele Moeller more than three years ago to discover her fate.
Lorusso, a freshman at the time, had just completed her first tryout for the Big Macs softball team and was about to learn from Moeller whether she would be placed on varsity or junior varsity.
Moeller had watched Lorusso during tryouts and witnessed raw power that could not be taught, but she was aware that her new third baseman also played volleyball and basketball. After going through situations where former players chose another sport over softball, Moeller wanted a commitment from Lorusso before adding her to the varsity roster.
The freshman would have to promise her new coach she would not be the next softball player to decide to leave so she could concentrate on another sport. For Lorusso, who had been playing the game since she was 6-years old, the decision was an easy one.
The handshake between the two changed not only Lorusso’s future, but the future of Canon-McMillan softball.
Last year, she helped the Big Macs capture their first softball state championship and now, she is the 2014 Observer-Reporter Softball Player of the Year. Lorusso batted .532 this spring with a team-leading 16 home runs, 46 RBI and 33 runs for Canon-McMillan, which won its section and reached the WPIAL Class AAAA Championship game, where it lost to Shaler.
“I wasn’t so much surprised,” Lorusso said of her latest success. “I always want to keep going up. I thought the only way I could accomplish something is if I got better than junior year. I was surprised by how many home runs I hit, but I had a feeling I was going to do better than last year.”
Canon-McMillan, which finished the season with an 18-5 record, was eliminated in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs by Dubois. While the result was not a state title repeat, the Big Macs gained the reputation as the hardest-hitting WPIAL softball team.
The team had 52 home runs, with Lorusso’s 16 leading the way.
It did not happen overnight. Lorusso batted .200 as a freshman and found herself trying to blend in with her new teammates, who grew close playing for the Canonsburg Lady Knights travel team.
Following her freshman season, which ended with a loss to Shaler in the WPIAL quarterfinals, Lorusso joined the Lady Knights, which were coached by Big Macs assistant Steve Moskal. Learning the nuances of pitch selection paid immediate dividends as her batting average the next spring was 120 points higher.
“(Moskal) got her on the Lady Knights travel team and that one summer of playing was so hopeful from her freshman to sophomore year,” Moeller said. “She always had the natural talent. That was obvious from the start. She worked hard to put it all together.”
Since Lorusso’s adjustment-filled freshman season, the Big Macs’ have won two WPIAL titles and a PIAA championship and produced a 57-16 record. The Robert Morris recruit led Canon-McMillan with seven home runs and 35 RBI to help capture the PIAA Class AAAA championship in 2013.
If numbers are any indication, she won’t be slowing down any time soon.
“If she continues to focus on improving every aspect of her game, there will be no stopping her in college,” Moeller said. “Her ability is top notch.”
Lorusso has plans to major in economics at Robert Morris with aspirations to become a lawyer. She is not the only Canon-McMillan state champion who will play Division I softball. Junior Abby McCartney will join Lorusso at Robert Morris in 2015, senior catcher Gia Zeremenko is a Pitt recruit and sophomore Linda Rush is receiving Division I interest.
She describes witnessing her and her friends’ ascension as “crazy.”
“It’s so awesome and it’s such a blessing for not only me, but also a lot of my friends,” Lorusso said. “I know what kind of athletes they are and the hard work paying off is a blessing. I think it’s crazy how many good athletes we have on our team, and there will definitely be more in the future for Canon-Mac softball.”