By Justin Grones (@JustinGrones)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) – For Green Bay senior Jess Hrncar, each spring means the arrival of a new softball season. While each season brings new challenges, many things remain the same. In the past, her father, Bob, has always been there to give her tips on her game, and her mother, Tami, has always served as a person to vent to and provided support. This season, however, brought the biggest change of Hrncar’s playing career and life—on Ocotber 3, 2012, Tami passed away after a long and courageous battle with breast cancer.
“My mom never played sports growing up, but she supported me and my siblings in every sport or activity we did and was always there for us,” Hrncar said. “It’s a huge adjustment not having her here for my final season.”
As the oldest of four children, Hrncar spent last summer caring for her three siblings while her father cared for her mother. She said going through that experience, while extremely tough, made her stronger as a person. As her mother’s condition worsened, she left her home town of Bristol, Wis., and headed two and a half hours north to Green Bay for the fall 2012 semester.
“I felt like school and studying for my classes kept my mind off everything and I actually have done better in my classes this year because I just didn’t want to focus on all the things she was going through,” Hrncar said. “My teachers and classmates were amazing and very understanding of everything, which made things a lot easier.”
Just shy of a month into the penultimate semester of her collegiate career, Hrncar’s mother passed away at home surrounded by family and friends. In addition to her family, Hrncar received a tremendous amount of support from her second family—the players, coaches and parents of the Green Bay softball team.
Players and parents from the softball team—even the new freshmen who Hrncar wasn’t well aquainted with yet—rented a coach bus and travelled south to Antioch, Ill., for her mother’s funeral. Less than a week prior when Green Bay played at Wisconsin, numerous parents had brought meals for the Hrncar family so they didn’t have to worry about cooking and could focus on spending time with Tami.
The past winter was an adjustment period for the Hrncar family, but despite the loss Jess has found positives from the situation.
“I’m a lot closer with my siblings now and we’re all there for each other,” Hrncar said. “My youngest brother is only 10 so this has been really tough on him but we’ve helped him through it. My oldest brother and I weren’t always very close, but this has certainly brought us closer together.”
Hrncar has appeared in 28 of 29 total games this season with 25 starts. The outfielder is second on the team with a .289 batting average and holds a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage with 31 putouts on the season. She also has a Horizon League-best three triples, tied for the eighth-most by a player in a single season in program history.
Although she’s found a great deal of success on the field this season, no longer having her mother for support has been a major change for Hrncar. Her teammates and coaches, she said, have continued to help her through everything and are always there for support when she needs it. The team also decided to sport breast cancer awareness stickers on their batting helmets during the 2013 campaign as a tribute to Tami.
More than halfway into her final season with the program, Hrncar has been focusing on having fun and enjoying time with her teammates, coaches and family. As a reminder for all the things her mother did for her, she wears a necklace with her ashes each day and remembers the special moments they shared together.
“It’s a relief in a way that she’s no longer suffering—I don’t like her being gone, but I hated watching her suffer,” Hrncar said. “Playing softball keeps my mind off things, and knowing she’s up there watching me really means a lot.”
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