Northeast Times

What can’t she do?

Little Flower senior Jenna Markocki has mastered the art of multitasking. She’s an All-Catholic on the diamond, an ace student in the classroom and works two after-school jobs.

  • Jenna of all trades: Little Flower senior first baseman Jenna Markocki does it all for her school, and does it well. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Eye on the ball: Markocki, a Port Richmond resident, plays a strong first base for head coach Dan Milio. Markocki also bats near the top of Little Flower’s order and is a returning Second-Team All-Catholic pick.

As coaches across all levels will tell you, some ath­letes just have “it.” The “it factor” can mean a lot of things, but in most cases it tends to be an am­al­gam of ex­em­plary lead­er­ship on the field and fant­ast­ic char­ac­ter dis­played off it.

Dan Milio is only in the early stages of his second sea­son as Little Flower’s soft­ball coach, but it didn’t take him long to fig­ure out that the levels on seni­or first base­man Jenna Markocki’s it-factor meter were ex­plod­ing.

For starters, Markocki has held up the ‘stu­dent’ part of stu­dent-ath­lete, rack­ing up a near-per­fect 3.9 grade point av­er­age in the classroom. On the field, she’s com­ing off a break­out sea­son in which she was named Second-Team All-Cath­ol­ic, help­ing guide Little Flower to the post­season semi­finals. She also works two part-time jobs — one at Primo’s Ho­agies and the oth­er at a tan­ning salon, go­ing above-and-bey­ond the nor­mal ex­pect­a­tions for someone her age.

Not only that, but Markocki has helped ad­opt the role of cheer­lead­er for her moth­er, Donna, who was re­cently dia­gnosed with ovari­an can­cer after hav­ing beaten leuk­emia a dec­ade ago. Keep­ing all of this in mind, it’s no won­der that Markocki said, “Even though I wasn’t named a (team) cap­tain, I do still take the role as one.”

That’s the kind of ma­tur­ity that can’t be taught, one that still blows Milio away each and every day he spends around his first base­man. 

“It’s very ad­mir­able to see what she does,” Milio said. “She could have eas­ily giv­en up on her grades be­cause she saw her mom was sick, but she still main­tains a high GPA and comes to prac­tice every day to work hard and not just to go through the mo­tions. She’s stood out be­cause the way the girls grav­it­ate to­ward her. It’s no­tice­able. She’s done everything that’s been asked of her, and she’s led by ex­ample. When the girls be­hind her see how hard she works, there’s a trickle-down ef­fect.”

And al­hough the situ­ations are not ne­ces­sar­ily par­al­lel from a med­ic­al stand­point, Milio, the fath­er of a 4-year-old son with Down syn­drome, found an emo­tion­al com­par­is­on and con­nec­tion through Markocki and her moth­er’s health is­sues. 

“It’s a dif­fer­ent ill­ness, but to see how she handles the situ­ation with her mom … it’s noth­ing but re­spect, a mu­tu­al re­spect we have for each oth­er,” Milio said.

For her part, Markocki said she’s just giv­ing back to her biggest sup­port­er. When Donna was dia­gnosed with Leuk­emia a dec­ade ago, she was giv­en just two weeks to live. But des­pite the grim pro­gnos­is, Donna got up from her deathbed and kept liv­ing, in­spir­ing Jenna to make the most of every day she’s re­war­ded with.

“She works two full-time jobs while re­ceiv­ing chemo treat­ments and still finds the strength to give my broth­ers and me everything we need in life,” Markocki said. “She’s the main in­spir­a­tion as to why I play soft­ball. Watch­ing me play is her fa­vor­ite thing to do. We’re more like best friends. I don’t think I would have stuck with it if not for her.”

It’s a good thing she did, as Markocki re­cently made the de­cision to con­tin­ue her ca­reer as a stu­dent-ath­lete at La Salle Uni­versity in the fall. She chose La Salle be­cause the cam­pus gave her that “at home” feel­ing, the same one she felt when she first vis­ited Little Flower al­most four years ago. Markocki said she’s learned to bal­ance her time with all of her ex­tra­cur­ricular activ­it­ies, something that should en­sure be­ing ahead of the curve once she ar­rives at La Salle.

“Some­times, it’s stress­ful and I’m al­most al­ways in a rush,” she said. “But it’s al­ways worth it in the end.”

Something else Markocki hopes is worth it in the end is the 2014 Little Flower soft­ball sea­son. After the un­der-the-radar Sen­tinels went on a run in last year’s post­season, Milio said it was Markocki who reined the team in and made sure their heads didn’t get too big after beat­ing Arch­bish­op Wood; when Little Flower was elim­in­ated, Milio’s re­turn­ing lead­er im­me­di­ately pushed the fo­cus to tak­ing care of un­fin­ished busi­ness the fol­low­ing sea­son.

“The girls listen to her be­cause they know she’s tak­ing them where they want to be,” Milio said. “Who­ever wears No. 19 next year will have big shoes to fill, be­cause not every­one can be as good as Jenna Markocki.”

Be­fore her time at Little Flower is done, Markocki still has goals she hopes to ac­com­plish. Be­sides the ob­vi­ous one of be­com­ing a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on, she said she wants to make sure all the un­der­class­men are as com­fort­able as she was when she was a fresh­man or sopho­more. She makes play­ers feel wel­come by of­fer­ing young varsity or JV play­ers rides to the prac­tice field, which goes a long way in build­ing team ca­marader­ie. 

Little Flower may not be known as a cham­pi­on­ship sports fact­ory, but Markocki’s gritty tough­ness em­bod­ies the type of stu­dent-ath­lete the school tries to at­tract. Like Little Flower, Markocki has no prob­lem work­ing for whatever comes her way.

“Last year when we made it to the semi­finals, it was the best feel­ing,” she said. “It would be amaz­ing if we won. I don’t want any­thing else than to win the title this year.”

It won’t be easy, but the Sen­tinels don’t ex­pect it to be. They wear ma­roon T-shirts with the new team man­tra of ‘Whatever It Takes’ prin­ted on them, and the girls on the team mean it. After what Markocki deals with every day on a per­son­al basis, no goal on the field seems un­at­tain­able.

“A lot of ath­letes have tal­ent, and some think they can get by on just that,” Milio said. “Jenna has the heart that most just don’t have. She has tal­ent, but her heart is big­ger than that tal­ent. At Little Flower, she’s an eld­er spokes­man, but in real life we have to re­mind ourselves that she’s just a kid. She has a con­fid­ence and swag­ger about her, and she’ll bust her butt to earn your re­spect.

“If she isn’t start­ing at La Salle next year, then the girl in front of her will have earned her spot. She’s not go­ing there just to give it away.”

And though he’s still re­l­at­ively new on the job, Milio has a pretty good un­der­stand­ing of Little Flower stu­dent-ath­letes, and Markocki is the face of the at­ti­tude and spir­it the school has be­come known for.

“We’re like the Rocky Bal­boa of the Cath­ol­ic League,” Milio said. “We’re un­der­dogs, and we don’t ex­pect you to hand us any­thing. We’ll go out and fight tooth and nail for everything; that’s the men­tal­ity Jenna has. You don’t have to like us, but at the end of the day you will re­spect us be­cause of the hard work and ef­fort we put in. If we lose, then we’re go­ing to make the oth­er team earn that win.”

Like any high school stu­dent, Markocki marveled at how fast the last four years flew by, though it’s not as sur­pris­ing when one con­siders just how much she has on her plate. But ac­cord­ing to her, all of that is fine, and she doesn’t want to be treated any dif­fer­ently be­cause of her cir­cum­stances. 

“I just try to do my best each game to help all the girls be in­to the game and have team spir­it,” she said. “Per­son­ally, I feel my role is to do whatever is needed of me. I’ll nev­er give up on the girls and I’ll nev­er let them down. I do not see it as a weight on my shoulders to per­form per­fectly in every game. 

“Com­ing here to Little Flower every day to play soft­ball is what I look for­ward to. I could be in the worst mood all day, then I come to prac­tice and my team­mates just snap me out of it. We’ve worked so hard to where we’re at now, and I’m so happy we view ourselves as a ser­i­ous soft­ball con­tender in this league. I feel I speak for all of us when I say I’ll def­in­itely miss soft­ball, but I’ll miss all of these girls the most.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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