‘The Pack Swan’

Published 8:10 pm Thursday, March 29, 2012

After waiting two years to play catcher for the Washington softball team, Sydney Gurkin (center) has made the most of her time behind the plate this season and her strong arm as been a valuable weapon defensively for the Pam Pack. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

For two years she’s been patiently waiting for her turn to shine like an understudy sitting behind two classically trained actresses on Broadway.
However, heading into the 2012 season the path was clear for Sydney Gurkin to take center stage as the Pam Pack’s starting catcher and so far her play behind the plate has been Tony-worthy.
Just call her the Pack Swan.
On Tuesday during Washington’s 2-0 victory over defending NCHSAA 3-A state champs D.H. Conley Gurkin was a perfect 2-2 on steal attempts as she nailed one runner who tried to steal second and another who attempted to swipe third to help improve the team’s record to 7-2 (4-1). After that, the Vikings’ thought twice about stealing like a pickpocket who sees a cop around the corner.
“I think that changed their game plan,” Washington softball coach Doug Whitehead said. “I know she’s thrown at least six or seven runners out so far. I don’t think there’s been but one successful steal attempt on her. It may be closer to 10 throw outs.”
Coming up to the varsity level as a sophomore Gurkin, who caught on her travel ball teams as well as the Washington JV squad, found she was the one who had to change her game plan a little bit. Ahead of her on the depth chart was a phenomenal senior backstop named Hayley Stowe, whose quick bat and rifle armed eventually earned her spot on N.C. State’s roster.
The next year Gurkin was a victim of her own athleticism as she got bumped from behind the plate by another top-notch catcher named Shekeria Lomax who transferred from Southside High School. Both players would have been a great choice to play catcher, but because Gurkin had the talent and ability to play third, moving her to the infield was the best choice for team.
“We’ve had a lot of good catchers. Sydney has been waiting in the wings. I always knew I had Sydney on the back burner,” Whitehead said. “With Haley Stowe I had a good catcher who was very smart. Shakeria was a sort of a true catcher, she could play catcher better than she could play anywhere else. It was just one of those things that I knew I could make the team stronger by playing Sydney other places.”
Though she excelled at the hot corner, Gurkin considers catcher her natural position and was thrilled to earn the starting nod this season.
“I’ve been waiting my turn and it’s finally come. I’m excited,” Gurkin said. “I liked playing third but I’m not as comfortable with it as I am catching.”
While Gurkin feels at home behind the plate, opposing runners haven’t been so comfortable. In a sport where taking a base, whether it be by bunt or steal, is such a critical part of the game plan, having a strong-armed backstop is an extremely valuable weapon.
“Everybody wants to advance, but I’m not afraid to let her throw the ball,” Whitehead said. “Early in the season we had a runner on second with two outs and I told Sydney if she goes you get her and we threw her out and it ended the inning.”
Understudy no more, Gurkin has proved capable of handling the primetime catching duties, and surrounded by a young but talented team, this year’s Pam Pack production has the potential to play on for a long time.