When she was a young girl, Dani Petrone marveled at former LSU star catcher Killian Roessner.
“She’s my idol,” Petrone said of Roessner, who played one season at Wall in 2004 after a three-year stint at Lawrenceville Prep. “I’ve known Killian since I was about 8 years old, and she definitely sparked a lot of the inspiration and fire within me to become a really great player. I was 8. She was 18. She was my catching trainer and going to LSU.
“What 8-year-old girl wouldn’t want to be like her?”
While she certainly resembles Roessner in the way she plays — an outstanding defensive catcher who calls the pitches and a lethal hitter who’s respected by most opposing coaches throughout the Shore Conference — Petrone’s made a mark on Wall’s program by being much more than a stellar high school player.
“You can see how much she cares about her teammates by the way she leads,” said Wall coach Tony Vodola, who said he knew from the first day of the preseason when Petrone entered as a freshman that she’d be his starting catcher for four years.
“Dani cares about people. She has an amazing ability to relate to her teammates but in an authoritative way. She tells them how to do things in a pleasant way, and they know they can trust what she’s telling them. I’m proud of her for the way she’s grown in that role.”
Sophomore pitcher Jackie Howarth has been a beneficiary to Petrone’s leadership, since they work so closely together as the Crimson Knights’ battery. Last season, Howarth went 18-4 with a 1.86 ERA and it wasn’t hard to notice the effect Petrone had in Howarth’s progression as a freshman starter for a team which ended up in the NJSIAA Group III final.
“Having Dani behind that plate helps me tremendously,” Howarth said. “She gives me confidence in throwing all my different pitches and she calls an amazing game. I have learned from Dani that I have to stay unpredictable, stay focused and to always believe in my team behind me.”
And the senior catcher absolutely is a believer in doing what she can to lift up her teammates, no matter the situation. In fact, she’s always the most positive individual in the dugout and on the field.
“All I’m trying to do as a captain on this team is get my team comfortable playing together,” she said. “I’ll do that any way I can, and they always know that if they need me for anything, or need advice or encouragement, they can come to me. I’m always an open ear. And I’m always trying to be positive to keep up the morale, no matter the score of the game or who we’re playing.
“I always want to be the person who says, ‘We can do this.’ I never want to be negative in our dugout. I hate negativity, so I do my best to lead in a positive way.”
Outside Wall’s dugout, Petrone has stood out for years as well. Such is the case when you’re the Shore Conference’s all-time career leader in home runs with 43 and a hitter who’s whacked more than 140 hits and driven in more than 140 runs in just over three seasons.
“If you told when I was a freshman that I was going to have the career home run record at 21 home runs, I would have said, ‘No, I’m not. Are you crazy?” she said. “All I want to do is hit the ball hard up the middle. I bust my butt over the winter with training and hitting all the time, and it would be a shame if that hard work didn’t come onto the field.
“The truth is I’ve never hit a home run that I’ve tried to hit. It’s an honor to be respected by other coaches and pitchers, but it’s also really nice to know my hard work has paid off.”
A vegan with interests in nutrition, writing and music, Petrone is going to bring her work ethic, positive energy and drive to Rutgers, where she will play under head coach Jay Nelson.
“I love Rutgers,” she said. “I love the atmosphere and that it’s so diverse, from College Avenue which is like a main street, to Douglas, which is like a little farm, and I love the outdoorsy aspect of it. And I love the coaches there. I think Jay is a great guy and I like the fact he’s a really tough coach who’s going to push me all the time. It was the right fit for me.”
And while playing at the Division-I level in the Big Ten is going to be a new and challenging experience, Petrone believes she’s ready, both physically and mentally, to make an impact with the Scarlet Knights.
“I hope to do just what I did here at Wall,” she said. “I want to bring a positive attitude and energy to the team, and I hope to make an impact offensively. A lot of changes are coming up, when I’ll be a freshman trying to earn my spot, but I just want to take it all in and give back to the game what the game has given to me.”