Every May, millions of eighth-grade graduates hear the same advice upon the transition to high school — the next four years of their lives are going to fly by. For Bishop McNamara senior third baseman Gillian McDermott, that saying proved to be true after the Irish ended their season with a fourth-place finish in the IHSA Class 3A State Finals.
“We’re all so close, and we’re such a close family, it’s hard to see the season end,” McDermott said. “It seems like just yesterday we were playing our first game, and the time went by really fast.”
McDermott was one of four seniors who ended her high school career with the Irish during the weekend, joined by Leigha Campe, Kenna Kleinert and Jaelyn Vickery.
The former three of those girls spent their entire four years together at Bishop McNamara, Vickery joined the Irish before her junior year after transferring from Lockport.
Vickery, who will continue her softball career at the University of Illinois, said she knew she would be part of a stellar program when she first sported McNamara green, but it’s the off-the-field lessons she will take forward the most.
“I knew this team was very talented when I first came,” Vickery said. “The coaches taught me how to be a leader and coming to Mac really helped me with my leadership skills.
“We made each other better, kept working every day and our coaches really made us better.”
When the postseason began, the Irish brought up a pair of junior varisty players, freshman Mallor O’Connor and sophomore Jessica Vickery. Jessica and Jaelyn are sisters, which added another level of joy for the Irish senior over the three weeks.
“It’s been a ton of fun — not a lot of people get to experience this, let alone with their sister,” Jaelyn said. “Jessie’s a big supporter and really up for everyone.”
And the Vickery sisters weren’t the only familial tandem on the 2019 Irish squad. Kleinert’s younger sister, junior catcher Kara Kleinert, gave the Irish a pair of sisters on their fourth-place team.
“I really don’t take it for granted because not a lot of people get to do this with their sister,” Kenna said. “I’m really fortunate to be able to do this with her — we’re really close and have a special bond on and off the field.”
It’s Kenna who served as the main source of leadership for the Irish this season. Coach Laura Harms said Kenna’s work ethic exemplified for the rest of the team what they needed to do to have the success they ultimately had, and it also made saying goodbye that much harder.
“You have girls that totally buy in, like Kenna Kleinert, who maybe athletically isn’t the best second baseman or best outfielder, but she would do anything for you,” Harms said. “I think it’s hard just because of those girls.”
For Kenna, it was saying those goodbyes in the context of donning Irish uniforms together that was most difficult about Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Mt. Zion in the IHSA Class 3A third-place game in East Peoria.
“It’s definitely something special, and I know if I wouldn’t have come here, I wouldn’t have had that at any other high school,” Kenna said. “The girls are really great and I’m really going to miss them. I’m more sad that it’s over with them than the loss we had.”
And it was Kenna that broke the final Irish huddle, as she did all season, by calling, “Irish on three — one, two, three.”
McDermott and Jaelyn Vickery said that last call resulted in tears.
“Kenna always calls ‘Irish,’ and when I heard her voice crack, the tears just kept falling,” McDermott said.
“We bonded and were so close this season,” Jaelyn said. “ I don’t cry … but after Kenna said that, I started to tear up.
“It’s been a great season, and I’m just really thankful.”