Rhodes to success: Packer looks to ride shortstop, new coach to league titles

When taking over a young team the best thing for a new coach is having an established star and leader on the roster. That’s exactly what Dily Felix got at Packer Collegiate with Shannon Rhodes.

“To have someone like that it took a lot of pressure off,” he said. “I knew I had at least one solid player and especially that she plays shortstop, which is one main position that you really need.”

Rhodes has been a staple at the Brooklyn private school since she was an eighth grader. Now a junior, her presence on the field and in the lineup is even more important. Not only is she Packer’s shortstop, but its third-place hitter and one of its fastest players. Rhodes, who also plays soccer and basketball at the school, can get from home to first in approximately three seconds and often turns singles into doubles.

“The cross training from different sports helped me,” she said. “I do speed training outside. I’ve gotten progressively faster as I’ve gotten older. It’s not just pure speed on the base paths, it’s also instinct.”

The instincts applied in the field also in a 16-0 win over host Staten Island Academy in American Collegiate Intramural Sports softball on April 26 . With the Tigers poised to score in the fourth with runners on second and third and one out, Rhodes dived for what appeared to be a bloop hit in between the pitcher’s circle and second base. She got a great jump and just got her glove under the ball before throwing to second for a double play, the second she turned in the game.

Rhodes, who plays travel ball with Long Island Sudden Impact, had two doubles, four runs scored and an RBI at the plate against the Tigers. She has not made an out this season in five games and has nine doubles, three triples and three home runs in 18 at bats. Rhodes has yet to strikeout as a varsity player and has 13 stolen bases.

“She is fast,” said Packer senior centerfielder Corina Velazquez, who had a hit and scored twice. “We expect it from her. It’s something that we are used to her doing, but at the same time we are amazed. Usually when a person bats that well, they are a little slow.”

Her team is off to a solid start with Felix, who was an assistant at Norman Thomas for two seasons and coaches in the Harlem RBI program where he worked with Velasquez. He took over for Kristie DeSantis. He and assistants Hilda Medina and Nicole Marra have gotten Packer, which is 3-2, back to the fundamentals and skill development. The players feel they are better prepared for games than a year ago.

“It’s been a complete transformation,” Rhodes said.

Much of that success has to do with its battery of senior catcher Siena DellaFave and ace Eve Burkhart. Since eighth grade the junior has missed just one game in the circle because of freshmen orientation. She allowed two hits and struck out five in five innings against SIA, which did not field a team last year. Packer may have found a cornerstone of the future in freshman third baseman Karina Caban. She picked up an RBI single in a five-run third.

After earning the eighth seed in the New York State Association of Independent Schools tournament two years ago Packer missed out last season and Rhodes missed games with an ankle injury. This year’s team isn’t looking that far ahead. It’s concentrating first on beating out rival Berkeley Carroll for the American Collegiate Intramural Sports title after losing in the final last season and winning the Athletic Association of Independent Schools despite falling to Marymount in the semifinals a year ago.

“Our main goal is just a [league] championship,” Velasquez said.

Rhodes is the type of player a winning team is built around. She is a combination of speed, power and excellent softball instincts.

“The plate discipline and that power that she has that’s what really impressed me,” Felix said. “It was great to see someone like her with the power she had and she added that with the speed and the arm that she has. She has a chance to make it really far.”

Packer is hoping the same.

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