Between The Lines - Unterbrink
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Remembering A Legend
Everyone has seen the NCAA commercial that features various student-athletes competing at their respective sports, as well as their time in the classroom. One great quote that came from that public service announcement was "There are over 360,000 NCAA student-athletes, and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports." No one remembers those 360,000 or so student-athletes because they don't play basketball or football. Between 1983-86, while the IU football team improved every year and garnered a bowl bid, and the basketball team reached the NCAA tournament three times and the Final Four of the NIT on the other occasion, a freshman from Chelsea, Mich., arrived on campus to play softball at Indiana. In her four years, she didn't just put her name in the school record books. She rewrote them. That student was Amy Unterbrink.
"I am just happy that I was able to play with a lot of great players and accomplish so much in my years at IU," said Unterbrink. "I knew when I was playing that I was setting some records, but I really didn't think about it until a few years ago when one of my children was looking through a media guide and said `mom you were really good, you are still at the top of all these records."
Unterbrink grew up in a very rural area of Michigan, growing up in the heart of Wolverine and Spartan territory. She was a four-year letterwinner in softball and basketball at Chelsea High School. As a senior, Unterbrink was named team MVP after leading Chelsea to a state championship in softball. She was named all-state and was a Carnation All-America honoree. When it came time to pick a college, most people assumed it was a choice between the U-M and MSU.
"A lot of people thought I was going to one of those two schools," said Unterbrink. "I guess I was just a regular teenager and wanted to get away from home a bit and Indiana just seemed like a great place for me. When I visited Bloomington, I just loved the southern atmosphere and the warm weather, that is compared to most springs in Michigan."
One of the reasons she came to Indiana was the Hoosiers commitment to the softball program. She found that commitment in former IU and current Iowa head coach, Gayle Blevins. Blevins recruited and coached her all four years at Indiana.
"Women athletics were kind of fragile during those years," said Unterbrink. "A lot of programs folded during those times. There were a lot of different leagues due to the lack of funding in women sports. Indiana just seemed committed to building a program and that was the main reason I came here."
Indiana quickly improved with Unterbrink in the circle. After going 26-12 and 27-14 in the two years prior to her arrival, the Hoosiers finished the 1983 campaign at 45-20-1, then a school-high for wins. IU went on to make its second ever appearance in the Women's College World Series behind Unterbrink's 20-13 record and .75 ERA. In her freshman year, she started 33 games, completing 30 of them. In 249 innings, she allowed just 137 hits and 76 walks against 165 strikeouts.
The Cream and Crimson continued to soar after that, going 38-22 in 1984 and 47-20-1 in 1985. Unterbrink contributed a 24-10 record and a .43 ERA as a sophomore and a 19-9 mark and .57 ERA as a junior. In those two years, she made 55 starts and tossed 54 complete games with 27 shutouts.
"I just loved to play," said Unterbrink. "I also went out there thinking we would win every game. During my high school days, we didn't lose that much. Maybe we lost 10 or 15 total games in my four years, so I was out there expecting to pitch every inning and coming away with a win."
During that 1985 season, Unterbrink began her no-hit legacy throwing three no-hitters, including a perfect game against Big Ten rival Ohio State.
Her senior year, 1986, was one to remember. Indiana was 45-19 and finished tied for third in the WCWS. Unterbrink was dominant in the circle going 33-13 with a .40 ERA. In Big Ten contests, she posted a microscopic ERA of .21, still the lowest ever in the conference. She appeared in 50 of IU's 64 games starting 39 of them. In 332 innings, she allowed just 116 hits and 41 walks. Unterbrink struck out an astonishing 370 batters, while hurling 39 complete games, 26 shutouts, six no-hitters and two perfect games. She also showcased an offensive game leading the squad with 28 RBI and was second on the team with a .296 average.
"My favorite moments had to be the two trips to the World Series," said Unterbrink. "All the no-hitters and perfect games were great, but competing in those games at that level, that is what I came to Indiana to do."
She has Indiana's best career win/loss record at 96-45-2 and tops IU's history books for the most innings pitched in a season (332 in 1986) and a career (1101). The single-season (26) and career (61) shutout leader in school history, Unterbrink also owns the Cream and Crimson's single-season (0.40 in 1986) and career (0.53) ERA standards. She posted the top six single-game strikeout marks in school history, highlighted by a 19-strikeout effort against Texas on March 17, 1986, and owns IU's record for strikeouts in a season (370 in 1986) and career (1089). She was Indiana's 1986 Female Athlete of the Year and, that same year, she was a finalist for the Broderick award, given to the top collegiate softball player.
A model student-athlete, she earned Academic All-Big Ten accolades in 1985 and 1986 and was the Altrusa Award recipient in 1986, given to the Indiana female athlete for outstanding athletic achievement and mental attitude by the local Bloomington Altrusa women's club. In 2004, Unterbrink became the first Hoosier softball player inducted into the IU Hall of Fame.
"All those years, I was just doing my job," said Unterbrink. "I never thought that any of this would come out of that. It was a privilege to represent IU on and off the field and it gave me so many memories that I will never forget. Being the first softball player in the IU Hall of Fame was such an honor. I hope that it paves the way for other great softball players to be recognized."
After her Indiana career was over, she was a student assistant for a year at Central Michigan, before moving on to coach high school for a few years, including a stint as the head coach at her high school. She still gives individual pitching lessons to high schoolers and recently had one of those students earn a Division I scholarship, in Jenna Connelly a freshman at IPFW.
Amy Unterbrink-Poljan was married just two months after her last game in a Cream and Crimson uniform to her husband, Richard, who played football at CMU. They have six children and currently reside in Owosso, Mich.
Between The Lines is a feature that will give you an inside look at the student-athletes that make-up the Indiana University Softball Team. Between The Lines will be posted at least twice a week, while selected features will be inserted into game programs at IU weekend home softball games.
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