Senior Spring: Brooke Plonka’s perseverance pays off with record-breaking softball season
Plonka, who currently leads the Ivy League in innings pitched, has her eyes set on a conference title.
Brooke Plonka ’22 has been the heart of the Big Green softball team in her senior season, pitching more innings and completing more games than anyone else in the Ivy League. Plonka’s outings have been outstanding both in terms of stamina and quality — she is tied for the league lead in shutouts with three, ranked second in wins with eight and is second in strikeouts with 91.
While her current success is one for Dartmouth’s record books, Plonka has not always been such a dominant force on the mound, according to softball head coach Jen Williams.
“To be honest, when I came in she was a bit of a blank slate, so we had to work with her to break down her old motion and start rebuilding it from scratch,” Williams said. “She went on a journey of learning how to be resilient, failing and bouncing back until she became a very strong game pitcher.”
On April 12, Plonka was named Ivy League Pitcher of the Week for the second consecutive week after throwing an 11 strikeout no-hitter in the Big Green’s 3-1 victory over Brown University three days earlier. With this performance, Plonka became the first pitcher with two career no-hitters in Dartmouth softball history — in her abbreviated sophomore season she tossed a seventeen-strikeout no-hitter against Tufts.
Plonka said that her refurbished technique has allowed for sharper movement in her pitches. On top of her technical ability, Plonka said she has also made tremendous strides in confidence.
“Growing a sense of personality on the mound has been huge because as a pitcher, it's really easy to get centered on yourself,” Plonka said. “Engaging with the defense lets me take control of the whole game rather than just being a pitching machine.”
After a strong start to her sophomore season when she posted a 2.77 earned runs average through seven games, Plonka’s year was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Realigning her mentality for this season was an arduous journey for Plonka, but she said she drew strength from the support of her teammates.
“I was devastated [when the season got canceled],” Plonka said. “I remember calling my parents so upset and thinking ‘this is the end of the world’… [But] whenever possible I was working out with [my teammates] or going to throw at a local park with another catcher that was here.”
Williams said she sees Plonka’s chemistry with the team as being integral to her effectiveness as a pitcher — perhaps even more so than her powerful left arm.
“[Plonka] cares about everybody on the team a great deal and she is a highly empathetic person,” Williams said. “She really likes to connect with teammates and you can tell that on the mound, she relies on those connections to help center herself.”
So far this season, Plonka has pitched in 96 innings and started 18 games — both of which top the Ivy League. However, she said she doesn’t see this workload as a mental strain. Instead, she finds ways to stay loose and have fun on the mound while making jokes with her shortstop.
Freshman pitcher Megan Hagge ’25 said that Plonka is a mentor for her and that she particularly looks up to Plonka’s poise.
“[Plonka] was the one to teach me to just calm down and take a deep breath. She taught me to embrace the challenge rather than let the challenge be against you,” Hagge said. “She’s the most down to earth person I've ever met… Also, she’s absolutely hilarious, honestly the funniest person on the team.”
There are high expectations for Plonka's senior campaign, but she said the team is ready to hold themselves to that standard.
“We want to be Ivy Champs, and I know we’re good enough,” she said. “It's about how we show up for each game. We have to fight during practice, fight for every out.”