By KEVIN ROBERTS
When looking up the term “hard worker,” there should be a picture of Kris Mach to accompany the definition. By sheer will, she seemed to rise to every challenge.
Mach transformed herself into a solid, three-sport athlete at Southington High School. She was not recruited out of high school by Eastern Connecticut State University, but she walked on to her college softball team as a freshman. By her junior season, she was starting at first base on one of the nation’s best teams.
“She came in at the same time I did,” former ECSU teammate Diana Pepin said. “She was really quiet at first, but she worked hard. She knew that she had a lot of skills to work at before she could become a starter, and she accepted that.”
Stress fractures kept Mach from playing basketball at ECSU during her freshman and sophomore years, but the competitor inside wouldn’t let her stay away from the court as a junior.
“I knew I had to try out for the team, because I knew I would always feel like ‘what if?’” Mach said in front of a packed audience at ECSU on Oct. 19, 2013.
Mach was giving her ECSU E-Club Hall of Fame speech that night, proving that hard work and determination can take you a long way. She was recognized that night for her career as a Lady Warrior, and on Nov. 7 of this year, she will be lauded for her time as a Lady Knight and beyond. Mach will be inducted as a member of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018.
“Being a proud Southington native, it is very special to be part of this particular HOF with all the great athletes that have come through this town,” Mach said. “I am honored to be an HOF member alongside them—especially with my sister—and also with former teammates.”
Mach has been honored by the Southington Sports Hall of Fame as a member of three different state championship teams—two with softball and one with basketball. This one is more personal, because she joins her sister, Irene, as an individual hall of famer.
“It’s so great to be able to share this with her,” Mach said. “She’s somebody that I would look up to, and I tried to follow in her footsteps.”
By the time Mach arrived at the high school, her older sister, Irene, had already become a household name with Southington sports fans. Her sister’s tremendous career led to her induction in 2011. Like she did when she was a teenager, Kris lived up to the incredible standard that her older sister set. Now, it’s time for the younger sister to enjoy the accolades from a tremendous career.
“She definitely belongs in the hall of fame, because of her all-around ability in all sports,” said former Lady Knights coach Joe Piazza, who coached Mach in softball and basketball. The coach said that Mach’s hard work rubbed off on her Lady Knight teammates.
“She was one of those hard-working kids that it wasn’t all about ability,” Piazza said. “When kids watched her work, whether it was basketball, whether it was softball, they saw how hard she worked.”
Mach’s leadership qualities were put to work as a captain of the field hockey, basketball and softball teams during her senior year at Southington in 1987.
“Being selected for captain of all three sports, I didn’t expect it,” Mach said. “I guess I was someone who was not afraid to voice my opinion or be vocal.”
Not only was Mach a leader, but the teams she played on were incredibly successful. Southington High School was a three-year school in the mid-1980s, and Mach’s teams captured three consecutive state titles in softball (1985-87) and two in basketball (1986, 1987). The one time the Blue Knights didn’t win in basketball, which was 1985, they finished as runner-up.
Mach developed an uncanny knack for coming up big in the clutch. In the 1987 Class LL girls basketball state final against Danbury, Southington trailed 65-64 with 13 seconds to play. The Lady Knights tried to get their top shooters open, but couldn’t at first.
Lisa Matukaitis finally took a shot as the final seconds ticked off, but missed. Mach was there for the rebound…and the win. Mach’s shot dropped in just in the nick of time. Southington won 66-65 and captured its second straight Class LL state championship.
Fast forward to ECSU softball’s appearance in the 1990 NCAA Division III national championship game, and Mach came up big again. With a teammate on first base, Mach doubled to put them both in scoring position. The next batter drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly, but it was Mach’s double that set up the 1-0 tournament victory.
“When she had to perform in the clutch, she was at her best. And part of that was her character,” former ECSU assistant softball coach John Risley said in the video for Mach at the 2013 Hall of Fame ceremony. “She was tough. Coaches use that word a little extraneously, but she literally was tough. She wanted it. She went and got it, and she earned it.”
“’Macher’ was more of a singles doubles hitter, but at the same time, you knew she was going to come through when you needed her,” Pepin said in the HOF video, “and it’s because of her demeanor and her mental toughness when she got in the box. She knew what she needed to do.”
In basketball, Mach saved an outlet pass from going out of bounds in the final seconds of the 1991 Northeast Sectional final against rival Southern Maine. Her hustle allowed ECSU to run out the clock and clinch a 63-62 victory. Mach finished that game with 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists, and she was named to the all-sectional tournament team.
“She always contributed in some huge way—maybe differently each time—but it was always a game-changer,” former basketball teammate Lauren Perrotti-Verboven said in the E-Club HOF video.
Mach got to where she was at ECSU through a whole lot of work, and asking plenty of questions during practice. “I had to work really hard to get where I got,” Mach said.
The dream to play at ECSU came after a visit to watch a friend play softball for the Lady Warriors. Mach said that she felt that she could play at that level, and she set about to prove it to the coaches.
She walked on to the team, but wound up behind a pair of All-American first basemen, including Lynn Rocheleau. Mach got her chance as a junior in 1990 after Rocheleau’s graduation. Mach threw herself into her craft, taking endless grounders at first base, and whacking balls to the fence during batting practice.
“She took the most of anybody,” her former coach Risley said with a laugh. “You couldn’t get her away.”
That year, those extra grounders and extra swings transformed Mach into a key contributor on ECSU’s third national championship softball team.
“She just developed. Eventually, she fielded everything that came her way. But it was all upon her determination and her practice,” said Risley. “One of the greatest practice players I have known.”
All Mach wanted was a chance to be a Lady Warrior. She said that she didn’t need to be a star. She just wanted to be part of the team and to make a solid contribution. That’s why, when softball ended, she decided to try out for basketball at ESCU.
“I think playing basketball helped me do what I did in softball,” Mach said. “I got in better shape, I was stronger because I was working out.”
Once again, the walk-on battled her way to a spot on the roster. Once again, it took hard work and determination. During her freshman season, a one-week trial over Christmas break fell short because of stress fractures. She tried again the following year, made the team, and had an impact.
“Kris was very successful on the court because she was tough, she was motivated, she was competitive,” Perrotti-Verboven said. “I think she was probably the nicest of the five of us, and that’s no offense to the other folks who are superior players that I had the privilege of playing with. She was very nice, and she brought out the good in all of us. I think all of us played better because of her. Now that said, she completely contributed to the wins.”
In her senior season of basketball, Mach was named co-captain. She was surprised by that, given she had played only one year in the program. A couple of players nominated her, however, and she was chosen.
“Kris Mach was mature, she was a giver, she was a person of quality,” Risley said. “When she first came to Eastern, she was not a great athlete, although she had great training at SHS. Her skill level was down a bit, but as a person, as she put that into what her athletics became, and she just blossomed. Those are qualities that you don’t find too often.”
Piazza certainly wouldn’t have been surprised that Mach was chosen as a co-captain. “She had that leadership quality,” said her high school coach. “She was a born leader.”
Mach averaged 33.8 minutes per game as a senior and helped ECSU reach the first Final Four in program history. She was named to the Northeast Sectional all-tournament team after posting 30 points, 23 rebounds (14 offensive), four assists, four steals and a .565 field goal percentage in 75 minutes of play over two games. The Lady Warriors wound up finishing third nationally after winning the Final Four’s consolation game.
“I think it was something that just kind of worked out,” Mach said of her time on the basketball court at ECSU. That’s a modest assessment, and Mach’s humility was something that appealed to her coaches and teammates.
“I noticed the maturity in her as a student. Nothing bothered her, she smiled and performed,” Risley said. “She was a competitor. From the minute she came to the practice field, she was totally ready to do things in softball or basketball.”
As a senior softball player, Mach helped ECSU to the NCAA Division III Women’s College World Series for the fourth straight season. Mach and senior teammates were worried about not being able to walk in graduation, as had happened to previous seniors when the Lady Warriors made the World Series.
“My senior year, Eastern was hosting nationals. My teammates and I were able to walk in graduation then got pulled out of line by our coach, with approval, after receiving our diplomas,” Mach said. “We walked to the sports center to get changed and then walked down the hill to play the championship game, which we lost to our good friends, Central College from Iowa. That was pretty special to be able to do that.”
Ask Mach about her favorite memories as an athlete at Southington and ECSU, and the first thing she mentions is her teammates and her coaches. The championships come second.
“Winning is always a nice perk to go with it all,” Mach said with a laugh.
Mach kept winning after college. She went to a national tournament on a co-ed softball team, and she played on 14 league title teams in 19 years in the Southington Women’s Softball League.
“We just happened to be people who played a lot,” Mach said, referring to a team made up of women who played in high school.
Mach still plays co-ed volleyball, and she has stayed especially close to her friends from Southington High. Mach thanked everyone who helped her along the way in her sports career. She especially appreciates all of the support she got from her family, including mom Jane, dad Stanley, sister Irene, and brothers Stan and Rick.
“Everything is part of a team,” Mach said. “It starts with your parents.”
So it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Mach as a member of the Class of 2017. On Wednesday, Nov. 7, she will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. It will be the third hall of fame for the Southington star. She is also in the Hall of Fame for the 1986 and 1987 softball teams, plus the 1987 basketball team.
“She exuded what a true athlete should be,” Piazza said. “Not the most gifted, not the most talented, close to the hardest-working ever for me in the two sports I was lucky enough to coach her in. You know, the results were there.”
To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460, ext. 104.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.