STANSBURY — Stansbury center fielder Janessa Bassett is so tough and so talented, teams don't forget her name.
Well, they might not know the name her parents gave her. But anyone who's ever faced Bassett on the softball field remembers how the Cheetah competes.
“To me, she’s the fastest, smartest baserunner and softball player in the state,” said Uintah coach Jamey Smuin, whose team lost to Bassett and Stansbury in the 3A state championship game last month. “She’s one I’ve remembered from 10-and-under, every summer, playing against her. And all of my Vernal girls remember her because she was always so much fun to watch.”
Bassett’s speed earned her the nickname Cheetah so long ago, calling her anything else seems unnatural.
“It’s just what they’ve always called her,” said Stansbury coach Bridget Clinton of the senior who helped the Stallions repeat as 3A softball champs and is this year's Deseret News Ms. Softball recipient.
“We lost five key players from last year’s championship team,” Clinton said. “They generated a lot of offense and played key positions. That was a big void to fill — five seniors who all went on to play college softball.”
Bassett, who will play softball for Dixie State University next season, teamed up with the Stallions' other senior captain, second baseman Beth Chipman, to help the team through a tough region battle in which they finished tied for second.
“They were our team leaders,” Clinton said.
Bassett led the team’s offense with a .505 batting average. She scored 49 runs, had 50 hits and drove in 23 RBIs. She earned an incredible 41 of 42 stolen bases this season while playing without a single fielding error.
The only base she failed to steal was against Uintah in the sixth inning of the state championship game. It was the first time Smuin and his squad had managed to deny Cheetah a stolen base.
After the game, Smuin joked that his family tried to ease the pain of losing the title with that accomplishment.
“We’ve been trying to throw her out since we started playing her in 10-and-under leagues,” he said laughing. “My daughter said, ‘Yeah, you lost, but we threw out Cheetah.’”
It isn’t just her speed that makes her so dangerous to opposing teams. It’s her savvy.
Her intelligence coupled with her willingness to play without fear makes her tough to contain offensively or defensively.
“She’s a true outfielder,” Clinton said. “A lot of times kids get moved to the outfield from the infield, but that’s her natural position. And obviously, she’s center field because she can cover so much ground.”
Cheetah and Chipman led the team in tough offseason workouts that helped them replace the offense they’d lost with graduation.
“She is a small girl, but she hits with a lot of power,” Clinton said. “She hits from the left side of the plate, but she’s not a natural left-handed hitter. She’s one of the most powerful hitters in our lineup.”
Bassett’s fun-loving personality made her a team favorite, but her calm under pressure built confidence in her less-experienced teammates.
“She’s really bubbly, really vocal, a high-energy kind of player,” Clinton said. “It’s always good to have someone like that on your team; it gets everybody fired up, gets them energized when they need to be. But at the same time, she brings a sense of calmness too. It’s not that she’s a calm personality, but that her presence is reassuring to her teammates. They know she’s going to get it done.”
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