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Victor's Michelle Prong is among Section V's best

April 22, 2010
Author: Jeff DiVeronica
Article Title: Victor's Michelle Prong is among Section V's best
Publication Date: April 22, 2010
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Michelle Prong's right arm is like a cannon and her crow hop belongs in an instructional video.

At the plate, her bat is like a whip - legs, hips and arms working in harmony as softballs explode off aluminum with every compact-yet-powerful swing. Prong looks like the prototype, but it took something inside of the Victor shortstop to make her a Section V rarity: A softball recruit headed to an NCAA contender.

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"I had to have the confidence in me," she said.

The people around Prong always believed in her, and after working with a top hitting instructor in the New York City area, starring for four years on one of Section V's perennial powers and playing on high-caliber teams outside of the school season, Prong is ready. Later this year she'll head to Stanford University, a top-10 program that has had 15 All-Americans the past 14 years.

"She's very gifted but what sets her apart from probably any athlete I've had is her work ethic," Victor coach Shelly Collins said. "Michelle has gotten better every year and there's not many athletes you can say that about over six years."

It's the product of talent and a lot of drive.

Over the past few years, Prong has worked out monthly with Rob Crews, director of hitting for Frozen Ropes. He has worked with major colleges, seen his mental techniques used by major-leaguers and wrote a book on them. Prong and her father, Dave, have routinely made the five-hour drive to the Big Apple so she could work with Crews.

Michelle, who doesn't turn 18 until October, has even flown to New York City, had a session with Crews and flown right back to Rochester.

"Her softball IQ, focus, commitment-level ... she's really a special individual," Crews said. "For her, the best is yet to come."

Many regard the Pac-10 as the best league in the country, and at Stanford the 5-foot-5 Prong will have the same trainer who works with the U.S. national team. That will make her strong lower and upper body more powerful, Crews said.

A first-team All-State pick last spring, Prong batted .539 with 55 hits for the Section V Class A champions (27-3). She has been on varsity since seventh grade, playing third base before moving to short last year. She missed her sophomore season after an injury that required surgery on her right elbow. She was sidelined about four months.

"It happened at probably the worst possible time," Prong said.

The injury cooled recruiters because she didn't play until mid-August that summer. But Crews helped his pupil connect with Maryland and Stanford. Virginia Tech was another option.

The Prongs met Crews about 18 months earlier at a showcase in New Jersey for top prospects. Michelle and a few others from her Horseheads-based travel team attended, and Prong earned a spot on Team New Jersey, an elite group of girls from the Northeast.

"There were times I'd dread going to tournaments because I didn't think I was as good as these other girls," Michelle recalled. "I was playing with girls who were going on visits to Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma. I hadn't even looked at a college."

Crews remembers a conversation he and Dave had while at a tournament in Laguna Hills, Calif. They were at a Starbucks. "Is she good enough?" Dave asked.

"Definitely," Crews said. "You're not wasting your time."

Prong has played for TC Tremors, a Binghamton-based travel team, the past two years.

Prong said dealing with the movement of pitches, not velocity, is the toughest aspect at higher levels. She studies pitchers every chance she gets.

"What's her best pitch? Is she trying to throw a lot of first-pitch strikes?" Prong said. "Once you get into the box you can't think about your own mechanics, you have to be thinking what the pitcher's going to throw."

And learn from everything you do. That's something her father has stressed.

"You're always going to get another shot, so learn from (the past)," she said.

Collins marvels at Prong's approach. Prong is "by far" the best hitter she has had in her 21 seasons.

"To her, (hitting) is like an art and science put together."