Gladwin Slugger Clears Fence at Record Rate

June 2, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

GLADWIN — The outfield fence looked so far away, so unreachable whenever Gladwin senior Dayna Fennell stepped to the plate as a youngster.

And it was — back then.

"It was in high school the first time I hit one over," Fennell said. "When I was in Little League, I thought, 'I don't understand how people have the strength to hit one over.' When I hit my first home run, I was very surprised."

Nobody is surprised when Fennell clears the fences these days. In fact, it's almost disappointing for Gladwin players and fans when a game goes by and she doesn't hit a round-tripper.

With her 19th home run of the season last Saturday against Linden in a tournament at Ogemaw Heights, Fennell broke the MHSAA single-season record shared by Pentwater's Melinda Van Gillis (1979), Williamston's Camri Grace (2014) and Romeo's Madison Jones (2015).

The home run hit the top of the fence in left-center field and rolled over.

"I didn't even think it went over," Fennell said. "I just thought it would be a solid double. I thought it bounced inside the fence. Then I heard everyone cheering. I looked at the umpire while he was doing the whole circle motion; it was a home run. I was so ecstatic."

It was also an opportunity to exhale a bit. By hitting one home run in each of the three games of the Ogemaw Heights tournament, Fennell put the record pursuit behind her as Gladwin prepares for the Division 2 District on Saturday at Cadillac.

"It was actually a relief," Fennell said. "Everywhere I went, everyone's asking me how I was doing. It was a little bit of pressure. I'm glad I finally broke it."

The possibility of breaking the record became a hot topic in Gladwin when Fennell hit eight home runs in her first eight games. Before spring actually felt like spring, she eclipsed the school record of six that she set last year.

"I think I had 11 or so and thought there was no way I could hit eight more," she said. "Everyone was like, 'You've only got eight more.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I probably won't get it.' I never thought I was going to come close to it."

Fennell has tied or broken the school record in all four of her seasons with the Flying G's, equaling the modest former standard of three as a freshman and bumping it to four as a sophomore. With 32 career homers, she is tied for 10th on that MHSAA all-time list.

"My parents live 30 minutes away," Gladwin coach Jill Keefer said. "People are asking my dad about her. I'll be at the gas station, and people will say, 'I want to see her hit one out.' She's putting Gladwin on the map, in a sense, in softball."

Fennell has done a good job of handling the attention she's received for chasing and breaking the record, her coach said.

"She's very humble about it," Keefer said. "She just wants to play softball and wants to win. She's very passionate about the game. If she broke it, she broke it. Yes, she wanted to do it once she got that close to it. There was a little more hype the closer she got. People put pressure on her as she got close, even her teammates — 'C'mon, hit one today!' There were a few teams that didn't pitch to her, too; you had that factor. Now she's focused on winning Districts."

Fennell is a three-sport athlete, also playing volleyball and basketball for Gladwin. But no matter what sport was in season, she found a way to put in the work necessary to more than double her previous career home run total.

"Softball is my number one sport, my favorite sport always," Fennell said. "I had time to fit it in. I make time for it. Even if it's an hour, I go in and hit and do whatever I have to do. During the winter time, I was in the gym every weekend with my dad (Gladwin assistant coach Steven Fennell). I practiced hard when I went. I did extra reps."

Fennell is averaging one home run every 6.5 at bats. With 19 homers, 11 doubles and a triple among her 57 hits in 123 at bats, she has a whopping 1.032 slugging percentage. She has driven in 65 runs and is hitting .463. She has struck out only nine times, walking 16.

The fences on Gladwin's home field are 200 feet from home plate, but it's not as if Fennell is benefitting from a short porch. Nine of her home runs are at home and 10 have been on the road. She has come within inches of tacking on a few more home runs to her record total.

"We were at (Midland) Dow last Tuesday," Keefer said. "She hit the fence twice, and it was a 225-foot fence. If she'd been on our field, they would've been out. (Tuesday at Standish-Sterling) she hit the fence again, and it was a 214-foot fence."

Fennell is more than just a slugger. Playing primarily shortstop, she has a .900 fielding percentage. The versatile Fennell has also pitched and played catcher.

"She's a smart player," Keefer said. "She sees the field very well. She sees runners very well. She can pitch, she can catch, she can play anywhere in the field. I'd put her in the outfield, too. She has such a strong arm."

Fennell will continue her playing career at Delta College.

"They have a good dental assistant program that I'm looking into," she said. "A couple of my teammates from travel ball are going there. The coach seemed really interested and said I'd have a starting spot on the team."

Before she puts on a Delta uniform, she will try to win a District championship. The Flying G's are 29-9 heading into a District Semifinal matchup with Ogemaw Heights at noon Saturday at Cadillac. In the other semifinal, a Cadillac team that received honorable mention in the last coaches' rankings will face Gaylord at 10 a.m.

"That would be amazing to win, especially with Regionals being at home," Fennell said. "That would be awesome to have our whole crowd cheering us on."

Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Gladwin's Dayna Fennell prepares to connect with a pitch during this season's Beaverton Invitational. (Middle) Fennell throws to first base against Ithaca. (Click to see more from

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)