When Evanston Township Athletic Director Chris Livatino realized he had to replace the most successful softball coach in school history — Katie Perkins — he didn’t have to look too far to find her successor.

Amy Gonzales spent the past three seasons coaching first base for the Wildkits and already owned a track record for success as a head coach.

Gonzales has been promoted to the head position at ETHS after Perkins, who gave birth to her first child over the summer, decided to step down and spend more time with her family.

The Perkins/Gonzales coaching combination led the Wildkits to single season school records for wins in both 2016 (18-13) and 2017 (23-12), along with the first Illinois High School Association regional championship in school history and two conference championships, the first since 1975 for ETHS.

Now it’s Gonzales’ turn at the helm. She’s a proven winner after a three-year stretch at Maine West where the Warriors won 2 Central Suburban League North division championships and also captured the first IHSA sectional crown for that program in her first season in 2012.

Gonzales has also coached previously at Niles West, Libertyville and New Trier. A graduate of Niles North High School, where she played basketball and softball and also ran cross-country, she played four years of Division I softball at the University of Illinois-Chicago. The Flames won four conference championships and qualified for four NCAA regional tournaments during her playing career there.

“We are grateful for the transformational effort Coach Perkins brought to Wildkit softball during her tenure,” Livatino said. “And we are so fortunate to have an exceptional coach like Amy Gonzales ready  to take over as our next head softball coach. She has been a big part of the program’s dramatic improvement over the past few years, and I have no doubt she will continue to take ETHS softball to even greater heights.”

“Any time you change coaches, there will be a period of adjustment, but I won’t be making humongous changes,” Gonzales said. “We graduated quite a few very good players last year (from an 18-8-1 team that reached the regional championship game), so yes, we’ll be rebuilding. But we still have some solid pieces in place.

“There are some really talented kids here at Evanston, and we want to challenge them so they can be successful. We’re looking to see them all improve and that’s what I get the most enjoyment from as a coach, watching them improve. My goal is that I want them to learn and improve from the start of the season to the finish.”

Between them, Perkins and Gonzales were responsible for changing the mindset of players entering the program and raising the bar as far as expectations for winning. You only needed one hand to count the number of winning seasons the Wildkits enjoyed prior to their arrival.

“I think the kids we’ve had in the program are the ones who have set that bar,” Gonzales pointed out. “They wanted to have success in the program and they put in the work it took to be successful. They wanted to go out and beat the Maine Souths and New Triers. They really wanted to do well — and they did.

“I had a great time when I coached at Maine West, but I’m very grateful for where I am right now. I work with some wonderful people here at Evanston and the kids are wonderful, too. The kids are really invested in the softball program now, and I’m excited about the season.”

Gonzales will rebuild around returning starters Lucy Hart, Zoe Canafax, sophomore  Chloe Haack and a player who figures to own all of Evanston’s career pitching records by the time she graduates, junior right-hander Molly Chambers.

The new coach plans to emphasize the “small ball” part of fast-pitch softball and has placed an even bigger emphasis on weight training and conditioning in the off-season.

 “Hitting home runs is fantastic, and it’s fun to watch, but just putting the ball in play is the most important thing for any offense,” she said. “We’re also having conditioning and weight training 4 days a week now instead of just twice a week like last year. I don’t think we gave them enough conditioning last year.”     

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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