2019 All-Area Softball Player of the Year

Mountain View's Jessie Kantor's statistics (a 17-3 record, 206 strikeouts in 140 innings) made her an easy choice as district and region player of the year and a first-team all-state pick.

She was by no means ashamed of her surname. But until this spring, Jessie Kantor was best known as Pam Kantor’s eldest daughter.

It’s not a bad thing to be associated with one of the area’s most successful high school softball coaches. But after moving to a new school and authoring a dominant junior season, The Free Lance-Star’s player of the year has forged her own reputation.

“This year, being by myself, I knew I could be me,” said Kantor, who pitched Mountain View into the Class 5 state championship game for the first time in school history. “... I knew going into the year, I’d have to make my own way.”

Kantor lives in Mountain View’s attendance zone, but while her mother was coaching at North Stafford, she followed—just as she had begun playing the family game at an early age.

“Pretty much in the womb,” Pam Kantor said. “She didn’t have a choice, the poor kid.”

As a sophomore, Jessie Kantor was the Wolverines’ first baseman and No. 2 pitcher. But when her mother was dismissed as coach midway through the 2018 season, Jessie made plans to transfer to Mountain View.

It was a fresh start, joining a team that had finished 5-14 in 2018, lost six starting seniors to graduation and had a first-year head coach. There was plenty of uncertainty—but also an opportunity to blossom.

“I didn’t know a lot about her,” said Brianna Worley, a former assistant who took over as Mountain View’s head coach this spring. “I knew she was Pam Kantor’s daughter, and that she had kind of been playing a backup role at North Stafford. I did know she was a solid player.”

Free from expectation and the shadow of her mother (the only coach she’d had to that point), Kantor blossomed in her new environment.

She quickly earned Mountain View’s No. 1 pitching spot. That allowed her close friend Caroline Pollock, who had pitched out of necessity in 2018, to move back to her natural position at shortstop, strengthening a sometimes shaky defense.

Kantor lost her first start, 2-1 in nine innings to Riverbend in the season-opening Commonwealth District tournament, and dropped a 1-0 decision to her former school in early April. Then she became borderline unhittable, authoring six straight shutouts and nine overall for the season (including a 2-0 whitewash of Halifax County in the Region 5D final).

“Jessie is our backbone,” Worley said. “When she has a good game, we have a good game. She puts us in a really good position, and the team just piggybacks off her.”

Her statistics (a 17-3 record, 206 strikeouts in 140 innings) made her an easy choice as district and region player of the year and a first-team all-state pick.

The spin on her pitches foiled and fooled opposing batters up until the state final, when she took a one-hitter into the fifth inning before Stone Bridge became the rare team to solve her, plating seven runs en route to a 13-2 victory. Even after that rare pounding, her season ERA was a mere 1.40.

“I think that was the first time I’ve ever seen her in that situation,” Worley said, “but I don’t think she fell apart at all. She was very poised and controlled, and when she got back to the dugout with her teammates, everything was positive.”

Said Pam Kantor, who now coaches at C.D. Hylton High School in Prince William County: “I tried to get to as many games as I could, and every time I watched her pitch, I was in awe. Her facial expression was the same, from the first pitch of the game to the last. Nothing rattles her.

“She’s so mature and so humble. I’m so proud that she proved herself without any help.”

Jessie Kantor holds a martial arts black belt, which doesn’t necessarily help her pitching velocity. But, she allowed, the required discipline “does show up in every aspect of life. Obedience and different kinds of things—learning who you are.”

Her identity now is one of the state’s best players who has another high school season to prove it. She plans to work on her strength over the summer, which will be filled with camps and travel tournaments.

The Wildcats graduated just one senior, and next year’s team is expected to include rising freshman outfielder Lexi Kantor. Just think of the expectations Lexi will face, now that she has both a mom and an accomplished older sister who are local household names in her sport.

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Steve DeShazo: 374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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