NORMAL — Peers, fellow athletes and staff at Normal Community West High School are remembering senior Olivia "Livi" Sonetz as a talented athlete with an infectious personality.
Just months away from graduating high school, the 17-year-old was a member of the Wildcats softball team, the wrestling team and Normal West Freshman Mentoring Program.
"Livi Sonetz will be forever remembered by her teammates and coaches as a feisty, passionate competitor," said softball coach April Schermann. "She was the life of the party and her infectious personality made everyone smile and laugh. She was determined to become a leader, prove everyone wrong and never give up. We will live on for Livi."
In 2016, Sonetz helped lead the Wildcats to its first softball state tournament in 16 years.
An example of her ferocity on the softball field can be summed up in that 2016 championship game in East Peoria, according to Pantagraph archives.
In the top of the sixth inning as second baseman, a ground ball bounced up and hit Sonetz in the mouth, busting her lip.
She sat out for one inning to clean herself up before begging the coach to send her back on the field. That day, Schermann called her eagerness to finish the game “so inspiring.”
Sonetz attended Carlock Elementary School and Parkside Junior High School before West.
She had signed a letter of intent to play softball for Heartland Community College said HCC Coach Steve Leverton.
“She was extremely talented with legitimate Division 1 potential,” he said. “Her sister, Ellie, is on our team this year as well. We are still trying to process everything.”
The team met at the Central Illinois Regional Airport Wednesday morning to start a spring trip to Florida. Even though Olivia was in her senior year of high school, all of the players on the team knew her.
“In a way, it’s therapeutic for us to be together and mourn together,” he said. “Of course, a big part of me wishes I could still be in town to help the family with anything.”
Leverton said he was really looking forward to having her on the team.
“She was a free spirit and she never let things bother her,” he said. “We were all looking forward to working with her as an athlete, but more importantly, just getting to know her and enjoy her better.”
Students and staff at West were informed of the accident at the start of the school day Wednesday. Guidance counselors and comfort dogs were available to help with the grieving process.
Normal West was a sea of blue on Thursday, said principal Dave Johnson, as peers and faculty wore the color to honor Sonetz.
“It’s still a sad day. Her energy and charisma touched a lot of different students, especially the softball team,” he said.
Johnson said the softball team plays its first game sans Sonetz next week.
While the team members are “feeling the most grief,” he said coach Schermann is working closely with the athletes to meet their needs while kicking off the season.
Illinois State Police said the accident occurred around 6:25 p.m. Tuesday at the intersection of Mitsubishi Motorway (U.S. 150) and Raab Road.
Police said Mitchel Mohr, 23, was driving south on Mitsubishi Motorway and Sonetz was driving west on Raab Road. Sonetz entered the intersection as the light turned green and Mohr's vehicle entered the intersection illegally.
He was issued a ticket for disobeying a stoplight, failure to reduce speed, speeding and failure to wear a seat belt. He was transported to Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal. His condition was not disclosed.
Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer