Off-season opportunities have made the job easier for Valley high school softball coaches.
Various summer programs from developmental through select have helped build a base of softball talent for years to come.
“The future is good,” said University’s Ken Van Sickle, “and it’s nothing we’ve done. It’s because of the summer leagues. But we’ll take it.”
Thus, although both of the Valley’s Greater Spokane League teams are young, they may have enough talent to contend. The defending league champion Titans have only one senior and two varsity players back. CV has but two seniors and a new coach.
Kenny Haynes takes over a team that was fourth in league and a regional qualifier last year and will build with youth.
U-Hi and CV will chase Rogers, Mead and North Central for berths in the regional playoffs in Moses Lake. Three teams qualify from there for state which is in Spokane this year.
First league competition is next Thursday.
Where last year’s league champions were an experienced lot, this year’s Titan team is just the opposite.
Kristen Conklin, U-Hi’s second baseman, is the only senior and, said Van Sickle, will be one of the league’s best. Outfielder Toshua Ballou is the only other player with varsity experience.
They’ll be joined by athletes who either missed last year because of injury, played another sport, were in another program or were members of the school’s best-ever 16-3 junior varsity.
“They are great kids,” said Van Sickle. “Nine have grade point averages of 3.5 or above. Most are select players in the summer who have played against GSL competition, just not in the GSL yet.”
Junior shortstop Devon Bakken and outfielder Sally Jamison missed last year because of injury. Another junior, outfielder Stephani Shelton for two years ran track. But she has played summer select ball.
“They are three quality athletes who didn’t play last year, but will start for me,” said Van Sickle.
Central Valley transfer Angel Whalen is at third base. Elizabeth Madsen or Nichole Sargent will be at first.
“Overall, we might be better defensively than a year ago,” said Van Sickle.
The task of replacing U-Hi’s two three-year all-league pitchers will be left to jayvee hurdler Jamie Fox. She went 16-3 and was the team’s hitting leader.
“If something happens to Jamie we’ll be in a bind,” said Van Sickle.
Her batterymate, Heather Beach is the new varsity catcher.
Others on varsity are utility player Darcie Jones, a sophomore, infielder Annie Hayes and outfielder Lori Stose.
Hitting is a question mark since most have not faced GSL varsity hurling. The Titans have better speed and may have to steal more runs, said Van Sickle, rather than wait to drive them home.
“It’s kind of our goal to finish in the top four and get back to regional,” he said.
With eight of last year’s starters graduated and their coach gone as well, the Bears are beginning anew.
Haynes spent two years with the CV junior varsity, which last year went 14-3 and brings many of those players up to varsity with him.
“We’ve got a whole wave of new faces,” he said. “We’re a very young team with only two seniors.”
The only returning starter is junior outfielder Wendy Reed. Infielder Hannah Clemens and outfielder Selina Hager are the team’s seniors.
On varsity last year were juniors Erin Duncan, a pitcher, Karly Mosier, a catcher, and Sara Taes, an outfielder.
Newcomers include sophomore pitcher Tory Mills, catcher Crystal Lee, junior first basemen Jessica Ault and Jana McLendon, second basemen Amanda Del Mese, a sophomore, and Jen Courchaine, a junior, sophomore shortstop Jessica Sackmann, junior third baseman Jen Varney and outfielder Megan O’Dea.
He said the Bears, like the Titans, will take more chances on the basepaths offensively and that defense will be a team strength once the players hit mid-stride.
“Not a lot is settled (now), especially with so many moved up,” said Haynes. “I’m approaching the season with guarded optimism, but these girls are very competitive.”