University High School’s softball success can be attributed - knock on wood - to superstition.
“Baseball players are really superstitious,” said Titan coach Ken Van Sickle. “This team is the most superstitious I’ve had.”
From the way they dressed and what they ate to the songs they would sing and who they stood next to during pre-game prayer, the Titan players left nothing to chance.
The result was the school’s second-straight Greater Spokane League title and first unbeaten season. The ring leader is loquacious junior second baseman Megan Mertens.
“I kinda started it all,” Mertens admitted. “I had never been like that before.”
For a time she even banned her mother, Judy, from coming to games because she thought mom brought her bad luck.
“If I had a bad game, for a while I thought it was because Mom was coming,” she said. “I went 0-for-4 in three games and made a couple of errors and told her she couldn’t come anymore.”
Judy eventually was allowed back to the field and Megan hit safely in six of her next seven games, proof that daughter’s logic was faulty.
However, that didn’t persuade the Titans to uncross their fingers.
On the day of home games they dressed up. They wore their softball jerseys for away contests. The one deviation, wearing game jerseys on a home-game day because of a school assembly after clinching the GSL title, resulted in a near-upset loss to Lewis and Clark.
“They had a big argument (about whether to),” said Van Sickle.
When the players went out for breakfast before their season opener against Gonzaga Prep and won, they had to go out for breakfast at the same place.
“One of the players (Royann Thomas) didn’t show and we almost told her she couldn’t come again,” said Mertens.
They ultimately relented.
Before every game they sang the same three country songs they learned while listening to disc players on the way to an early season game.
“At one game the baseball team rode with us and we had to sing,” said Mertens. “They also won and wanted us to sing to them again.”
Every game day her routine is the same. Mertens gets Van Sickle’s keys and traces a familiar route from his classroom to the locker room where she leaves her uniform.
It’s a uniform she washes after every Friday game.
“Jen Madsen hasn’t washed hers at all,” said Mertens. “And she has to eat a burrito every game day for lunch.”
Madsen leads the team in hitting.
During Julia Yoke’s ritual pre-game prayer, each player holds the same person’s hand. Mertens makes sure her bat and glove accompany her because one time when she didn’t have the bat she went hitless. Another time she didn’t take her glove and made an error.
Any time the topic of success came up during the year, said Mertens, “we knocked on wood.”
Van Sickle, who also wears the same attire every game - “I wear a slicker,” he said, “and the other day was hot, but I didn’t dare take it off” - doesn’t mind his team’s phobias.
“So far it’s working,” he said. “That stuff makes it kind of fun.”
Superstition aside, the real reason for U-Hi’s success has been the talent of a team with only two seniors on its roster. Included is starting shortstop Lisa Muroya, who is on a nine-game hitting streak.
All are year-around softball players with extensive select-team backgrounds.
“Most of us play seven days a week,” said Mertens. “That helps out a lot.
Cheryl Andrizzi’s pitching has been amply backed by a speedy and surprisingly good-hitting lineup.
“I thought hitting would be our weak point. It turned out to be our strength,” said Mertens. “Every person on the team can hit. I’ve never seen Coach V so stressed out about making a lineup.”
It’s a problem most coaches would love to have. Under Van Sickle, U-Hi has won three league titles and finished among the GSL’s top two for five straight years.
It’s a streak the young Titans hope to continue.
Knock on wood.
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