Life in the shadows has turned out to be very rewarding for Shadle Park’s Krista Zappone and Heather Jackson, the only two seniors on the undefeated Highlander softball team.
Junior Samantha Skillingstad is the dominant pitcher in the Greater Spokane League, a returning first-team 4A All-State player, but Zappone’s and Jackson’s contributions both on and off the field do not go unnoticed – or unappreciated – by Highlander coach George Lynn.
“Those two lead by example and display a level of maturity on a daily basis that our younger players are drawn to,” Lynn said. “Your captains need to be kids who are almost coaches on the field and whom the other girls respect. All our players know that Krista and Heather are good people and they’ll stand behind them.”
Zappone, a four-year starter at first base, is batting close to .500 this season as she hopes to lead the Highlanders to a state championship. Shadle Park came close last year, falling 2-1 to Prairie in a 10-inning title game.
“Krista is extremely selfless,” said Lynn. “She’s the kind of kid who, when her group wins a competition in practice drills, will run with the losing group even when she doesn’t have to.”
The Highlanders are so overpowering this season (eight shutouts on their way to an 11-0 record through last week) that staying focused on their GSL contests is a challenge, says Zappone.
“All the girls are pretty hard on themselves,” she said. “It’s not so much pressure we put on ourselves as the high expectations we have. We know we have to be a little bit better than we were last year, and some people get really stressed out about that.
“I think our experience at State helps some of the younger girls because we know what to expect. When we get there, games will be closer and we won’t be blowing people out of the water,” Zappone said.
“When we practice now, we’re getting ready for our next game, but we’re also getting ready for the postseason.”
Jackson, who missed several games with a shoulder injury earlier in the season, attended Central Valley her freshman year before transferring to Shadle. She wasn’t eligible to play on the varsity until her junior season, but she started at shortstop last year and will return to that position from second base when her shoulder has fully recovered.
“It was torture being out,” Jackson said. “I knew the team would be fine, so all I could do was be there for them and make sure I did what I needed to do in physical therapy and heal completely so I don’t hurt the team later by re-injuring myself.
“It’s really exciting to know that Krista and I have one more chance to make it (a state championship) happen,” Jackson said.
“The girls on the team always have fun and understand each other. Even though I’m a captain now, my role on the field hasn’t changed – I’ve always been a leader.
“But off the field, I need to provide moral support and encouragement not just on softball stuff but also on personal issues if girls need that. My job is to make sure that when game time comes, it’s softball and that other issues can’t be a distraction,” she said.
Jackson comes from a long line of local athletes. Her grandfather, Ron, played for the Spokane Indians in the 1950s, and her father and uncles all played GSL baseball during their high-school years.
“Your high-school years go very quickly,” said Lynn, “and I think Heather and Krista know that. Every single day, whether it’s practice or a game, I see them living every moment to the fullest.
“There are not too many coaches fortunate enough to have two kids with the leadership qualities those two have. I’m lucky to have them.”