Alene Bethel wants to speak up, and it’s a challenge.
Not an overwhelming challenge. Bethel has more than proved that she’s up to a challenge.
A three-year starter at catcher for University High School, Bethel was named to the All-Greater Spokane League first team a year ago and knows where she needs to step up her game for her senior softball season.
“I’d say that I’m working on being more vocal,” she said. “I’ve been working on it. I’m naturally more of a quiet person, but I know that on the field I need to speak up more and take charge.”
It’s not that Bethel isn’t a leader – she’s all that and more. She just prefers to let her game speak for itself.
“I try to lead by example,” she said. “I try to lead by working hard. That part comes naturally to me.”
Just as in baseball, fast-pitch softball asks a great deal from its catchers. In addition to swinging a bat on offense, catchers are responsible for handling pitchers and are frequently charged with making situational adjustments to the defense.
It’s a role Bethel is used to playing, having played the position throughout her career. When your older sister is a pitcher, it helps to have an in-house catcher.
“I’ve been a catcher since I was a little knock-knock,” she said. “I’ve always been a very competitive person and I really like being involved. When you catch, you’re involved in everything – every play. Catching keeps me focused because you’re involved in every single play of every single game.
“Coach (Jon) Schuh likes to say that the catcher is the only one on the field with a view of the entire field. I like that because it’s true and that’s what I like most about the position.”
Bethel backed up Ashley Fargher as a freshman, stepped into the starting lineup as a sophomore and was the league’s top backstop a year ago.
“My freshman year was so overwhelming,” she said. “I knew I would start my sophomore year catching so I had to learn all I could that first year. In this system there are so many plays, so many signs.
“When I’m playing summer league it’s not as complicated. This is so different, so much more intense.”
It’s what keeps University a perennial challenger in the always-tough GSL.
“I think there’s always a little extra pressure when you’re from U-Hi,” Bethel said. “I think teams always want to beat us because of our past success.”
Still, the Titans have gone through a state-tournament dry spell and that weighs heavily on this year’s senior class. University had 10 straight tournament appearances, including the 2003 4A state championship, until 2006 and the program hasn’t been back since.
“I think my sister (Shelby) was part of the first class that never made it to state,” Bethel said. “We’re committed to getting back to state this year.”
The Titans are off to a strong start, averaging more than 10 runs through their first four games.
“Our offense has been good and we’re hitting well,” Bethel said. “I think our defense is still coming around, but I think it will soon. I know we’re working hard on that.”
At U-Hi, fast-pitch softball is serious business.
Coach Schuh has built a program that takes the game seriously. Expectations are high each and every year and Bethel is finding that it’s paying dividends that will pay off in her future.
“I’m finding that, as I go out and visit schools, that our U-Hi program is very professional, that it really prepares you for college,” Bethel said. “I’ve already had visits to North Idaho College and I visited Montana State in Billings.
“I’m going to be making a visit to Southeast Missouri State soon and I’m very excited about going there. I think it’s going to be pretty easy to adjust to playing college softball coming from U-Hi.
“Softball is pretty much a year-around thing for me already. I play with the Sliders over the summer and we play all over the place. We don’t play in a league, but we do play a lot of tournaments that get us exposure to college coaches – I think that’s where I got onto the Southwest Missouri radar. That kind of carries over to the fall slow-pitch season. As a catcher, I work with my pitchers over the winter.”