Taking a look at the four area teams
The 2017 campaign was one of hits and misses for the Lansing Lions’ softball team, but it offered enough of a sample size to be curious what could be in store this spring.
After a blowout win in the regional opener, the Lions lost a 7-6 heartbreaker in the final, just missing the Class 5A state tournament. Now they turn their attention to a new start with new coaching staff, heading by Rachel Milnark, a former DI softball player at Wichita State.
She will have plenty of talent to work with as the team returns Bradi Basler, a junior who has been a varsity contributor since her freshman year and has brought a big arm from the circle and bat.
She is supported by Cayleigh Berry who offers a big bat and overall skillsets, KenaDee Sommerla, who brings leadership and motivation, and Chaise Miller, who hosts an aggressive batting approach.
Then there is sophomore Riley Phillips, who is a fast riser on the club softball scene and could be setting herself up for a big second season of high school competition.
“We are one big team,” Milnark said. “There are a lot of positive attitudes and encouraging teammates. These are coachable girls with great talent and leadership. They are strong and aggressive.
“We have a lot of raw talent and the girls are already showing small steps for us to make big strides.”
For a team returning so much firepower and a lot of players appearing to take the next big step, Milnark believes it may be realistic to expect something special.
“We want to work toward a winning record,” Milnark said. “We also want to engage the community more into Lansing softball.”
The players have embraced the mix of young and old and the coaching changes and feel as if results could show big in 2018.
“This year is going to be really good, we have a really well put together team and have a potential all the way around,” Basler said. “We have a pretty good middle infielder – Riley – and she keeps getting better every year. We have an incoming sophomore (Jada McFarland) who is good too. (The strong finish to 2017 means) our desire to do better this year, really kicked us in the butt for starting off the first couple of weeks of practice and tryouts.
“The whole atmosphere of practices is so much better and we are excited to be here. I would say it’s both fun and professional. We have three coaches who have played and experienced it at the high school and collegiate levels.”
Berry sees a move back to basics as being key to the Lions’ season.
“Last year we were a little shaky and this year we are coming out with a lot more determination and focus,” Berry said. “Last year we hit the ground running with people coming in from different sports. Coach has made a huge change in everything, going back to fundamentals before we get started. We are trying to get a mix in with fielding and hitting and work with what we have. We have a lot of potential.
“Everybody has been putting work in the offseason and we aren’t starting up just with the season. A lot of experience coming in will help. We have a passion for the sport and we want to be a team and a family.”
Basler’s arm will play a big role in what the season holds for the Lions, especially with a heater clocked as high as 62 mph.
“Throughout the offseason I’ve put in a lot of hard work, because I think this is going to be our year,” Basler said. “All the talent that we have individually and team-wise, I embrace the challenge, I am ready for it.
“My drop curve is surprising me and coming along pretty well. I threw it when I was 10 and I kind of got out of it because I didn’t really like it. Getting back to it has been good. My rise ball and curve is working pretty well. (Location) is working a lot better this year. We should see less walks. I got tired a lot last year and we have been working on that this year.”
All thoughts point toward positive.
“I feel like if we come out and play as a team … we are going to have a really great season and be over .500 at the least,” Berry said. “Sometimes we would be that one inning that killed us, but I think we will get the stamina going and keep it going all game.”
It’s been a slow, methodical rise for Leavenworth High softball, but just like the best barbecue, the greater results come with more time invested.
The Pioneers have quietly earned increased plaudits and wins over the past few years and head coach Callene Farrell now hopes to take the next step following 2017’s 8-13 record which included a 3-8 Sunflower League mark.
LVHS got hot at season’s end and were feeling good about making a move in the postseason, but saw the campaign come to a unceremonious end, 14-4 against Topeka West in regionals, so Farrell can still offer a new set of goals for her girls.
“Our entire outfield is coming back and will continue to be solid this year,” Farrell said. “Other key spots such as pitcher (McKenzie Brown) and shortstop (Alyssa Seichepine) will come back this year. Our fielding should be all around solid this year with some new add-ins this year. These athletes are young, so they will be back again for next season. We have one senior (Alise Boal) as our leader for the team.
“We are hoping to get the bats going earlier in the year and maintain that throughout the season. Last year we didn't get going until the later part of the season. We will change our season outcome if we can get the bats going earlier.”
She also had Leah Seichepine and Delecia Franco to count on and a lot of players who are carrying confidence born from a late season run.
Brown not only was the team’s ace, but also batted .540 and was able to help her cause in the circle, a place she hopes to dominate even more this spring.
“I'm feeling pretty good this year, feeling much better since we have some better talent behind the plate with players like Breanna Brown,” the pitcher said. “It makes you feel much better when you have someone you trust and are comfortable with behind the plate.
“Obviously, my fastball is still working for me and I put in some extra work to try and acquire a consistent changeup, my screwball is as dirty as ever, and I also was working on a drop ball with my competitive team's pitching coach.”
It all boils down to a lot of hopes for a Pioneer team gaining more and more respect each year under Farrell.
“We want to push for more wins, win the Turner tournament, hold teams to tighter outcomes in games and win the first round of regionals,” Farrell said.
“If everything clicks this spring I would like to think everything would be good, but sometimes you just don't know,” Alyssa Seichepine said. “Our defense is looking pretty good, so I think if we keep it up we will look pretty good. This year we really need to hit and keep our heads up no matter what.
“This is our last year in the Sunflower League. I know the past couple years we haven’t met our goal as a team, but this year I want to change that. When teams face us, they think of us an easy win. I want us to take advantage of that because they will most likely not throw their best pitcher out there. We need take advantage early and get some runs on the board. I want to compete in the Sunflower League before we head to this new league next year.”
It will drive them all season if they find the right balance of motivating chip on the shoulder and less of a debilitating recollection.
A year ago, the Basehor-Linwood Bobcats’ softball team was on the cusp of the regional final, leading 6-0 heading into in the seventh inning of the first-round contest against Tonganoxie before the Chieftains rallied in their last at-bats for a remarkable 7-6 comeback.
The win, as big as it was for Tonganoxie, was a huge letdown for the Bobcats, but it appears the young ladies who have returned for the 2018 season have used the experience in a positive way to push them forward to potentially bigger and better things this spring.
“We are young and the returners are strong leaders from last year's team,” BLHS head coach Susan Mayberry said. “Therefore, we should be able to lead through adversity.
“We are going to have to bring out and develop the talent we have in a short amount of time.”
Mayberry has a large amount of experience to count on and young talent to bolster it with players such as Samie Greer and Kate Drennon.
“They are consistent, they lead by actions and voice, they are tough, they are fighters,” Mayberry said of the two Bobcats. “They get the job done day in and day out. Because they produce on the field.”
Drennon liked what she saw with what the girls brought to workouts during the offseason.
“We had practices every single Wednesday and every girl (who appeared) just put in their whole heart into it and were just improving,” Drennon said. “The offseason put us at a point where it set us up for improvement. The offseason put us at a higher standard than last year.
“We are motivated to be better than the year before … be better teammates and push our teammates to the breaking point so we can show our potential.”
BLHS will have to overcome the losses of pitcher Ashley Hoffman and catcher Britney Smith along with Sophie Seaton and Lincoln Schwisow.
“We want to coach the players in our program as hard as we can,” Mayberry said. “The coaching staff is going to have to work overtime to instruct, evaluate, develop and get the right players into the right positions. We want to instill a fighting attitude. The buy-in factor of 100 percent of the players will be key.
“We don't have the ready-made talent this year. Therefore, seven of the nine positions on the field are open. This team is capable of continuing the stability and success of the program. Our leaders are going to come from all four classes.”
Pitching will have to come along to replace Hoffman’s cannon arm, but that appears to be making progress. The bats will need to come alive often to support the ladies in the circle.
“Our bats are looking pretty strong, but we still need to work on with consistency,” Drennon said. “We can hit for runs and we have bunters, slappers, more than two power hitters … we have the whole collection which will further us as a team.”
Players on the team are well aware of the disappointing end to the previous campaign but appear to have channeled that memory into a positive driving force for this season.
“It’s sad, but it happens,” senior Rachel Kaminsky said. “You improve as it goes along, but you have to overcome the mistakes. You can’t keep looking back at the past. It is definitely motivating. You have to know that you are good and be good.”
“I was a freshman last year, so I was nervous for the regional game,” Olivia Garvey said. “It makes me want to play for Tongie again and play for my teammates and beat them. I want to get back them. We played our hearts out the whole game and at the end, it was clearly a lot at once and we were all making mistakes. It just motivates you to be better the next game.
“I want to go further. This year I really want to go to state. We will play just as hard, even if it’s not Tongie.”
If the pitching rises, the hitting connects and the new players fit it well, their hopes could become reality.
“We are going to state,” Kaminsky said.
“We just need to work as a team, focus and play for each other,” Garvey. “When we make a mistake, we have to pick each other up.”
Despite their best efforts, the Pleasant Ridge softball players could not overcome a plethora of injuries and rough times as the Rams fell to 3-15-1 in 2017, which was far below the program’s expectations.
Head coach Chris Robinson has a solid number of players out this spring and he feels good about beginning a turnaround as the team aims to get back to basics.
“The strength of the team will be that we are all healthy and all have played varsity and know what it takes to compete,” Robinson said. “The weakness will be that all my pitchers are young so they have to learn what it takes to compete.”
The Rams have top-flight competitors like Maddie Ewert, Allison Herbig and Paige Robinson to lead the way after they were all injured a year ago and sat out much of the season due to those ailments.
“The spring has been really good and have been getting a lot of work in with situations,” Paige Robinson said. “We are getting a feel for the new girls since we have a few newbies and a lot of returners. We are definitely ready this year – last year we faced some tough teams we weren’t ready for. We are going in with a different mindset thinking we can compete with them and not lay down and die. We were intimidated seeing teams like Basehor and Tongie on the schedule.
“We have been doing a lot of conditioning and physically we have a better vibe. All in all we are really excited for the season.”
Throw that trio in along with junior shortstop Lindsey Heim and things could be looking up.
“The goal for the team is to win league and have a good showing in the postseason,” Robinson said. “I would love for these girls to learn more about the game and just compete every game and not give up. Peasant Ridge softball is looking to have a great season this year. We have four returning seniors that are showing leadership qualities, but the juniors are building in their roles of stabilizing for the future.
“Pleasant Ridge has for so long been focused as a school for football, track and male dominated sports and the team this year has decide to move on and focus toward a year of achievement.”
Robinson would like to see that the PRHS program earns its first conference title and that is the team’s focus and hoping to build off of a strong winter sports season that saw the girls’ basketball team make a run to a sub-state championship game.
Now they just need to overcome the ails that befall them on the diamond.
“The defeat by Lansing and losses to McClouth, Oskaloosa and Atchison tore us up and recovery has taken a long time,” Robinson said. “We lost a great senior leader in Maddie Grafke, but she still stands in the shadows guiding us and pushing us. Our seniors, Kailey Wilburn, Paige, Allison and Kaylie Warden, will be a mainstay both on the field and off. To say that this year is a year of memories will be an understatement, it is truly a year to make history.”