Three-year veterans look to lead young softball team to success
By LAUREN JETTE
With softball season officially underway this week, the Lady Panthers are eager to spend some time together on and off the field this weekend at their home tournament to find this year’s team identity.
Head coach Charice Hankins is looking for senior catcher/outfielder Haylee Park and junior shortstop Joely Williamson to lead a young team this season.
“Joely and I are both leaders this year on the team,” Park said.
“I think the freshmen look up to us and other people on the team look up to us also because we’ve been on varsity, Joely since her freshman year and I’ve been on since my sophomore year, so we’ve definitely had that experience.”
“We mesh well together, we work really well together, which makes the leadership role a little easier,” Williamson added.
Both players realize how the example they set can help the team be successful and ready for this season.
“Because we lost so many girls last year, there’s maybe four or five returners, so going into it, there’s a lot of new faces and new girls that have never seen a varsity field before so our experience means we are calm, collected. We know how things are and that’s good for the other girls who are out here who are new and looking at us,” Park said.
“We are the leaders out here. We’re taking control and we’re trying to find ways to help them out to gain as much experience as we have and that’s going to come as the team meshes together and everyone gets to know each other because there are a lot of new faces,” Williamson said.
Although the Lady Panthers have had several scrimmages leading up to the first game of the season Tuesday, Park said they haven’t cemented a team identity quite yet.
“We haven’t really found that team identity yet this year since we lost so many girls,” she said.
“Last year we knew exactly who we were, we knew exactly where we wanted to be, everybody was on the same page.
“This year, with so many new faces, we’re trying to figure out what everyone’s role is going to be on the team, how we’re all going play together and how we’re going to mesh together. We’re still finding that true click.”
Playing together during the fall helped everyone get to know each other a little more, but the start of the season can bring out the nerves in new players, Williamson said.
“We’ve all seen each other play and bat and we all played in the fall together,” she said.
“We kind of had an idea of what this team was going to look like and so when we played fall ball we were hitting the ball hard, we were beating every team we played, but I think it comes back to nerves and getting out here with the coaches and just putting it all in play.”
Both upperclassmen are emphatic when it comes to naming the primary goal for the season.
“Obviously to win district, that’s number one goal. We’ve got to be undefeated first,” Williamson said.
“And we have to take it game by game or inning by inning. We’ve just got to take it slow and win district,” Park added.
“You can’t look at a state championship tournament when you haven’t even started district yet. That’s not reality. You gotta take it one by one,” Williamson finished.
With such a young team, honing younger players’ focus might be a difficult task, but Park thinks the girls know what the task at hand is.
“I think we’re all pretty focused and we all know what’s expected of us and we all know that we need to work to get there and that we’re going to have to work together to get there and that no one person is going to do it by themselves. It’s going to be a team effort all the way,” she said.
It won’t be an easy season, but Williamson wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It will be a challenge, but a challenge is what we’re looking for,” she said.
“You don’t want to come into an easy season, you’ve got to maintain what you had and you gotta rise above.”
With both Park and Williamson able to claim an undefeated record at their home tournament the past three years, they are eagerly looking forward to defending that record starting Thursday.
“I think we have some pretty big schools coming this year, so we’re excited. We’ve got to defend our domain out here,” Park said.
“Definitely. We’ve always taken our tournament as number one, never defeated in any of our games. We’ve got to maintain it,” Williamson said.