Lack of depth is main obstacle for Marion softball

Marion softball coach Charlotte Waner may not be a jigsaw fiend, but the 2004 edition of her Warrior team will be challenge her ability to put enough pieces together to make a complete picture.

Waner enters her third season with just nine players on the roster-leaving no margin for error- or injury.

“Finding where everyone fits to the best of their potential, but also benefits the team as a whole is the biggest challenge for me coaching with just nine players,” Waner said. “It’s just very maddening that we don’t have at least one more player to be able to switch people around.”

Coming off an 18-5 season that left the Warriors one game short of a trip to state, Waner faces the daunting challenge of molding limited resources into a competitive squad.

Marion’s limited roster can be attributed to the graduation of three key players (Megan Moore, Heidi Zogelman and Krista Zogelman), one battling injuries (Amber Richmond), one moving away (Mindy Mastin) and several who opted not to play this season.

But Waner and assistant coach Ginger Robert are still enthusiastic-they hold to the mantra that bigger isn’t always better and quality is more important than quantity.

“We don’t have anyone who we have to hide because of their lack of ability,” Waner. “We have some girls who hit better than they field and some who field better than they hit-but we don’t have anyone who can’t do either.”

Waner’s hopes will be centered on the shoulders of her upperclassmen-two senior all-Cottonwood Valley League performers in particular.

Emmy Bowers returns as the Warriors shortstop.

“Emmy can hit and field-she’ll be a great senior leader,” Waner said. “She’s one of our strongest hitters, but she plays shortstop because she’s our best fielder, too.”

Caitlin O’Dell anchors the defense as the Warrior left fielder.

“Caitlin is also a great senior leader for me,” Waner said. “She’s a positive influence on the younger girls.

“Emmy and Caitlin work together and are just great role models for this team-not only on the field but off it as well,” she added. “They’re both very smart, do well in school, and are involved in a lot of activities.

“They set a great precedent for the younger girls to follow.”

Three juniors will add more leadership and stability to the roster.

Sarah Williams will crouch behind the plate this season as the Warriors’ catcher, guiding a youthful pitching staff.

“Sarah is a quiet leader, but a good leader,” Waner said. “She doesn’t say a lot, but her actions show the other girls what they need to do for us to be successful.”

Leann Thomas also returns with two years of experience under her belt.

“Leann has been our first baseman for the past two years, but she’s moving to third base because she has a good glove and a good arm,” Waner said.

Thomas also provides one of the most experienced arms on the Warrior mound.

“I haven’t decided if she’ll be our No. 1 pitcher yet or not,” Waner said. “She’s a very strong individual-not only physically, but mentally, which is very important to be a pitcher.

“It takes a lot to rattle her,” she added. “She really knows the game and is very level headed.”

Patrolling center field this year will be junior Whitney Wear.

“She does a great job out there and she has a great arm,” Waner said. “She’s our little cheerleader too. She’s always pepping everyone up which is a good thing.

“She’s always positive. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say anything negative.”

Two sophomores are also included on Waner’s roster.

Kara Holt and Ashley Bilbe will be asked to play key roles this season, but only Holt has high school softball experience.

“If Leann is pitching, Kara will be at third and if Sonja (Steinborn) is pitching, Kara will be at second base,” Waner said. “She can play just about anywhere, but a lot of these girls can play multiple positions.

“Kara has a good glove and has played softball forever,” she added. “She plays wherever I put her and never complains.”

“Ashley didn’t play for us last season, but I think she can contribute to the team this year,” Waner said. “We’ll need her to step into a productive roll and be a player.”

Rounding out the roster will be a pair of freshmen, Sonja Steinborn and Morgan Cady.

“Sonja will play second base or pitch,” Waner said. “Her nickname is ‘Smiley’ because she’s always got a smile on her face.

“But that’s nice because when the girls get growly at each other, there’s Sonja,” she said. “She’s just a breath of fresh air.”

Moving in to field throws at first base will be Cady.

“She’s a left-handed batter and first baseman,” Waner said. “She’s pretty knowledgeable about softball and I have a lot of confidence in her abilities.”

Waner said the fact only nine players are out this season nullifies any sense of depth, but it also provides opportunities and a sense of focus for those nine girls.

“I think overall the girls know we have a real challenge ahead of us, but I think we’re ready to accept that challenge and prove some people wrong,” she said. “I’ve seen the girls’ attitudes in practice and it looks like they’ve taken it upon themselves to prove they can still be a good team.

“I have great senior leadership this year and that’s huge,” she added. “Also, with just nine players we really have a team atmosphere.”

Knowing what their coach expects of them is also an advantage, Waner said.

“I think we get a lot more repetitions in practice in both fielding and hitting, so we ought to be a lot better defensively,” she said. “Our hitting will be all right even though we lost three great bats to graduation.”

Waner said the team’s limited numbers won’t keep it from being aggressive on the base paths.

“In no way will that limit what we try to do as far as running the bases,” she said. “I’m an aggressive coach-and that’s the way we’re going to play the game this year. The girls know their limits and that helps, too.”

As usual, Sacred Heart is the league favorite, but Waner predicted Chase County could make waves as well.

Win or lose, Waner said she hopes the girls enjoy the upcoming season.

“We hope they have a good time because that usually means we’re doing a good job,” she said. “We want to stay united as a team and have a winning season.

“I’m just concerned that we make it through the season with all nine players,” she said. “You can’t start a game with just eight players, but if someone were to get injured during a game we could still finish. But we’d sure rather not have to do that.”

Marion opens the season at home against Hillsboro on Friday.

“We always have a good game with them,” she said. “We’re looking forward to getting the season started and seeing how we’re able to face the challenges this season presents.”

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