Depth key to MHS success

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The entire starting infield from last season has graduated.

Throw in the loss of the team’s inspirational leader and only returning all-league performer and most coaches would cringe at the thought of the upcoming season.

Not Charlotte Waner, coach of the Marion-Florence/Peabody-Burns softball team.

Entering her fifth year, Waner feels she has taken her program to such a consistent level of performance that even massive losses can be overcome.

“Actually, I’ve come in with high expectations, but I feel good about those expectations because I feel very good about these girls and their attitudes,” Waner said.

“They’re working hard, they’re not lagging or coming in with bad attitudes and we have a feeling of unity this year.

“Some years I feel stressed, but I really don’t have those feelings this season.”

Waner was greeted by 22 athletes this spring, but not many with varsity experience. Gone are four strong seniors as well as the team’s vocal leader, Megan Hudson, who injured her knee in basketball.

But Waner is optimistic.

“These girls really feel they can win,” Waner said. “Their dedication will pay off in the long run. I hope if we do get off to a rocky start that I can keep the girls’ heads up and keep them interested because we do have good talent.”

Assisted by Chad Adkins and Autumn Priddy, Waner has 16 girls from Marion-Florence and six from Peabody-Burns who join the team in their cooperative agreement.

Coming off a season that ended with a 10-9 record and a 7-2 loss to Labette County at the Class 4A regionals, Waner said the experience will be a springboard for better results in 2006.

“Our depth will really be a big strength for us,” Waner said. “We have a lot of girls who are fairly knowledgeable about the game of softball, and they’re willing to work hard to improve their skills.”

Although the Warriors’ top pitcher, Leann Thomas, graduated, Waner expects her pitching corps to be solid.

Kara Holt (2-2) returns after throwing 30 innings last season. She allowed only 36 hits while striking out 22 and
posting a 3.73 earned-run average.

Waner expects contributions from Sonya Steinborn (1-0), who appeared in two varsity games last year, Kari Tajchman and Valeri Hett.

Freshman Stephanie Rempel will gain experience on the junior varsity.

“We have pretty decent depth on the mound,” Waner said. “So far, their arm strength looks to be pretty good.”

With the loss of Hudson, Waner hopes either sophomore Lanna Carroll or freshman Frankie Clark will fill the void behind the plate.

“Lanna has caught summer ball before,” Waner said. “Frankie has never played the position, but she has the personality of a catcher and won’t take flak off anybody.”

Waner said she likes having competition for positions.

“I haven’t really decided any of my infield positions yet,” Waner said. “I want to make sure I have the best nine on the field. I’m still trying to determine who those nine are.”

Vying for positions include the top returning hitter from last season, Allison Maddox (.403), along with Kristin Waner, Steinborn, Tajchman (.311), Erica Geis, Lauren Helmer, Holt (.254), Rebecca Morris and Austin Percell.

“When you lose as much as we did, it hurts in a way. But in another way, it’s time for those other kids to step up to the plate, and I’ve really seen a lot of them doing just that,” Waner said. “As a coach, that’s exciting.”

All three outfield positions are up for grabs, Waner said.

Hoping to snare one are Morgan Cady (.194), Jandee Sharp (.400), Tacy Taylor (.125), Jessica Rosine and Megan Schmidt.

“They provide a great core,” Waner said. “You have to have a great defense, but you also you have to be able to hit the ball because if you can’t score, you can’t win.”

With spring weather cooperating prior to this week, Waner said her team has concentrated on defense.

“Right now our defense is ahead of our offense because the weather has allowed us to practice situations on the field and actually field a ball,” she said.

“Depth perception from inside to outside is different, so we won’t have to make that adjustment this year.”

Waner expects Hoisington to be the team to beat in the Mid Central Activities Association this season.

“Their coach has coached many years and knows the game well,” she said.

Waner hopes a junior varsity schedule of nine dates and 18 games will pay dividends for her program.

“I feel this is really important because the more touches the girls get, the better they’re going to be,” she said.

Although winning is important, Waner said softball is much more than that.

“First, you have to love the game because you sure don’t coach for the money,” she said. “I love to interact with the girls and teach them life skills and watch their improvement.

“We share joys as well as sorrows, so it’s just an all-round rewarding job for me,” she said. “I feel like I have 22 daughters.”

Marion starts the season Friday, March 31, at home against Haven. The first game of the doubleheader will start at 4:30 p.m.

“We may make some mistakes because we are fairly young this year, but I think by the time regionals come, we’ll have most of those bumps out of the road,” she said.

“We have a good time and that’s what it’s all about as well as working hard.”

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