The agony of defeat can often be the best driving force in athletics and for the Aberdeen, Elma, Hoquiam and Montesano softball programs, the experience of coming up short last season has provided the fuel for 2017.
Montesano has experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the state 1A championship game in the past two seasons. The Bulldogs defeated Hoquiam to win the title in 2015, but exited the field with tears in 2016 as La Center edged them out 9-7.
Both Elma and Hoquiam failed to battle out of the District IV tournament last season, but each team has reloaded for 2017. While Hoquiam had a few familiar faces return to the sport and from injury, Elma has a freshman class ready to compete right away.
Aberdeen found itself on the outside of the playoffs in 2016, despite an over .500 record. The Bobcats are back in the Evergreen 2A Conference and poised for a run.
With all but two starters returning from its second-place finish, Montesano has a lineup loaded for a run at not only the Bulldogs 20th straight appearance in the state tournament, but a chance for a third straight shot at the title.
“There is always a lot of pressure to get (to state),” Monte senior first baseman Allyssa Gustafson said. “But we know that we, as a team, can get there because we have done it before.”
“But we know that we have to put in the work to get there,” senior second baseman Morgan Kersker continued. “It doesn’t just come easy, we have to put in the work to get there just like every other year.”
The Bulldogs have seven players who hit a home run last season and bring their power bats back to the lineup for 2017. However, the key to every Montesano championship team has been defense and this group is no different, starting with all-league pitcher Samantha Stanfield. The junior is a threat in the circle or at the plate, as are the other two Bulldog pitchers junior Annie Cristelli and sophomore Lindsay Pace.
Along with Gustafson and Kersker, Hannah Quinn will also add a senior presence to the infield at third base. Peyton Poler, a junior, will begin the season at catcher, while sophomore Katie Granstrom will round out the infield at shortstop.
Montesano’s outfield will be a log jam of senior talent with the starters being Josie Toyra in left field, Cheyann Bartlett in center field and Cristelli in right. Backing up those three will be seniors Josie Talley, Linghong Schoch and Jaden Schoch.
“We have the core group of seniors that have played together for a long time, but we have a good mixture of underclassmen that have also been playing this game for a long time who are pretty good,” Montesano head coach Pat Pace said. “When you combine those together, it just makes us stronger.”
Pace said he sees familiar rivals Elma and Hoquiam in a battle with Montesano for the top three spots in the Evergreen 1A League. Forks could be a wild card this season, having gained a couple of pitchers with significant experience, Pace said.
One of the biggest obstacles the Bulldogs could face this season comes from within. Montesano now has a streak of state appearances that predates the birth of every player on the roster. With only two or three teams making the state tournament out of District IV, any loss at the wrong time could put that streak in jeopardy.
“This year, there is going to be some pressure because we don’t know how many berths we are going to get,” Pace said. “Our focus this year is going to be ‘How do we keep that pressure off the girls?’”
Having lost to Montesano in the district contest for the third and final state berth in 2016, the Grizzlies are hungry for a deep postseason run in 2017. That drive to get back to state can be seen in the eyes of senior first baseman Kamimi Papp as she begins her workouts at 6 a.m. each morning.
Joining Papp on the Hoquiam roster this season is a combination of young talent and seniors who are returning to the sport.
“I have a first baseman, left fielder and right fielder who are coming back, but everybody else is going to be new to a position, so I don’t really know what to expect right now,” Hoquiam head coach Keith Reynvaan said. “I haven’t seen what they can do yet.”
A few familiar faces have Hoquiam reloaded for a run at a league title. Seniors Emma Skinner, who ran track the past three years, and Jenna Doll, who was sidelined with an injry early in her career, both have returned to the sport of softball this season. Senior Paige Folkers, who spent last season on the bench with a knee injury, will return to her starting spot at second base.
Junior English Hyde returns in the circle for the Grizzlies, while sophomore Payton Parshall will see time pitching as well.
With Papp and Folkers, Hoquiam will round out the infield with sophomore Maya Jump, who spent last season at second base, at shortstop and sophomore Jade Cox at third base. Reynvaan said he expects freshman Maddie German to begin the season at catcher.
Skinner and Doll will be competing with returning starters Ashley Paladin, senior, and ReyLynn Dunn, sophomore, as well as sophomore Kylee Bagwell for time in the outfield.
“Those girls who came out add a lot of depth to the team and they know how to play the game,” Reynvaan said. “We lost some good players last year and I kept thinking ‘How are we going to replace those kids,’ but they are going to step up.”
“All of us grew up together playing traveling ball and I think we will have that same chemistry that we did years ago as we all come back together,” Papp said.
Hoquiam will need chemistry to try and make a run to the state tournament in 2017. Reynvaan said along with Montesano being the team to beat in the Evergreen 1A League, he sees Elma and Forks as formidable foes.
“Right now, we are looking for a playoff spot,” Reynvaan said. “That is our goal. It may take a while, a few games into the season, but I like what I see so far.”
Elma has reloaded for a run back to the state glory the Eagles earned with a title in 2014 when this group of seniors were just freshman. Now, seniors Peyton Elliott, Kohlby Sayler and Kaylee Rambo will be joined by a group of five freshman who are ready to compete for a title of their own.
“With us going to state our freshman year, and winning, makes us want to be the leaders that bring us back there,” Rambo said. “We are telling them, almost every practice, ‘We need to do this to get to state,’ ‘We need to work harder to get there.’ The three of us want that for them as much as we want it for ourselves.”
In an effort to jell together, the Eagles have adopted the motto “All In” for this season. The hope is for all of the players, from seniors to freshmen, to buy in to total effort in every practice and game.
“We are just trying to get everybody to be better players,” Elma head coach Roger Elliott said. “If somebody makes a mistake, slap them on the back and tell them ‘We’ll get it next time.’ You have to be a team and it only takes one person to bring the team down.”
The Eagles gained another pitcher in freshman Quin Mikel, who will share time in the circle with sophomores Corrina Torres and Destry Dineen.
Peyton Elliott will show her leadership at catcher with Chloe Velasco at first base and Dineen playing second base. Roger Elliott projects an all Rambo left side of the infield with Kaylee playing shortstop and her freshman sister Kali playing third base.
Sayler will start in left field, with Molly Johnston in center field and Kassedy Olson starting in right.
Roger Elliott said he sees Montesano as the team to beat, but knows Elma has the talent to compete with any team in the state.
“We have a lot of talent this year,” Peyton Elliott said. “We have some skilled freshman and those girls are going to help us out a lot. We should be a pepped up team this year. They are very talented and I’m excited to see what they have in store for us.”
Aberdeen enters 2017 in a new league, but with the same goal of a postseason appearance. Unfortunately, the Bobcats haven’t achieved that goal during their seniors’ careers.
“We are hungry to get to the postseason,” junior catcher Reagan Glanz said. “Everyone is just competing to want that spot in the lineup. Just because you have that spot today, it doesn’t mean you are going to have it tomorrow.”
The Bobcats’ drive to get back to the postseason will begin in the Evergreen 2A Conference. Despite an 11-8 record in 2016, Aberdeen lost both games to Rochester and was denied any chance at the postseason. Now the Bobcats and the Warriors both join the Evergreen 2A.
“A lot of our kids who are sophomores and freshmen have played softball for years,” Aberdeen head coach Scott Wilson said. “The competitiveness is there, it is just are they ready to face a senior (in the circle).”
Aberdeen will be led by senior pitcher Jillian Swor, but Wilson said she will have competition for time in the circle from sophomores Jalyn McDaniel and Stephanie Stopson. Glanz will start at catcher, with senior Kaitlyn Hammonds at first base and either Swor or McDaniel at second base. Sophomore Tamara Corona and freshman Sierra Hammond are competing for shortstop and third base.
Angel Jones will anchor the outfield at center fielder, Camryn Cook is expected to start in left and Stephanie Stopson will see time in right.
“We have kids that can fly and we have kids that can hit it out of the park,” Wilson said. “(The girls) are willing to work hard and get the job done. The challenge is there and the girls are up for it.”