Sports

New softball coach wants to instill South End pride, discipline

Ashley Lopez plans to reinforce discipline, integrity, fundamentals and fun in the Falcon softball players in her first season as the head coach.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Ashley Lopez plans to reinforce discipline, integrity, fundamentals and fun in the Falcon softball players in her first season as the head coach.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Don’t be late to new South Whidbey High School softball coach Ashley Lopez’s practices.

Every minute her players are late equals a lap around the field, and sometimes the high school.

Lopez’s tardiness policy is just one of the ways she wants to create discipline. Playing Falcon softball isn’t all hard ball, though.

For warm-ups, the team does Zumba, a cardio exercise set to pop music. Actually, most of the team’s activities are set to music. That’s part of Lopez’s plan to make the softball team enjoyable for the players and to keep them relaxed.

“How are you supposed to hit if you’re all tense?” she asked.

“They love doing it together. They cry together. You’re supposed to be able to give each other a hard time and laugh about it.”

Last year had its tensions and its tears. The program shrunk and fielded only a varsity team. Players struggled with injuries and ineligibility. School-wide, the minimum cumulative grade point average is a 2.0, a C, to participate in extracurricular activities.

Things won’t be any easier with Lopez in charge.

Those days are over, if Lopez and her assistant coach Shannon Brown have any say. The Falcon softball players must have at least a 3.0 or be on a plan to improve their grades to play.

“My job is to push you out of the box,” Lopez said.

In a realistic way, her job is to push players out of the box. She spent the past six years as a volunteer assistant under former head coach Don Wood who resigned to focus on work. During those seasons, Lopez specialized as the pitching and hitting coach, which she plans to continue as head coach.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted,” she said.

In off-the-field matters, Lopez said she will be no-nonsense, like her coaches were when she played in several state tournaments. It’s a delicate balance between fun and focus that she wants to have with her players.

“I have no room for excuses,” she said.

“The one thing we have is pride. To take pride in something is to have fun together and get along.”

Winning games helps a team feel proud, Lopez admitted. Last year, the inexperienced Falcons finished 6-12 and in sixth place in the Cascade Conference. Two seasons ago, the Falcons were 11-7, finished in third place and lost in the District 1 playoffs.

Lopez has ambitions to get the team back to the district tournament, and beyond. Her vision and enthusiasm, said South Whidbey Athletic Director Scott Mauk, won her the job. The way she wants to set expectations and standards had his ear, and has the players’ attentions, too.

“She has a fire. She is unlike any of our coaches in her passion,” he said. “What I’m understanding is they’ll respond really well to Ashley.”

Another facet to Lopez’s coaching style is getter the players to respect themselves and South Whidbey. Lopez said she won’t allow her players to argue calls, throw their mitts in frustration, and rage or pout.

“We’re trying to build classy girls,” she said.

Like Mauk, who is in his first year as the athletic director, Lopez has plans to align softball from tee ball to the high school levels. That means having the Falcons will host camps and clinics for young South End softball sluggers.

“We have to build a program,” Lopez said.

The Falcon softball season begins at noon Saturday against Friday Harbor. And don’t be late.

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