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SPRING SPORTS PREVIEW | Discipline will be key to successful softball season
LANGLEY — Ashley Lopez runs a disciplined team.
Every minute a player is late to practice equals a lap around the field. Lopez, the first-year head coach for the Falcon softball team, insisted she doesn’t have rules, but set expectations on the first day of practice for the team. Being on time, which actually means being 15 minutes early, was one of the first expectations.
“I have no room for excuses,” said the 26-year-old former Falcon.
The young coach is a veteran to leading the softball team. Lopez worked with former coach Don Wood the past few seasons as the assistant coach after graduating from Pacific Lutheran University, where she played softball for four years. She was hired after Wood resigned to focus on work, though he will help the team when he can. Wood said Lopez’s experiences on the college team and coaching youth sports will serve her well.
“She’s had quite a bit of experience working with various levels of kids the last four years,” Wood said. “I’m fairly confident she’ll do the best job she can. She’s got a good group of kids to work with.”
That group is loaded with underclassmen. The team includes 10 freshmen, four sophomores, one junior and three seniors. It’s a mix that the seniors saw working well together.
“We all have different talents and if we put them together, we’ll go far,” said senior Zoey Maeser.
The number of players put Lopez in a difficult situation. She had too few to create a junior varsity team, and kept as many as she could for playing time. The burden is on the younger players, mainly freshmen, to learn and improve quickly.
“I just wish I could play them all,” Lopez said. “We have a lot of freshmen, so we want to set a good base.”
Having a large varsity team may help the upperclassmen. The three seniors said they felt pushed to compete and prove their worth on the field.
“With a big amount, we all have to compete because you know someone else is going to be there to take your spot,” Maeser said. “We know we have someone there to back us up if we get hurt.”
Last year, the Falcons finished 7-11 in Cascade Conference play. The sixth-place finish kept them from the District 1 tournament. The Falcons were inconsistent and struggled early before winning three of its final five games, including a narrow 2-1 loss to Granite Falls and an 8-4 upset of Archbishop Murphy in its second-to-last game.
“We had some adversity last year,” Wood said.
Part of the problem with the team’s 1-4 start was related to off-the-field suspensions. Those issues stemmed from discipline problems, Lopez said. To curb those concerns, Lopez and her assistant Shannon Brown planned to create an atmosphere of respect, hard work and team unity.
“What we’re trying to get across is the experience of playing with friends,” Lopez said.
The best way to prolong those experiences is to advance to the state tournament, which South Whidbey softball hasn’t done in more than five years. When Lopez was on the teams in the early 2000s, Falcon softball was a perennial powerhouse. The Falcons know the goal is to return to prominence, and maybe even dominance in the conference.
“We’re trying to go to districts and try to go to state,” said senior Brittany Wood.
To get there, South Whidbey will need to unseat the recent top finishers like Granite Falls, Cedarcrest and Archbishop Murphy. Granite Falls beat South Whidbey three times last year, including a 6-0 win. Cedarcrest swept South Whidbey last season, too. Archbishop Murphy looked like it would, too, until the schools’ final meeting of the year when South Whidbey rallied for an 8-4 upset. The thrill of victory still lingered in the seniors’ minds.
“We have a pretty good chance. A few of them lost pretty good people from their teams,” Wood said.