Winning enough games to finish in the top half of the conference was a big stride last season.
The next step is finishing with a winning record, which South Whidbey softball has not accomplished since the 2010 season.
“We have a better team than last year and we’re all committed,” said senior Alex Kubeska.
Ashley Lopez, in her second season as the head coach, was busy conditioning the Falcons in the first couple weeks of practice. She wanted her players to be ready for a long season, one that began Feb. 25 and extends into May.
Practices are kinetic. She blasts music from some kind of speaker, either a portable system or the PA in the gym — depending on the weather and the workout.
And there’s chatter. Lots of chatter, which is surprising because there are fewer than 15 players on the squad.
Lopez is conditioning players to speak, cheer and yell encouragements and plays to one another. At times, the team could fall into lulls last season, and having the Falcons encourage each other can pull them out of slumps and funks.
“I worked on not adding stress to other people, keeping it to myself and being leader,” Kubeska said.
“It just naturally happened, I mellowed down.”
One of the on-field frustrations was fielding errors. Missing ground balls, overthrowing the base or cutoff or letting fly balls fall compounded on each other at times last year.
“Defense wins games,” said Ellie Greene, South Whidbey’s only other senior. “We might have a good pitcher, but we always need good defense.”
Greene is still new to the program. Her first season with the Falcon softball team was last year, when she covered lots of ground in the outfield. Speed and general athleticism helped Greene cover for her lack of softball experience. The chance of winning more games and being part of the camaraderie of softball brought her out for her final season.
“We’re all joking around just having fun, getting to know one another,” Greene said.
Along with defensive improvements, better hitting will help South Whidbey move into the win column. A couple of underclassmen, including Morgan Davis and Marina Alber, may make an immediate impact at the plate.
“We have a young team that’s still learning how to hit, but we’re getting better,” Greene said.
Pitching will fall on the whip-fast arm of junior Mackenzie Hezel. Though she and Kubeska split the duty in the pitching circle, Kubeska said she will pitch less this season to focus on fielding and to nurse a sore arm.
“The team needs me more as an infielder than as a pitcher because Mackenzie is a good pitcher,” Kubeska said.
“I do like pitching, but I realized that I need to give that a rest.”
The conference’s contenders, Kubeska and Greene said, are likely to be Archbishop Murphy, Cedarcrest and Granite Falls.