South Whidbey’s softball field has become a more crowded place this spring. For the Falcons, that’s good.
South Whidbey’s roster is two times the size that it was in 2016, a sure sign that the program’s struggles of maintaining a full squad on the field are behind them, according to players and head coach Alexandra Walter.
“It definitely feels like we’re all moving forward together,” senior Leah Merrow said.
The Falcons finished 4-18 overall and 3-15 in the Cascade Conference in 2016. Despite the loss-heavy season, South Whidbey walked away with postseason experience. The Falcons were eliminated from the class 1A District 1 tournament after falling to Nooksack Valley and Mount Baker, but both games were decided by a margin of two runs or less. The Falcons have set their eyes on making it to state this season.
“We were close last year,” said junior all-Cascade Conference pitcher Mackenzie Collins. “We could have done it.”
“Last year, we had the determination, we just didn’t have the numbers and the means to get there,” added Merrow.
Merrow said the Falcons’ collective goal this season is to keep their momentum going and weather any bumps and bruises along the way.
“We’re not very flashy as far as a sports team goes, but people notice the hard work,” Merrow said. “I think it’s inspiring and I’m glad that it motivated a lot more people to come out.”
Because there were no seniors on last year’s squad, the Falcons also return all of their starters. South Whidbey will look to rely upon the steady arm of Collins, the Falcons’ starting pitcher for the past two seasons. Catching her throws will be freshmen Ari Marshall. Marshall said she is a little wide-eyed when Collins heaves the ball toward her but otherwise is looking forward to the opportunity to start at catcher for the Falcons.
“I didn’t start off catcher, but no one else wanted to do it so I was like, ‘Sure.’” Marshall said. “Mackenzie’s a little scary sometimes, but she’s fun.”
Several different players rotated as the Falcons’ catcher last season, which led to errors in fielding Collins’ pitches. With the addition of Marshall, who has some Little League experience as a catcher, the position is now solidified.
Marshall already gained the admiration of her coach, Alexandra Walter, who named her as one of the team’s captains.
“Ari has only been playing for two years, but she has done amazing,” Walter said. “We were struggling last year about not having a catcher, and that was bad.”
“We have her now and she’s been a leader and she’s one of our better players,” she added.
Walter said her goal for the team is for everyone to enjoy themselves while also learning the game. Walter also said there will also be more opportunities to develop the veteran players’ skills, as portions of last year were dedicated to coaching up young and inexperienced athletes that in some cases were entirely new to the sport.
“It’s really nice to have so many girls where we can split them up and work on certain things,” Walter said.
South Whidbey is 0-2 after losing to Chimacum 10-6 on March 16 and 6-5 to Coupeville on March 18. The Falcons return home on March 22 to play La Conner. First pitch is at 4 p.m.