As the defending state champs in softball the past two seasons, Huntingtown has achieved a level of excellence that every other team in the league is working for. As the team prepares to embark on another spring season, the objective remains the same: â€śEvery since we started this program at Huntingtown, it sounds a little corny but we really have one goal and thatâ€™s to win the last game of the season,â€ť said Coach Mike Johnson.
Thatâ€™s something easier said then done in SMAC, where girlâ€™s softball remains one of the most competitive sports in the entire conference. â€śItâ€™s getting more and more balanced as it goes on. I think weâ€™re going to see one of the strongest years that weâ€™ve seen in a long time,â€ť Johnson said. Even for a team that has reached the pinnacle of high school success in the past few seasons, there is no time to get complacent.
â€śThatâ€™s what we all have to guard against,â€ť Johnson warned. â€śAs a coach Iâ€™d like to believe that we wonâ€™t be [complacent]. If I can do my job and the girls do their job we shouldnâ€™t be. I think itâ€™s something you always have to guard against, getting a little too relaxed and maybe your expectations are that itâ€™s going to be a little easier then itâ€™s really going to end up being.â€ť
Most importantly for Johnson, the Hurricanes are bringing back several SMAC-tested veterans who should provide both leadership and on-field performance to protect the team from any potential letdown. â€śBy all means Iâ€™m looking towards my captains. Kerry Hickey, my pitcher this year,â€ť said Johnson. â€śOver the last two years she really kind of distinguished herself as being one of the top players in the state of Maryland. She was awarded that honor by the opposing SMAC coaches of last year when they voted her to first team all-conference and the conference MVP. So Iâ€™m really hoping she can back all that up this year with the support of the girls behind her and have just a tremendous year this year.â€ť
Huntingtown will need another great effort by Hickey and the rest of the team if they want to make it through to the end of the playoffs for a third straight year. Opposing teams in the conference see Huntingtown as the team to beat and Johnson is prepared for a lot of intense games down the line. â€śThe girls have to expect that the best game a team is going to play is when they play us. Weâ€™re going to give it everything weâ€™ve got because weâ€™ve got the target on our chest now that everyone wants to knock us off, the two time defending state champion and all that. So weâ€™ve got to be more prepared than weâ€™ve ever been to take on the challenges that are going to be presented to us this year.â€ť
Huntingtown continues working hard in practice to fine-tune their skills before the real games start. â€śLike most teams at this point of the season itâ€™s the idea about communication between teammates and just learning how to depend on your teammates to get you through any given situation. To me, communication is the biggest thing right now,â€ť said Johnson.
It may seem like business as usual for Huntingtown as they start their title defense, but the players and coaches arenâ€™t about to take anything for granted. â€śWeâ€™re blessed with what we got last year, the returning kids are happy with all the honors that they got from last year but we also realize that has no bearing on this year whatsoever. So we come out with a clean slate,â€ť Johnson said. â€śWeâ€™ll put the best team out on the field and hopefully we can [make] a nice run this season and end up with our one team goal of winning the last game of the season.â€ť
The Northern High softball team heads into the new season with a simple objective in mind -- keep getting better. â€śWe want to improve,â€ť said Coach Robert Radford. â€śFrom year to year you want to improve. Weâ€™re going to strive to get better.â€ť In assessing the teamâ€™s offseason, Radford noted the coaches are always eager to see player development during the layoff. â€śYou would hope they are a year older, a year wiser and a year stronger,â€ť he said.
Practice is currently business as usual for Northern, as the team works on the fundamentals that are a necessary part of winning baseball games in the competitive SMAC. â€śWe spend a lot of time with our pitchers and catchers,â€ť mentioned Radford. â€śWe work on our hitting as well.â€ť Basic enough, but part of preparing a team for a positive season run is making sure these skills are fine-tuned.
â€śI think our outfield will be strong,â€ť mentioned Radford. â€śI look for big things from our outfielders.â€ť
Radford notes that the team this season will continue to learn on the job. â€śWeâ€™re still young; we have only two seniors on the team,â€ť he said. â€śI have six juniors, five sophomores and one freshman.â€ť Despite this, many of these underclassmen have some amount of on-field experience. â€śI think a lot of the kids started as freshmen or sophomores so itâ€™s another year of progression. Itâ€™s another step in getting stronger,â€ť continued Radford.
All of which ties into the Coach Radfordâ€™s mantra to keep developing as players and as a team. â€śWe set team goals. From year to year you want to improve, but improvement doesnâ€™t always mean more victories,â€ť said Radford. Indeed, for a school that plays its games in a conference home to a multitude of state champions past and present, tangible results in the win loss column are not always a measurement of how hard a team has worked. â€śI personally think if we play the way weâ€™re capable of, we can win more than we lose,â€ť added Radford. There are other teams in the conference that may be more athletic or more experienced, but Coach Radford believes his team will always compete hard in every game in an attempt to go deep in the postseason.
â€śThe Northern coaching staffâ€™s goal is to use the first half of the season to experiment and the second half to get chemistry at those positions. So when we hit the playoffs we can go make a run,â€ť explained Radford. A great regular season performance is only part of the job and the coaches realize it all comes down to how prepared a team is for those last few games. â€śEveryone seems to remember what you do in the playoffs,â€ť he said.
For the many returning girls on Calvert Highâ€™s softball team, this year is all about elevating their play and using years of experience to their advantage. â€śWe have eight starters coming back from last year,â€ť said Coach Frank Moore. â€śLauren Robinson, Brittany Pierce, Michelle Buckmaster, Nikki Bowenâ€¦theyâ€™ve all played on varsity for three or four years and started, so theyâ€™ve been around.â€ť
Moore is counting on those experienced players who have been through the ups and downs of a varsity schedule and know what it takes to win. â€śTheyâ€™re all a year older,â€ť he added. In high school the improvement between years cannot be underestimated and how much the players at Calvert have developed will definitely come into play when the games go live.
As of now, there is still work to be done. Moore sees plenty of room for improvement for his veteran squad as he gets his players ready for bigger things in 2007. â€śWe have a whole bunch of weaknesses, a lot of fundamentals to do, itâ€™s still early in the season,â€ť said Moore. â€śWeâ€™ve got a long ways to go.â€ť
Unlike other teams laden with young players who may not have had a chance to start or get extensive time on the field, Calvert has plenty of individuals who have the experience to be leaders vocally and with their play. That kind of guidance is something Moore is challenging his starters to bring to this season. â€śI hope every one of them is [a leader] because every one of them has played three or four years for me,â€ť Moore said. â€śSo I guess they all better be leaders.â€ť
Calvert is keeping a modest outlook towards this season and Coach Moore repeats a similar refrain voiced by many of his peers during the preseason. â€śJust play well,â€ť said Moore. â€śWin more than you lose. Weâ€™re just going to try and get better every game [and] see what happens at the end of the year.â€ť
Patuxent softball will continue to aim high after suffering a disappointing defeat to state champ Calvert in the 2006 2A playoffs. Despite the loss, Patuxent achieved a big breakthrough last season by defeating Calvert for the first time in several years while making a strong push towards the top half of the SMAC overall standings. Coach Jenn Bruno will welcome back the talents of catcher Kelsea Bullock, an All-SMAC performer last season who should bring to the table both senior leadership and a healthy batting average. BB Fisher returns at first base after recording a solid season last year. Both seniors will be counted on to replace the impact of Ashley Frederick, who received All-SMAC accolades as a utility player in her final high school season.