New softball coach looking for chatter, leadership
Softball fields usually are full of chatter among teammates.
When the Chieftains take the field this spring, first-year coach Meri Samuels will demand a vocal bunch, especially after the team lost four seniors from last year's 11-10 squad.
"What I think they took with them was that they were the best talkers and communicators," Samuels said. "We have to have people step into that."
Gone this season are Karley Bennett, Laura Samuels, Laura Korb and Jessica Pearson. Bennett was the team's starting catcher, while Samuels and Korb were outfielders. And Pearson, who posted the team's top hitting average, played at second base.
In the offseason, Samuels worried about how the Chieftains would fill those positions.
But as the preseason has unfolded, Samuels feels more comfortable with this spring's prospects.
Junior Jessica Bogard, a solid offensive weapon last year, should step into Pearson's spot at shortstop.
The team returns seniors Mollie McCaffrey at second, Michelle McWilliams in the outfield and Sarah Holliday, who likely will be the team's No. 1 catcher.
"Mollie McCaffrey, she's a quiet leader, but a leader by example," Samuels said. "She works hard and does what is asked of her."
Samuels looks for McWilliams to split time between the outfield and third base. McWilliams was an intricate part of this year's basketball squad that finished 17-5. So was Holliday, a player Samuels expects will be a vocal leader.
"She showed it in basketball, too," Samuels said. "She has good leadership skills. I'm going to count on her also."
And don't forget Katie Jeannin, a southpaw who has been a fixture on the mound for the Chieftains much of her career. The senior also was a guard on Tonganoxie's basketball squad.
Samuels is in her first season as a head coach, but spent five years as an assistant at Basehor-Linwood before joining the Tonganoxie staff two years ago.
When longtime coach Mark Mall stepped down last spring, Samuels was hired as his replacement.
Samuels said Monday that the move has been an adjustment, but she is getting more and more accustomed to the role.
"Being an assistant was the easiest job ever because I did everything he asked me to do," Samuels said.
Now, Samuels has a checklist of things to worry about, such as making sure the field is in good order, the helmets are up to snuff and that the team is using the correct softballs.
But all that comes with the territory, and Samuels is eager to get the season rolling.
"I'm excited,' she said. "I have a lot of ideas."
Tonganoxie again will compete in one of the better softball leagues in the state.
Samuels expects perennial state qualifier Piper to be at the top of the league. The Pirates lost their shortstop in the offseason, but Samuels said the team should be strong again this season. Samuels also expects Mill Valley to be a top contender, while Basehor-Linwood could make a run behind a strong sophomore pitcher, the THS coach said.
As for the Chieftains, Samuels has a squad that could again post a winning season and even challenge for the league title.
The team definitely has cleats to fill, but Samuels has viewed some improvements, including the team's bunting ability.
But for Tonganoxie to be successful, the first-year coach knows the key is communication.
Samuels wants to hear her team chattering loud and clear.
"We practice it a lot and make them run if we don't," Samuels said.
The Chieftains open the season Thursday against Jeff West and Atchison in Tonganoxie. Games begin at 5:30 p.m.