The common emotion coaches of spring sports in Alaska seem to have is the happiness to see the snow gone. After the recent winter snowfall, any bare field is a welcome sight to competitors and coaches alike.
The softball season, which has already seen practices happening for weeks now, is set to begin its onslaught of games, and local teams are ready to play.
The Soldotna team that made it to the state competition last year is returning mostly intact, the same team that finished fourth at state.
“We want to win the conference this year and make it to state, and I think we always have a shot,” Soldotna coach Dave Cleveland said. “I have to say, we’re looking pretty good.”
The Stars will feature eight seniors and four underclassmen on varsity this year, as the team lost four seniors from last year.
Cleveland said he ran an open gym period during the school year that anyone was encouraged to do, and routinely ran the pitching machine and had athletes throwing as well.
Cleveland said the team is solid on all three fronts — pitching, defense and hitting.
“This is a team of hitters,” he said. “This year we have a solid three all around, and they’ve been practicing hard.”
Senior Nikki Hegge is set to return as the starting pitcher, and Cleveland said all the athletes are practicing at a high level.
“The girls have been practicing all year, and the results are paying off now,” he said. “We want to win the conference this year.”
Cleveland said he had the girls write a personal goal on a card, along with a team goal, and almost all the cards read “win state.”
“That’s what these girls want to do,” he said. “This team is mentally tougher than last year, because they have that experience of going to state.
“Three of my players played in a summer league in Anchorage last year, so they got that opportunity to play up there too.”
The outside conditions have also plagued the team’s practices, along with every school in the district.
“This was our second week outside, which has been nice,” Cleveland said. “We pumped a lot of water off the fields, and the weather has been wonderful, just outstanding. The fields have dried, and after all that snow this winter, I’m happy with the progress they’ve made. I didn’t think they would be like this.”
Skyview will be trying to build a team that will be contenders for the future, as the team currently has one junior representing the upperclassmen. The rest is comprised of freshmen and sophomores, according to head coach Steve Schoessler.
“We’re still really young, and we’re hoping to make it a continuation, because last year we were mostly freshmen, so this year we have a decent core of sophomores,” Schoessler said. “We’re going to try to build around them, so we can get everything put together.
“The girls that played last year stepped it up and are doing pretty good, and we’d like to get everybody playing up to a pretty good level.”
Like Soldotna, Schoessler said he has had the team practicing inside with the pitching machine and creating scrimmages.
“Being inside, it’s hard to separate out, but all the other teams are mostly in the same boat too,” Schoessler said.
Cat Schoessler will be returning as catcher for the team, and Sam Reynolds will start as pitcher. Schoessler said Kayla Scroggins is tabbed to be at third base or shortstop, but due to eligibility issues, she may end up on first base.
As far as the competition, Schoessler said Kodiak, Homer and Soldotna are going to be tough.
“They’ve always been pretty tough, and they’ve always had a pretty solid group coming in,” he said. “I think Kenai is improved too, so they should be tough too. We’ll be playing a couple of the Valley teams, so that will be nice to get some of the competition that they have.”
The team Homer High School is featuring this season is expected to make some big moves, as they have in recent years. Homer made it to the championship match in last year’s state competition against Sitka, only to fall.
“I think we have a pretty solid team, almost our entire infield is coming back this year,” Homer coach Bill Bell said. “We lost a couple outfielders, but only the second basemen on the infield, so I think we’ll have a pretty solid team.”
Bell said the team lost six seniors, but only three starting seniors.
Homer will have Hannah LaRue as its starting pitcher, Lauren Cashman as catcher and Brooke Devaney as shortstop. Bell said all three girls should be strong players.
“We hope to give Soldotna a good battle, they have great teams, and also Kodiak,” he said. “The decision of who goes to state will probably come down to the final weekend in Kodiak.”
Bell said the team’s first real challenge will be its Service-South matchup the first week of May.
“That will be a good chance to see how we stack up against them,” he said. “I like having some big-school challenges before we get to the heart of the conference games here.”
As far as the practice time the team has been getting, Bell said it has been a struggle to get outside and get the feel of playing on a full-size field.
“It’s been absolutely miserable,” Bell said. “We’ve been in the gym, we’ve been out on the end of the spit, out on the sandbar. We have to pay out of our own pocket to clear off the field, so we’ve been playing in boots, so it’s been miserable.
“We’re supposed to play Skyview on Tuesday and we have a field that would be workable, but it would be less than ideal.”
The Kenai Central softball team is one that is on the rise, says coach Mark King.
“We look pretty good, our infield looks pretty strong,” King said. “I think overall our batting may be one of our stronger points this year.”
King mentioned that Briana King, Carly Norvelle, Hope Steffensen and Morgan Wensley all hit really well in the batting cage.
“One of the big things I’ve been talking about this year is finishing strong,” King said. “Just finishing the game like we started it, and staying in it, staying strong. That’s been kind of a weakness in the past, towards the end of the games, when we have a lead, we’d get relaxed or tired, and this year we have to finish through the game.”
Like the other teams, King said Kenai has been forced to practice inside the gym, and in the school parking lot.
“We’ve had three days on the field, and we’ve practiced in parking lots, but now we’re on the field,” King said. “Even so, our field movement looks really good.
King also mentioned that the usual conference teams are the ones that he is looking to match up against the most.
“We’re anxious to get on the field and give them a run for their money,” he said. “In the past, SoHi and Homer have been the teams to beat, and they have good coaching and good athletes.”