It shouldn’t take long for the Soldotna softball team to discover how far it’s come since its inaugural season.
One year removed from a 4-8 opening campaign, SoHi will take the field Tuesday against the defending state champion Homer Mariners, who beat the Stars all four times they met last year.
“That will be a good litmus test for us,” said Stars’ coach Dave Cleveland. “That will really put the test to us right away.”
Despite low numbers and a couple of injuries last year, Cleveland was pleased with the season.
With nearly twice the amount of players this year, he’s hoping to build off last year and isn’t short on optimism.
“Our expectation is to make a run to state this year,” he said. “To make it to state, that’s our goal.
“I think it’s very lofty. I think it’s attainable, though.”
One look at his team will explain why.
The Stars return nine seniors, five of whom have been playing together since T-ball, and one junior.
“That’s my leadership. That’s my core,” Cleveland said. “They’re the ones that are going to take us to state.”That talented group includes left fielder Aundria Cummings, pitcher Vanessa Cleveland, catcher Sierra Madden, second baseman Alex Steger, shortstop and pitcher Shannon Lindley, third baseman Racheal Maryot, center fielder Annie Gardner, right fielder Jess Jezorski and outfielder Teaira Muth and junior first baseman Shelly Barker.
“We set the goals high for them this year,” he said. “The senior girls have told me they want to get to state. So that’s our goal, to get to state.”
Hoping to help in that endeavor are freshmen Mariah Darrow, Hannah Romberg, Emily Smola and Kaitlin Wehrli and sophomore Melissa Carrol.
“I have a great, strong young class. A good crop of freshmen,” Cleveland said. “Those are the ones who will be seeing some swing time up to varsity.”
Relegated to the gym for about a month, the Stars are now outside working on hitting and improving their defense, two weak spots last year, according to Cleveland.
“We really need to pick up on our hitting. We have the pitching. We need to score runs this year,” he said. “There’s a weakness, scoring. Putting some offense up.
“We’ve altered our practice and geared it more to towards fielding and more towards hitting and running the bases a lot smarter,” Cleveland added. “We did a lot of running bases, a lot of scenarios.”
But a team can only go as far as its pitching can take it. SoHi is set in that department with Cleveland and Lindley leading the way.
“We have good pitching. Our two main pitchers have both been pitching a long time,” he said.
As the schedule stands now, the Stars will play seven conference games in the first week alone.
And if they hope to follow through on their goals, they’ll need to get off to a hot start.
“We’re excited. I’m excited to play some ball,” he said. “We have a good team. If they play up to their level, I know they’ll be very good.”
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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