Collective effort has Kennett softball team off to a strong start
● By Steven Hoffman
The Kennett High School softball team is finding different ways to win games as it has gotten off to a very strong start to the 2017 season.
On some days, the team slugs its way to victory. Senior Sarah Oscar belted two home runs in the 12-8 win over Henderson on April 19. The balanced offense also led the way in victories over Unionville and Octorara. On other days, it's the pitching of Madison Bowe that makes the difference. In some of the team's wins in close games, it might come down to good baserunning or solid defense.
Every game has its own narrative, but so far this season the Kennett softball team has earned six victories in eight tries.
“We're off to a nice start,” said first-year head coach Lauren Gottstein. “It's been a real collective effort. It's never just one person. They are all working really hard, and I couldn't be more proud of them.”
Although this is Gottstein's first season at the helm, she knew many of the players from her time as a coach at the Kennett Middle School, and knew that the team had the potential to have a very good season.
Leadership has played an important part in Kennett's success, and the team is filled with smart, experienced players—including seniors Bowe, Oscar, Kylee Harvey, Samantha Weaver, Margaret O'Sullivan, and Jamie Wessels. The senior leaders on the team have helped ease the transition to playing on varsity for a group of talented freshmen—Jordan Barish, Kara Murphy, and Ainsley Albert. Freshman players have seen significant playing time so far this season, and have all made important contributions for Kennett.
There is a good balance to this year's team, and it's producing results on the field.
Harvey, who is heading to Sacred Heart University to play softball next year, has twice been named to the Ches-Mont League First Team, and was a Second Team selection as a freshman in 2014. She provides good pop in the middle of Kennett's order, usually batting third where she can drive in runs and set the table for the hitters who follow her.
Gottstein said that Harvey is also a standout in center field, where she will track down anything hit in the vicinity.
Weaver usually occupies the leadoff spot in the Kennett lineup, and is one of the reasons that the team's offense is so productive. Weaver plays shortstop in the field, and will be playing at Lebanon Valley College next year. She is also instrumental in keeping the team focused and upbeat.
“She has a really positive attitude,” Gottstein said.
Carleigh Smith, a junior, primarily plays third base, but her coach said that she also can play well at first base or even catch, if needed.
“She's a real utility player,” Gottstein said. “She can play anywhere, and she's one of those kids who is always working hard.”
O' Sullivan and Murphy share time in right field in what has been a very effective platoon. O' Sullivan just got accepted into Wake Forest University for academics. She has helped Murphy, a freshman, adjust to playing at varsity.
Gottstein said that Murphy is always willing to learn, and will go to the seniors on the team for advice.
“She's one of those players who is always saying, 'Coach, what do I need to fix?'” Gottstein explained.
Barish has stepped in at second base and made all the plays as a freshman. Ainsley Albert, another freshman, has spent a lot of time in left field early in the season.
“Ainsley is really growing into her game,” Gottstein said. “She plays a lot of travel ball, mostly as a catcher, but she does what we need her to do.”
Bowe is bound for Swarthmore College in the fall. She has been a consistently good pitcher for Kennett. She will never beat herself on the mound.
“She hasn't walked a person all season, I don't think,” said Gottstein. “As a coach, that's really important. It really works to our advantage.”
Bowe has been aided by catcher Jamie Wessels, who returned to the team this season after not playing last season. Wessels can call a very good game, and she handles all facets of the catching duties well.
“She has really stepped up and been a leader behind the plate,” Gottstein said. “She's been a great asset for us in the field and at bat.”
Gottstein wants her hitters to focus on putting the ball in play rather than trying to hit home runs, and that's one of the reasons for Kennett's success.
“I tell them, 'you're not all going to hit home runs. Just go up there and hit a single,'” she explained.
Gottstein added that there have been a few times this season when Oscar has slugged a home run only to come back to the bench and tell her coach that she was just trying to hit a single, but the ball cleared the fence. The lesson is that if you focus on making good contact rather than worrying about home runs, good things will happen.
Another reason for the team's success is its depth. Gottstein said that the team’s reserves—junior Kathleen Schuetz, sophomores Elaina Maahs and Bejonsey Coleman, and freshman Aleena Schannauer—have also played an important role in the team’s success. On a team with five seniors, playing time can be hard to come by, but everyone continues to work hard, the coach said.
“They come to practice every day ready to work,” Gottstein said of the reserves. “They know that their roles are very important, and that this is a team effort.”
As good as the team has been on the softball field this season, they may be even better in the classroom. Gottstein enjoys telling the story about how she had to cancel a practice earlier this year when it fell on the same evening as a National Honor Society meeting. So many players on the team belong to the National Honor Society that there wasn't any reason to hold a practice without them.
The second half of the season will be a good test for Kennett. A few players said that they are particularly looking forward to playing Avon Grove because the Red Devils have been one of the best teams in the Ches-Mont League in recent seasons. That game has been rescheduled for Tuesday, May 2 after a rain-out.
The players are pleased with how the season has unfolded so far, but they know that a lot of hard work will be necessary to finish the season strong in the tough Ches-Mont League. The players are ready for the challenge.
“I think our senior leadership is strong this year,” said Weaver, explaining that the seniors make a point to work with and help the younger players.
Harvey said that she thinks that there is a positive atmosphere around this team. The freshmen players have blended nicely with the more experienced players. She said that the team knew when they beat Bayard Rustin twice with good hitting, pitching, and defense that they were on the path to a successful season. The hard-fought victory over Henderson also helped the players believe in themselves.
“Every single person in the lineup made a difference in that game,” Harvey said. “It was a good win for us.”
If that collective effort continues, more wins are coming Kennett's way.