ALL the pieces are in place for the Jennings County softball team to succeed, with the Panthers only losing a few players from a team that had a 23-8 record last season.
“We can’t replace an All-State player like McKensie Vanosdol or someone like Maquenzi Hovious,” head coach Kendall Wildey said. “I don’t look at it like we have to replace our seniors every year. This is a new year and a new team. We have to look at what strengths we have and we can build around them.”
Before today’s scheduled season-opener against Greenwood, Wildey knew speed and fundamentals would be strong areas for the Panthers.
“We’re experienced and very fast, and we’re excellent baserunners,” Wildey said.
Third baseman Morgan Klosterman would bat lead-off for most teams, but she will again be in the No. 2 slot in the batting order this season because of the superior speed of her teammate, second baseman Dani Kirchner.
“Morgan Klosterman is very fast,” Wildey said. “But, Kirchner is the fastest player on our team and maybe one of the fastest players in the Hoosier Hills Conference.”
Pitcher and first baseman Lisa McIntosh, a junior, should hit behind them, with Maddy Hovious, Maquenzi’s younger sister, in the clean-up spot.
The Panthers’ superior team speed is perfect for Wildey’s aggressive offensive style.
“At some point this season, we’ll probably have to hold them back,” Wildey said. “But I’d rather be too aggressive on the bases than not aggressive enough. Speed will help us to track down fly balls and knock down grounders so that we can keep runs from scoring, and it will help us cover empty bases.”
Wildey knows he can employ an aggressive approach because many of the Panthers have been through the travel softball program and are familiar with his expectations. The coaches also monitor the players in the travel program closely because it is a pipeline for high school softball players.
“Because of our travel program, we’ve gotten players at the varsity level who have shown they are willing to pay the price,” Wildey said. “They’re willing to make sacrifices in order to get better at softball. If you’re on the travel team, you can’t get a job because your job is to play softball during the summer. You might play six to eight games a week and three to four of them on a Saturday.”
This dedication means that players at the varsity level already are devoted to their sport and have a great work ethic. Because of the travel program, coaches already have had a head start on evaluating future Panthers softball players.
“If they’ve been in the program for a long time, we know who the players are,” Wildey said.
“They’re the ones who are traveling every weekend to play softball because they love it and they want to get better, and they know that only 3 percent of the people in any profession will rise to the top.”
Wildey believes that several of his players have ability to be all-state players, and he’s pushing his team to reach its full potential.
“I think we have enough talent to win the state,” he said. “But, I think several other teams do, too. Floyd Central won our conference last year, so they’re our measuring stick. We want to be there at the end of the season, and we’re working hard to get better every day.”