Bravettes employ new faces in new places for ‘05
New names and new faces will dominate the diamond when the Bonner Springs High School girls softball team takes the field this spring.
But even though the names may have changed, the Bravettes are hoping to rely on a solid core of talent and experience to lead them to an exciting season.
Gone is coach Nancy Yankovich -- or at least her last name. In is coach Nancy Baker, the third-year Bravettes' coach who acquired a new name after getting married in the offseason. Baker leads a young, but talented, group of softball players onto the field in 2005, and she's hoping to be the surprise of the always-tough Kaw Valley League.
"We're very, very young and very inexperienced," Baker said. "But the girls have been working really hard, and maybe we can be a sleeper team. Maybe we can get a couple of surprise wins and have a good season."
Don't read too much into Baker's hesitancy to talk up her team. She expects this year's squad to be much improved from last year's team that underachieved by winning just five games; she just doesn't want to put too much pressure on the shoulders of her young squad.
In addition to losing stellar seniors Corie Crouch, Kristy Holt and Ashley Pardew to graduation, three other starters elected to stay away from the diamond this year. Throw in the fact that last year's starting third baseman Tiffany Moppin has missed an entire week of practice and will miss the first game, and you're staring at just two, maybe three, returning starters in the Bravettes' opening day lineup.
But not to worry. Baker said she was thrilled to have the returning players she does, for reasons much larger than their softball skills alone.
Senior Chase Crouch will return as the Bravettes most experienced player. Crouch has been a three-year starter for Baker and during stints with the volleyball and basketball squad has molded herself into an exceptional leader.
"If I had five Chases, I'd be so happy," Baker said. "She's such a great leader, and I can put her anywhere on the field. She works so hard, and she is a great role model for the younger girls."
With just 11 players on the varsity roster, that hard work and command of the team does not go unnoticed.
Rivaling Crouch's work ethic is sophomore shortstop Tiffany Starks, a starter in 2004 who gives everything she has every time out.
"I love watching that girl play," Baker said. "And I look for her to step it up a little bit from last year. She worked incredibly hard this offseason and she knows the game so well. She might make physical mistakes, that happens when you play short, but she always makes the right decision."
The final piece of the leadership trio will come from senior pitcher Candice Craven. Craven spent the past few seasons lurking in the shadows of Holt, an all-league caliber ace and four-year starter. This season, Craven takes the mound as the team's ace, and Baker is confident Craven will get the job done.
"I expect quite a bit out of Candice this year," Baker said. "This is her year to shine, and I think she's fired up for the challenge."
Craven will likely pitch the first game of every doubleheader, and will no doubt be given the ball in any must-win situation. She will be supported on the mound by two varsity newcomers in sophomore Corie Wallace and freshman Sadie Kelly.
"Both of those girls have been working really, really hard and they're chomping at the bit to pitch at the varsity level," Baker said. "Both have some talent, and I think they could contribute for us this season."
The leading candidate to inherit Moppin's third base position, until, as Baker says "she earns a starting spot back," is freshman Chelsea Crouch. Like her sister, Chase, Chelsea has an incredible work ethic and great knowledge of the game.
"Her work ethic is as good if not better than Chase's," Baker said. "And she's determined to show me that she can play at this level."
With the infield solidified by first-year varsity catcher Sam Cannon and second baseman Jessica Adkins, the Bravettes are left with few choices for their outfield. All four outfielders who saw regular time last season are gone, leaving Baker to rely on transfer Melina Schindel, senior Dedee Cline and the odd man out in the infield to shag fly balls.
While they saw a fair amount of varsity time last year, Baker said she's counting on seniors Adkins and Cline to step up their play, as well.
"Both of those girls are going to have to step up for us to be successful," Baker said. "They're going to have to put numbers on the board."
Despite losing one of the most talented and successful classes in Bonner Springs history, Baker said she truly believes that this year's team can be better than last year's. The talent is there; it's now just a matter of overcoming a lack of experience and watching new faces step up when called upon.
" The experience is what we'll miss the most from the girls we lost, both to graduation and those who didn't come out," Baker said. "None of them are irreplaceable, but they had all been through the varsity experience, and because of that there's no question we'll miss them. We're very, very young, but I think if the girls keep working as hard as they have been, we can have a good season."
Bonner Springs is scheduled to open the season Thursday, March 31 at Sumner Academy. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m.