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by: TIMES PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Westview sophomore pitcher Abby Greer is healthy and stronger than she was a freshman. Head coach Ronda McKenzie is hoping for a big year from her hurler.

The softball team turning the most heads, and grabbing the attention of the Metro League in the preseason has an ample supply of talent— eight all-league returners to be exact.

They have a veteran coach who’s traveled to the pinnacle of state championship eminence, and mastered how to navigate the treacherous postseason trail.

And, they boast arguably the best pitcher in the league, an improved sophomore who’s stronger and throwing harder than ever before.

In theory, Westview should be the runaway favorite to repeat as Metro champions. The Wildcats only lost one senior off last season’s team that went 11-4 in league action and tied for first place with Aloha. The Warriors return skill around the diamond too, yet, lost all-everything southpaw pitcher Kiana Wood to graduation.

Metro could very well be Westview’s to lose, head coach Ronda McKenzie said. But, two alpha happenings need to take place before the Wildcats claim any sort of crown.

“We have to produce offensively and play as a unit,” said McKenzie. “We have a lot of talent. We have kids in our dugout who aren’t on the field that are very talented. They have to learn to play for each other and play as a team instead of individual performances. They need to embrace the team aspect of the sport. That is what can turn us from a good team to a great team.”

Skill seems to be everywhere at all the key positions for Westview, starting with the first-team all-Metro returning battery of junior catcher Katie Whetstine and sophomore pitcher Abby Greer.

Senior shortstop Christina Uhl, senior third baseman Makenah Robarts and sophomore second baseman Kylie Alto were all first-team all-Metro last year. Mix in all-league senior outfielders Devon Jordan and Christy Garrett and it’s hard to find holes anywhere on Westview’s roster. The Wildcats have a platoon of versatile, talented young players across the field who can man nearly any position without missing a beat.

“We have a lot of parity with the kids,” said McKenzie. “Some have accolades to go with their names, some were first-team all-league. Some of our sophomores don’t have that, but, they’re just as solid of players. Our sophomore class has improved a ton. They’re a lot better. I would say all the kids are a year older, better, more experienced.”

McKenzie said the two biggest improvements she’s seen so far this season are Greer’s marked improvement from her freshman to sophomore year, and the added depth to the pitching staff behind the right-handed ace.

Rather than relying on Greer to throw three games a week and rack up a high inning count, Westview can go to sophomore Jordan Holmquist, a transfer from Battle Ground, Wash. coming out of the bullpen or spot starting.

“It’s nice when you play back to back to back to have some other options,” said McKenzie. “Last year, we had to throw (Greer) if we had any chance to win. Even if we got ahead by five or six runs, we still had to throw (Greer) because we didn’t have an option. Now, we have that option.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Westviews Makenah Robarts is one of the many talented Wildcats looking to take their squad back to the state playoffs this season.

Greer is “much physically stronger and throwing harder” according to McKenzie, a year after playing through a nagging muscle pull that limited Greer’s ability to go full bore. This fall and winter, however, the lithe righty took “Ultimate P.E.”, an advanced weight training class to fortify her frame and strengthen her core. Coupled with a dose of fitness training outside of school, the first-team, all-league returnee is set to take over for Wood as Metro’s top hurler.

“She has the potential to be that dominant pitcher in the league,” said McKenzie of Greer. “She’s not a very big kid, but she just got healthy and got in really good shape, She’s very dedicated to her pitching workouts as well.”

Still, despite all the preseason hype and attention sure to come Westview’s way, the Wildcats have to show-and-prove at the dish and in the postseason.

Too many times last season Greer was allowed just a slim margin for error in the circle as Westview attempted to win Metro outright. Then, in the first round of the 6A state playoffs, the Wildcats came up empty on the scoreboard, and were bounced early, 2-0, by Grants Pass.

The Wildcats, however, were unversed then. After a year on the ASA summer circuit and months of training, McKenzie— who took Westview to a state championship in 2004 — said her team has big goals, but has to perform under postseason pressure.

“I don’t think it’s unrealistic for us to have a goal to get deep into the playoffs,” said McKenzie. “But, none of these kids have ever won a playoff game. They’re going to get over that hump when we talk about that hump. That’s key when you talk about postseason.”

McKenzie expects Jesuit to be in the mix for Metro because it “has good athletes and they’re well coached”. Southridge is talented as well. Yet, McKenzie said any team that produces more runs than its defense allows on a regular basis will be in the thick of things for a Metro title.

“I don’t know of another pitcher who can take over teams and shut people down,” said McKenzie. “That means it’s going to be about the team that wins. There’s not a pitcher who’s going to carry their team through the league, I don’t think.”

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