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Corvallis or bust

The future is now for the Banks softball team, which finished second in the state in 2010 but missed the playoffs last season. Make no mistake, their goal this year is a state title

Many people probably think Jenny Compton's job is pretty easy. After all, she coaches a Banks softball team that has won three straight Cowapa League titles, played for a 2010 state championship, and lost only five times in the last two seasons combined.

With a three-headed pitching rotation that features two Division I college signees and a roster that returns all 12 players from last season, those people probably think Compton just rolls a softball onto the field and lets the talent take over, but there's a lot more to it than that.

How do you motivate a team that has lost only one league game in the last two seasons?

How do you challenge a team that has dominated virtually every opponent during that period?

How do you manage expectations for a team that has enjoyed unprecedented success but also suffered catastrophic defeat?

It's no easy task.

'I think the one thing for this team is really to just take it one pitch, one game, even one practice at a time,' Compton said. 'We just have to go out and play our best every time we're out there and keep the momentum going. We know that on any given night, anybody can falter.'

The Lady Braves learned that lesson all too well last year, when a 23-2 season and another league championship were rinsed down the drain with a stunning 3-1 loss to Molalla in the play-in round of the postseason. That meant no state playoff appearance for Banks, which advanced all the way to the Class 4A state title game in 2010, losing 2-1 to Cascade to cap the program's best season since winning a Class 3A state title in 1999 and finishing second in 2000.

The Lady Braves are in position to once again be heavy favorites to compete for the state title this June, but the team has learned some valuable lessons from last season's missteps.

'It was tough, but I think it was something that was a good life lesson,' Compton said. 'Make sure you savor and enjoy every experience, because it may be your last time. There's no guarantee that you'll be back there again.

'We're just kind of taking it as it comes, and not really thinking about where things will be at the end of the season. We're trying not to feel that pressure and that sense of urgency.'

Easier said than done. The Lady Braves return all nine starters from last season, including the pitching triumvirate of Melissa Masters, Marla Gooding and Kaylin Vandomelen.

Masters and Gooding, both college-bound seniors (Masters to Portland State and Gooding to Toledo), will split time between shortstop and the pitcher's circle, while Vandomelen, a junior and the 2010 Class 4A State Player of the Year, will split her duties between the pitching circle and center field.

'We'll do it like we did last year, so they're all going to throw to start with, then once we get into league we'll see what gives us the strongest lineup,' Compton said.

The infield will be virtually the same as last year, with junior Courtney Engeseth at third base and junior Riley Gerlinger at second. The only change will be at first base, where junior Alexis Applebee steps in to replace senior Chelsie Bunn, a starter last year whose offseason shoulder surgery could cost her the bulk of the 2012 season.

Bunn could see some time as a courtesy runner if she isn't cleared to resume throwing, and freshmen Madison Soper and Hannah Vandomelen could also see some playing time while swinging between varsity and JV.

In the outfield, senior Natalie Larsen will likely start in right field with junior Lexi Chung in left. Sophomores Molly Hammond and Taylor Herb, who were both on the varsity team last season, could also earn some playing time in the outfield.

'We definitely have a very balanced lineup,' Compton said. 'Even if the top part of the lineup isn't having a great night, we should still be able to get runs from other parts of the lineup.'

Right now, Compton said she is shuffling the lineup constantly to get early season at-bats for as many players as possible.

'We've just been playing around with things, tinkering with the lineup so everyone gets a decent number of at-bats,' she said. 'We have a lot more options lineup-wise this year. It's our job as coaches to figure out what gives us the best chance to win.'

When it comes to her team's outlook on the season, Compton points to Bunn as a perfect example.

'Chelsie has had a lot of injuries in her career, and it could be that she doesn't get to hit or play defense at all this season,' Compton said. 'She's a senior, so this is her last chance, but she's had a great attitude and is really being a great leader for us.

'She sets a really good example for everyone else.'



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