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Compton cultivates a dynasty

What does it take to be considered a dynasty?

Back-to-back state championships? Three title game appearances in the last four years? Perennial playoff bids and routine trips to the state semifinals?

By those metrics, both Banks and McLoughlin rank as prep softball dynasties, with the Braves winning a pair of Class 4A state titles in 2012 and 2013, while the Pioneers have captured the past two championships. In the last six years, one school or the other has appeared in every 4A final except 2011, and the two programs have faced each other for the state title twice.

The first of those meetings went the Braves’ way, with Banks scoring its only run on a throwing error by Colette Robert to earn a 1-0 win in the 2013 title game.

The second of those meetings went the Pioneers’ way, as Robert redeemed herself with a dominant pitching performance on Saturday to lead McLoughlin to a 4-0 victory and its second straight title.

The end of Saturday’s game was a fitting representation of how good both of these teams have been for the last few years. The Pioneers were excited, sure, but their victory celebration wasn’t overenthusiastic or gratuitous. And the Braves were sad, of course, but there were more smiles than tears during the postgame awards ceremony.

That’s because both teams have become accustomed to getting this far, and both sides have tasted the sweetness of victory and the bitterness of defeat on the big stage.

But it wasn’t always this way. Not in Banks, anyway.

When head coach Jenny Compton took over in 2009, the Braves were coming off one of the worst seasons in program history — a dismal 1-22 campaign in which they were outscored by an average of nine runs per game and didn’t manage their first win until May.

It was time for a culture change.

“When I first started coaching, my vision was to make sure that Banks softball was on the map again, and I wanted it to be on the map in a big way,” Compton said.

In her first season, Banks went 18-9 and returned to the playoffs, pushing eventual state champion Marist to the brink in a 3-2 loss in the second round. The next year, Banks went all the way to the state title game before falling to Cascade. In the five subsequent seasons, the Braves have won two state championships and advanced to the semifinals four straight times.

Yeah, that’s a dynasty.

Compton concedes that she’s no miracle worker, and she happily deflects credit for the team’s success to the many talented players she’s coached over the years.

But you’ve got to admit that the timing says a lot.

In her seven seasons at the helm, Banks has posted a preposterous record of 170-29 that includes a 95-10 mark in Cowapa League play and five league titles. Think about it this way: the Braves have won 85 percent of the games Compton has coached, and the average score of a Banks softball game during that span is about 8-1.

To be fair, that 2008 season was an historical outlier. Banks has had a stellar softball program for a long time, dating back to former coach Jerry Mettee. The Braves won a 3A state title in 1999 and advanced to the title game again in 2000. They added semifinal trips in ‘01 and ‘05, so the program wasn’t in shambles for long before Compton arrived.

But still, the Braves have risen to a new level of excellence under Compton’s guidance, and the lifelong Banks resident deserves a lot of the credit.

“I think we have been really blessed to have the success we’ve had the last few years,” said Compton, who graduated from Banks in 1995 and was an all-state softball player for Mettee’s mid-90s squads.

“It’s fun to be a part of this sports community. There’s times when somebody will see me in the store or something and say, ‘Good game last night,’ and they don’t even have a kid in the softball program. It’s really, really wonderful the way this community supports us and the other sports programs.”

And just as she is quick to defer praise to her players, Compton is also happy to credit Mettee for her interest in coaching.

“I learned a lot from him and I was inspired by what he gave to the softball program,” Compton said of Mettee, who later coached Gaston to a string of league titles and state playoff experiences.

“I just had a really great experience playing softball here at Banks. I learned so much from my coaches. They helped me learn that this was something I wanted to do and that I was cut out for it.”

Compton’s coaching career began as a 19-year-old when she helped out with her younger sister’s AAU softball team the summer after her freshman year of college. Since then, she hasn’t spent much time away from a softball diamond.

She has changed her style over the years, adapting lessons learned from other coaches and her own players, and the results have been undeniable.

“My uncle, Chris Herb, four or five years ago he told me that I’m a better coach than I was a player,” Compton said. “And I was an all-state player, so I take that as a compliment!”

The ultimate compliment, however, is for Compton to see her former players getting excited about coaching, just as she did many years ago.

“It’s really fun for me to see players I coached and know that they will be fantastic coaches someday,” she said. “That’s really rewarding.”

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