Madras softball preview: Young Buffs eager to earn their keep
Turnover was inevitable for a Madras softball team that graduated six seniors from last season.
But, after three penciled-in seniors opted not to play for the White Buffalos this spring, the team is left with just one senior (Arysta Pineda) two full-time varsity returners (Jiana Smith-Francis and Lizzie Steuart) and a pair of players — Jalaney Suppah and Niyallee Cochran — who swung up from JV for varying lengths of time last season.
The other nine currently listed on the Madras roster will enter uncharted territory playing varsity softball. The learning curve could be steep at first, but the Buffs are excited about their development for this season and beyond.
"Even though we're young, I feel like we can go and make it somewhere," Pineda said. "Every team, you're going to have to start over at some point, and that just happened to be this year with six seniors last year ... It will be a good season; it will be a learning season."
Madras head coach Shawna McConnell and assistant Donnie Bagley were at first nervous about the prospect of moving on without an instrumental group of seniors. But with each passing day, they've grown increasingly excited about the possibilities with their young, but eager-to-learn players.
"It's an exciting group, because they're all really willing to learn," McConnell said. "They're always asking questions; they're always a super coachable group ... I know we're only two weeks in, but there's a lot of potential in every single one of those girls out there."
Several positions have yet to be decided, but one place Madras doesn't have to worry about is in the circle.
Steuart and Smith-Francis were 1A and 1B pitching options last season, and both garnered Tri-Valley Conference all-league honors for their efforts.
They've shown the ability to complement each other well, either in starting or relief time, and both are strong hitters.
"Me and Jiana feed really well off of each other, so it's always that balancing act that we really have," Steuart said. "I make sure I can push her to her limits and she pushes me to my limits. We're really on each other to make sure we do the best for the team and the best for each other."
Pineda will likely spend a majority of her time at second base, though she's also spent time as a catcher and outfielder. With a batting average north of .400 during the entire season, she will be called on to provide the Buffs a consistent bat. But perhaps equally important is her embraced role as a leader, by virtue of being the only senior on the team.
"For me right now, it's just being a mentor to the younger kids, just helping out wherever I can," Pineda said. "I got two more months of this left, so I just want to leave what I can and help out wherever I can."
Nearly every other position is at least somewhat up in the air. Part of that is a natural byproduct of new faces, but also several players who can play multiple positions.
But there are some exceptions, such as junior Genesis Quiroz being the favorite to replace Jordan Patt at third base. Similarly, junior Mary Olney could see some time at catcher, taking over for Celeste Morning Owl. Freshman Hannah Holliday is in the mix for that position, too.
"Mary and Genesis are probably two of the scrappiest, diehard players," McConnell said. "(Genesis) is a little bit of a goofball, but when she puts her mind to it, she's aggressive and I love it. Mary's the same way; she's a go-getter. That raises the intensity, which is sometimes hard to find on a softball field, because it's kind of a more relaxed sport."
For those making the full-time jump from JV to varsity, certain in-game situations figure to be among the trickier things to master. Even something as little as an outfielder throwing to an infielder, rather than directly to the pitcher, McConnell said.
The other key part of it will be figuring out how to hit off of varsity pitchers, at least initially.
"Other than situationally, that's probably going to be a big one for some of them. Just the level of pitching is so different," McConnell said. "I think some of them will pick it up really quickly."
Madras will debut its new-look team at home against Sisters March 20 at 4 p.m.