Four senior infielders from the 2010 Whittier Wildcats' softball team graduated last spring, leaving behind a team with youthful potential, but questions about who would lead this team of youngsters back to the state tournament.
After just seven games, consider the questions answered.
Off to a 5-2 start, and with just one senior on the roster, the team features an explosive offense, averaging 10 runs per game. Led by sophomore co-captain Cassey Glode, who is batting .704; junior co-captain Kailah Goulet, who is batting .556; and sophomore 2B Caitlyn McHugh, who is batting .609, the team's biggest concern is maintaining mental toughness through the ups and downs of a long season — the first varsity campaign for several of the team's starters.
"You can't have your head down," Goulet said. "You just have to focus. When you get on the field, all your other problems go away. Once you cross the white lines, it's all softball."
Glode, who plays yearround in the Amateur Softball Association of America league, said mistakes come with the territory of leading a young team, but added it's the way the team's leaders address those lapses that matter the most.
"We all support each other," she said. "We always just try to correct their mistakes, and keep them positive."
Head coach Cheryl Begin said maintaining a balance between discipline and support is key to keeping her young team on track.
"You have to get what you want from the players," she said, "but you have to respect them as players."
Begin added that this year's team is hungry after losing four senior infielders to graduation in 2010.
"They're motivated, they're putting in the work, and they see the light at the end of the tunnel," she said, adding the team practices two hours per day, six days per week. "They're tough. They want the wins."
The Wildcats got a huge win Monday night under the lights at Lowell, defeating the Division 1 program 6-3. Behind Glode's 4-4 performance at the plate and Shannon Dube's steady hand on the mound, Whittier led from start to finish in a game that confirms the team can compete with anyone in the region.
Glode hit an RBI, opposite-field triple in the top of the third inning to drive in Goulet, giving Whittier a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"She can hit the hell out of the ball," said assistant coach Jim Carlson about his starting shortstop.
"They're sky high. They're pumped," Begin said after the victory Monday night. "We don't think of it as D1, D2 or D3. We're playing and delivering the best softball that we can."
With the important non-conference win, along with the early success, the team's coaching staff knows that a young team could fall victim to complacency. Begin and Carlson are keeping practices competitive, ending each session with situational hitting and fielding drills.
"We feel the smarter they are, the better we are," Begin said. "If we're doing our jobs, they're going to get better doing theirs."
Glode, who batted .591 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs as a freshman catcher, was asked to move to shortstop before the season to add experience to the infield, and to give sophomore Kristina Moszka more time behind the plate.
"(Cassey's) doing a phenomenal job there," Begin said.
Rounding out the infield are sophomore Adriana Joe at first base, Caitlyn McHugh at second, Destiny Jordan at third and Josie Sanchez, who is the designated hitter and backup first baseman.
The outfield, a relatively veteran group, features Goulet in center, junior Kendra Brasil in left and senior co-captain Kaisha Rodriguez in right.
Begin said that over the last two years, Whittier softball has graduated six players now playing college ball.
"That's the standard we want to keep," she said.
With 11 players returning next year, and a burgeoning team this season, the present looks as bright as the future.
"We take it game by game," Begin said. "But we're very excited about this team."
Glode, who played with the four senior infielders in 2010, said this year's squad has what it takes to make a deep run.
"We can go far," she said. "We've got a good team. Even if we did lose four seniors, we've got the talent to bring it up."
Goulet, who anchors the outfield, agreed, adding that "potential" is the key word for the 2011 Wildcats' regular season and beyond.
"(The team) has the potential to go all the way," she said. "We just have to keep working hard, and we are, and we can go really far. We've got that potential."
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