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New Highland softball coach has lofty goals for team

3/21/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

GRANGER — The Highland High School softball team has a new head coach this season in Nick Spirtos, but the team will be heavy in experienced players.

“We definitely have a veteran team with 11 of the 14 players being upperclassmen,” the coach said. “In addition, we have three quality underclassmen — two freshmen and one sophomore.”

Last season, Highland finished 14-13 overall and 8-6 in the Suburban League.

“Although I was not the coach last year, the players have said they were disappointed with their season in that they lost many close games from defensive lapses,” Spirtos said. “They have devoted their time and energy in the offseason to close some of those defensive holes. The core team players have been conditioning and practicing among themselves under supervision since the first part of November in preparation for the 2013 season. We have incorporated strength training and cardiovascular conditioning, as well as utilizing yoga under the guidance of a yoga instructor for mental and physical well-being. In addition, we have improved our team attitude and incorporated the word ‘fun’ back into their vocabulary.”

This year’s team features six seniors. Those players (with comments from each by the coach) are:

  • Taylor MacWhade (team captain): “She is an outstanding athlete and second baseman. She has an excellent grasp of the game and combines speed with agility, along with excellent defensive and offensive skills. She was second-team all-Suburban League with a .362 batting average and a .938 fielding percentage. Her [grade point average] is over 4.5 and she is in the very top of her class.”
  • Kaitlin Krajcik: “She is our senior catcher who has a rocket arm from behind the plate. She is an all-around athlete who can play every position on the team. She is also in the top of her class and aced the SAT and ACT exams. She knows the game of softball and is a born leader. She was selected second-team all-Suburban League with a .329 batting average and a .993 fielding percentage.”
  • Mallory Rymer: “She has excellent control and throws a wicked change-up and curve ball. She is an outstanding young lady with excellent academic credentials. She is our No. 2 batter from the left side who should produce havoc for our opponents.”
  • Ann Marie Kirchner: “She is our senior starting pitcher who has an outstanding fastball and screw ball. She is an outstanding athlete who can play every position. She was first-team all-Suburban League, batting .456 with a .990 fielding percentage, a 2.83 ERA and 122 strikeouts. She won 10 and lost nine decisions. She is simply a great individual on and off the field.”
  • Elizabeth Funfgeld: “She was injured all last year and had little playing time. We hope that she will make a valuable contribution this season with her leadership and gentle demeanor.”
  • Caitlyn Hydel: “She is our designated hitter and back-up outfielder who we hope will be able to drive in runs with her offensive skills.”

In addition, the coach said, Highland features a trio of juniors who will play key roles this season.

“Abby Rinard is the second pitcher in our rotation. She has worked diligently on her pitching over the past year with a coach from Baldwin Wallace University. She has a killer fastball and rise ball with excellent control. She is our starting first baseman when she is not pitching,” Spirtos said. “Kelley Cejer is our power hitter, batting third in our lineup. She is our starting third baseman and back-up catcher. She is simply all power and should lead the league in RBIs and batting average. Amanda Schniegenberg is our starting center fielder, who has a very strong arm and excellent defensive skills. She will be our left-handed lead-off batter and should lead the league in runs scored.”

A player to keep an eye on this season, Spirtos said, is Samantha Catron, who the coach called a “freshman sensation.”

“She is an all-around athlete who also plays varsity basketball,” he said. “She has an excellent arm from the shortstop position, and her defensive skills are awesome. She should be a Division I scholarship athlete in three years.”

According to Spirtos, Highland has a lot of balance this season.

“Our team combines talent with maturity, speed, power and consistency,” he said. “We have four left-handed batters in the lineup. We have four pitchers who can throw with speed and accuracy and confidence.”

Highland’s regular season begins with a game at Green High School April 3 at 4:30 p.m. Spirtos said it should be the start of a special season for the team.

“Our strength is our ‘will to win’ the Suburban League and take our program to the next level in the state tournament. Highland High School’s only league championship in softball was in 1976. That is going to change in 2013,” he said. “Our goal is to win the Suburban League and make it to Firestone Stadium for the state tournament finals.”

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