Cuyahoga Falls softball looks to rely on senior leadership
Cuyahoga Falls softball coach Kim Applegarth said that for all the uncertainty 2020 brought to local spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her group this year has overall bounced back in preparation for the 2021 season.
“They come in and it's like they've added extra fuel to the fire,” she said. “They lost a whole season last year. We had the discussion very early on, because these young kids don't get the safety protocols. They think nothing's going to hurt them, nothing's going to touch them, we don't get the symptoms like older people do.
“We pressed early on that one person out of our lineup is going to make a big difference and you're letting down your team if you're not following safety protocols.”
The OHSAA canceled spring sports in April of 2020 due to the pandemic after teams were left in a holding pattern through the early part of the spring.
Falls was not able to work out together again until they could begin practices in October for the winter ball season as the district nixed summer workouts.
“It was kind of like a plane circling the landing strip.” Applegarth said. “Fortunately, most of them played with their summer teams at some point in time, they were able to. We were able to have open gyms in the fall following the safety protocols and we were able to play in the winter ball league as well. They got a little bit of normalcy back being able to do that kind of stuff, and they worked very hard in the offseason because they realized they had lost some valuable varsity playing time and just the daily practice.”
Falls opens the season on March 29 at North Royalton.
Applegarth is entering her 23rd year as the head coach of the program and 27th year overall coaching at Cuyahoga Falls. Her squad is trying to bounce back from a 4-17 2019 season.
Key returners for the Black Tigers include seniors Tommie Thompson (center field), Kylee Phillips (right field and first base) and Brooke Waffen (left field).
All three have played varsity since their freshmen season and have been instrumental, according to Applegarth, when it comes to creating a sense of urgency among the team.
“They're a very solid base and they've been pretty vocal with the team and helping especially the younger kids with the drills and the encouragement,” Applegarth said. “I have two freshmen pitching right now, they realize that they need these kids in order to be successful. So, it's been a very good group of girls leading the younger and more inexperienced kids. Not yelling at them, but explaining to them the way things work, the way drills work and stuff like that.”
Those two freshmen pitchers are Julee Phillips and Grace Shaffer, who also plays third base. Another notable newcomer is sophomore McKenzie Kramer.
Overall, while senior leadership should be a strength for Falls this season, Applegarth said the biggest thing her team needs to work on is consistency and getting more experience for the younger players who are expected to fill important roles in the lineup.
In fact, maybe the biggest downside to losing last season is the potential longterm impact on development when it comes to underclassmen.
“Especially for the kids that were probably sophomores,” she said. “If they're on the varsity team, that's a very important year for their development. They might not be getting game experience but they're getting the daily experience of practicing with kids that are at the varsity level. Then they turn around and play 16U or 14U depending on when their birthday is, so they're dropping down one or two levels from the 18U they're playing in high school so to speak.”