A softball season in which your final record reads 7-16 is no easy tally to recover from. That type of streak can wear a team down physically and, even more so, psychologically, especially when your returner-laden roster endured the brunt of it.
This was the situation the Toms River South Indians stared in the face entering the 2012 campaign, and head coach Tom Malek understood that no type of pep talk could possibly remedy the situation. His players would need to perform on the field in order to restore a confidence in themselves … and he knew they possessed the mental strength to do it.
“We’ve had a very young team playing in A South the past few years,” explained Malek, “and that can be hard on a team. But our players, our team captains in particular (Danielle Gabriel, Emily Cottrell, and Casey O’Connor) remained mentally tough through it all.
“Those three saw the progression this team was making,” Malek continued. “From two years ago to now, they saw the improvement, they saw the talent we had, they saw we were becoming a lot more competitive as time went on, and they never stopped believing.”
According to Malek, he witnessed his players begin to develop a sort of swagger in the preseason when late-inning nail-biters, that previously would unravel in favor of their opponents, began falling into the win column, which he believes can be chalked up to the aged adage that “success breeds success.”
“Our players bought into their roles,” said Malek, “because they began to see the results. There was a great attitude and energy that surrounded this team, and I believe that because we have kids on the soccer team, which did very well, and the field hockey and girls basketball programs, which both made the state and Shore Conference Tournaments, that those introductions to success and competition at the highest level allowed them to carry that to the softball season.”
The Indians rode prior successes and a healthy mental state to impressive triumphs over Ocean, which sparked a seven-game win streak after a 5-5 start, and Toms River East, eventually finishing with a 19-9 record, a victory total not reached by a Toms River South softball team since 1990, according to Malek.
“We reached our goal by making all three tournaments (Shore Conference, Ocean County and state) and we tied for second in school history with 19 wins,” said Malek. “It was a great season to be part of, a fun team to coach, and it’s a great honor to be named Coach of the Year, but I owe it to my assistant coaches (Bill Madigan, Alyson Melia, Tonya Coppola) and to my players.”