Suprise Willow Canyon’s softball team just missed out on a spot in the Division I state playoffs last year by three positions in the power rankings and a mere 1.5 power points.
What a difference a year makes. Willow Canyon sits at 9-2 in power points games and is ranked 19th in Division I, in a position to make the state tournament later this month.
Azcentral sports talked to coach Donnie Tizzano about the team’s success in 2013.
Question: What are your thoughts on the team’s somewhat surprise success so far?
Answer: We’re very pleased with the way that we’re playing. It’s not really unexpected. I think it’s unexpected by some of the teams that we play or some of the coaches in the conference. But we knew we had a good freshman class coming and we had some quality leaders that could help teach those kids to do things the right way.
Q: How have you been able to balance the youth with the older players?
A: Our lone senior, Taylor Lewallen, she’s been dynamite with them. She’s a fabulous leader, she’s a fabulous player. She’s going to go play at New Mexico State University, so it’s our first Division I kid we’ve ever had. She’s kind of like a coach on the field, so the girls look up to her. She’s been receptive to their questions, and she’s never really gotten upset or short with them. Thankfully the freshmen didn’t come in with an attitude; they wanted to learn. So they were receptive to everything the coaching staff was doing and some of our upperclassmen as well.
Q: Has Taylor’s success both on and off the field surpassed expectations?
A: It’s really difficult for Taylor to exceed our expectations, because she’s just been a great player for four years. Anything that she does, it’s just not surprising. She understands the game, she puts herself in the right position defensively. She has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen, boy or girl, as far as fielding goes. She’s an ultra-competitive kid so even when she doesn’t hit the ball hard she’s always trying to be better. It’s a cliché, but when your best players are your hardest workers, it just makes it so much easier.
Q: On the mound, who’s been big for your team?
A: Sabrina Jimenez. This is her third year starting. She had an injury her freshman year, but she’s really come on these last two years. Sabrina works hard. She probably works harder than anyone that we have in the program at her kind of trade. She’s learning how to pitch, I think that’s the biggest thing. Last year, she just tried to throw the ball past everybody, and this year she’s mixing in her pitches, she’s kind of pitching backward.
Q: Who stands out in the freshman class, and how do you feel about getting to coach them the next three years?
A: A lot of these kids are club players, so they come from good coaching. They’re really athletic and that’s, I think, the biggest thing with them. All of them are athletes, and they play multiple positions and they play them well. They never take a play off, and I think that’s the most exciting thing. If they continue to do that, then every freshman class that comes in is going to learn that way.
Q: How do you feel about the season going forward?
A: As we get a little bit closer, we’re starting to play some bigger games. We’re really just trying to stress it’s still the same game of softball they’ve been playing for a long time. We do have pitching, which is going to help, and we catch the ball well. Playing in close games, the teams that execute those kinds of things best usually win.