The gym at Burlington High School is full of banners from various sports, representing past state championships. The Seahorses’ softball team does not have a banner hanging in the gym.
That is something a core group of seniors hopes to change.
“We’re one of the few sports at Burlington that doesn’t have a championship banner,” said senior co-captain Evelyn Schaedel. “Last season, we thought ‘we’re winning games, let’s keep the banner in mind.'”
The eight returning seniors have experienced the highs and lows of the Burlington program, suffering through a 3-13 season their freshman year, moving up to a 5-10 record as sophomores, before a break through last year saw the team host — and win — a playoff game.
“They all started together, most of these girls have been playing together since parks and rec,” said Burlington head coach Wayne Pecor. “They’ve all been on varsity for three or four years. They’ve learned a lot and they’ve jelled. What we did last year, we did last year. This year we have to go out and do it again.”
It’s not just the eight seniors who give the team continuity, other than the three players that were brought up from last year’s junior varsity team, the roster is exactly the same as last year.
“We’ve all played together, we didn’t lose any seniors, it’s the same team coming back,” said senior co-captain Olivia Maher. “We worked so hard last year to become more united as a team because we knew we’d all be coming back this year.”
This year, the Maher sisters, senior Olivia and junior Ilona, will be in the circle for the Seahorses, hopefully splitting starts to give Burlington some pitching depth.
“It’s a luxury to have to have one pitcher to rely on,” Pecor said. “Olivia took it on the chin her freshman year and then her sister came along and they have been backing each other up.”
Erika Lyon, Mallory Cross and Lauren Jarvis provide an experienced infield and Celena O’Brien has been a four-year starter in centerfield to provide even more stability.
“The nice thing about this team is we don’t have a superstar, they are all just good softball players,” Pecor said.
For Maher and Schaedel, helping to pull this program into a discussion of top Division I teams is exciting and something they have made a goal.
“Seeing the program completely mature since we were freshman is so exciting,” said Maher. “Just being able to feel the difference on the field, the energy is different and we are working so much harder.”
“We used to be the butt of jokes,” said Schaedel. “I think we gained so much respect last year, just winning. Girls softball is stepping its game up this year, watch out for us.”
Pecor cautions that this team, dealing with early season injuries and a late start on their field at Leddy Park due to field repairs, will have to deal with some adversity that it didn’t see last season. But he hopes Burlington can build of off last season and put together back-to-back winning seasons.
“This is an exceptional group of kids who have put in the hard work for three and four years,” Pecor said. “They’ve been very focused.”