Abby VanLake remembers a time when the expectations weren’t high for the DeWitt softball team.
The senior catcher is glad she’s been able to help alter those expectations over the last four years.
VanLake was part of a league championship team as a freshman in 2013 and a Division 2 district title a year ago. She hopes to be part of more success as the Panthers chase multiple crowns in the coming weeks. That includes one at the annual Softball Classic, which begins Saturday with four games at Ranney Park.
DeWitt, which entered Thursday’s scheduled doubleheader against Mason with a 12-5 record, is a team with a lot more confidence this season after capturing a district title for the first time in more than decade last spring.
“It is very special,” said VanLake of the Panthers’ success. “I’ve seen this team from freshman year all the way up to here and we’ve improved so much. It means so much to me.
“Everyone is just growing together.”
Adam Nolen, who is in his second season leading DeWitt, said a lot of that growth took place early last spring as he worked to get to know his players and the players did the same with him. When things came together, the end result was the Panthers concluding a season in which they finished 17-20 with momentum that has carried over to this spring thanks in part to six returning seniors
“It came together at the right time and we were able to be successful,” Nolen said. “I think they got a taste of what winning a championship was like. And certainly we were real close in our region and we came up short. I think they recognized what they could do if they put things together and focused on what’s out in front of them.”
And that’s been exactly what the Panthers have done as Nolen’s quest to return the rich softball tradition that was established at DeWitt by Larry Baird is trending in the right direction. Players like VanLake have embraced having a part in doing that.
Winning the district was a big step in the process and a moment VanLake described as one of the best in her life. She hopes to be a part of more moments like that over the next month before continuing her career at Saginaw Valley.
“We’re excited to prove to mid-Michigan and the area how much better we are and what tradition we do have,” VanLake said.
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Ranney Park (Lansing)
Saturday, May 14
11 a.m. – Eaton Rapids vs. DeWitt
1 p.m. – Grand Ledge vs. Mason
3 p.m. – Lakewood vs. Laingsburg
5 p.m. – Holt vs. Morrice
Monday, May 16
5 p.m., 7 p.m. – Semifinals
Tuesday, May 17
6 p.m. – Championship