The Reed Raiders have racked up more wins than any other prep softball program in Nevada over the last 15 years.
And yet, in spite of all of those seasons of 25 or more wins, the Raiders had failed to win even one state championship in that span, until last spring. After a handful of state runner-up finishes, Reed broke through and captured Nevada’s large-school state title for the first time since 1998.
It’s safe to say the Raiders (37-2 in 2015) were a hungry bunch last spring in their pursuit of a state crown. There’s good news on the east Sparks school’s campus this March too. Reed returns 13 players off of last year’s prolific roster. Still, with a new season barely three weeks old, the question this spring is, “Are the Raiders still hungry?”
Without missing a beat, every Reed player and coach will answer with a resounding “Yes!”
“Our experience, going to state every year, that helps us,” sixth-year Reed coach Jon Wunder said. “We’ve talked about continuing to compete and these girls reassure me they’re still hungry.”
Reed junior Jessica Sellers said there’s no reason for the Raiders to let up or exude over-confidence, stressing all of the team’s accomplishments came a year ago and that nothing has been achieved in 2016.
“We don’t take anything for granted and we can’t take anyone lightly,” Sellers said. “Winning state last year was great, but we have to work to get better. You have to show up and bring your ‘A’ game everyday, and I think everyone is doing that.”
If the Raiders can bring yet another state championship trophy back to Sparks this spring, they’d be the first Northern Nevada school to do so since Spanish Springs won back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.
“These girls are talented,” Wunder said. “Many play year round and go to private lessons, but what makes this group special is the chemistry is great. Many very talented teams don’t reach their ceiling because poor chemistry gets in the way. That’s not the case with this group. All of the ingredients are there for another great season.”
Reed does seemingly have all the pieces in place for another run at a title. The Raiders broke a school record a year ago, bashing 37 home runs. That mark was the second-highest single-season total in Nevada high school history. On the mound, Reed returns junior hurler Julia Jensen, the Gatorade state player of the year last season and one of the top prep pitchers on the West Coast.
Nine players come back who garnered all-league honors a year ago and five of the squad’s six seniors have committed to playing softball at the collegiate level.
“Really, the challenge is on the coaching staff,” Wunder said. “It’s our job to keep these girls on track, to keep them focused and motivated … It’s a long season and a lot can happen. Already, we’ve seen some top players in the region bit by injuries. We’ll need to avoid that. And there are still some pretty darn good teams in this region. We’ll have to go out and compete to beat them.”
With all the talent in the world returning and the title of defending state champs, Reed certainly won’t be sneaking up on anyone. The Raiders are garnering some national attention too, opening the season in the Top 5 in the nation in preseason polls released by USA Today and Maxpreps.com. Reed has dropped a bit in those rankings, due largely to playing fewer games than their counterparts nationwide, but the Raiders are still undefeated on the young season, winning all eight of their games.
Still, the national accolades don’t seem to mean much to Reed players, who also saw their talents earn some national recognition in the final weeks of last year’s season.
“That rankings stuff, that was more kind of last year’s thing,” Jensen said. “It doesn’t matter. We’re not even thinking about that now. Those numbers don’t help you win a game once you get out on the field.”
Senior Mackenzi Goins had similar sentiments.
“The hardest part for us is we get everyone’s best shot,” Goins said. “Those rankings are kind of nice exposure for the school, but that’s not what matters. The only thing I care about is being No. 1 in the state at the end of the year.”
Northern Division I Softball
Thursday: 3:45 p.m., Bishop Manogue at Carson, Reed at Damonte Ranch, Douglas at Spanish Springs, North Valleys at Galena, McQueen at Hug, Reno at Wooster.