To say that there is a youth movement among area Valley District softball teams could be an understatement. Fort Defiance, Robert E. Lee and Waynesboro have a combined six seniors on their rosters this spring. That could make it tough to compete against strong teams like Turner Ashby and Broadway, but it does bode well for the future.
The Indians have three seniors on the team this year, which is three more than they had a year ago. Fort had a rare rebuilding season a year ago after getting decimated by graduation, including the loss of current JMU star Megan Good.
There is also a new head Indian. Todd Wood, who was a volunteer assistant in 2015, takes over the helm and tries to lead the Fort Defiance program back to prominence.
“I have the same team as last year, except for the girls I moved up,” said Wood. “It benefits a lot because all the girls have played together. Everybody knows each other.”
Tiffany Taylor, Shannon Reed and Mantha Smith make up the trio of seniors. Taylor start in center field, Reed runs things behind the plate and Smith will be splitting time with junior Courtney Moyer in right field.
There are three youngsters that will handle the pitching chores. Junior Gabby Michael, along with sophomores Hanna Shoemaker and Lindsay Simmons, will do the hurling.
“Those three will be pitchers this year and next,” said Wood. “They will have time to grow.”
Wood likes his team defensively, but wants to see continued improvement on offense. He says the hitters are really working on going with the pitch.
Sophomore Kyrsten Wood is the starter at first and will be backed up by junior Catherine Hepler.
Katelyn Neighbors, a sophomore, is at second base, with Shoemaker, Simmons and freshman Morgan Wharam all expected to get action at shortstop. Junior Brie Eppard will play third. Junior Kallie Grove will also compete for playing time at second.
Michael is the Fort left fielder, with Wharam moving out there when Michael is in the circle.
Robert E. Lee
Compared to last year, the Lee Ladies are getting a little older. They had one senior last season. This spring, they have two.
David Woolston is back as head coach. He is not predicting that his team will compete for a district title, but he feels there could be a marked improvement on the 5-16 record of a year ago.
“We could win half or more of our games,” said Woolston. “It’s just a matter of game experience. We’ve got to build our confidence up a little bit.”
Lee High has a pair of veteran players to set the table at the top of the lineup. Senior Jesse Bartley and junior Kodie Taylor are both offensive producers. Bartley plays catcher and shortstop, while Taylor can pitch or catch.
Senior first baseman Gaby Lake and junior third sacker Destiny Courtney will be needed to move around the baserunners and bring them in.
Sophomore Tori Guertler rounds out the infield at second base.
Martha Wells and Micaelah Hodge, both juniors, will play in left and center field. Sophomores Lila Simmons and Ciniya Crawford will both contribute in right.
Whitney Darby, a junior, handles much of the pitching duties.
Sophomores Ayaunna King and Camryn Shull are utility players the can be plugged into the infield or outfield as needed.
Despite a slow start to the season, Woolston still feels good about the direction that the program is headed.
“We’ve got a solid defense and we’ve got people that can hit the ball,” he said. “We have a lot of excitement for the future.”
Seven players are back for a Little Giant team that overcame a 1-7 start to finish the season at 9-11. With the strong returning nucleus and some talented new faces, head coach John Hull is excited about the prospects of this spring.
“I think we can be very competitive,” said Hull. “Realistically, I think we can be over .500 and be one of the top three or four teams in the district.”
An early shoulder injury to junior Aly Balsley has forced Waynesboro to make some defensive changes. Balsley has moved from short to second, while Bethany Bush will be the primary shortstop.
There is only one senior on the team. Madison Allen is the one, bringing valuable experience to behind the plate.
Junior Makenzie Sims will handle most of the pitching chores. She will be backed up in the circle by Bush and freshman Maryssa Jones.
A pair of juniors, Chasity Johnson and Aalaesha Carter, will be at the corner infield spots. Johnson will get most of the work at first, while Carter will handle the hot corner.
Lilly Demastus, one of three freshmen on the team, is the starting center fielder. Junior Jordan Lawhorne is in left and Jones should see plenty of action in right.
Freshman Madison Kincheloe should also contribute in the outfield, along with sophomores Latavia Herndon and Yesenia Ruiz. Junior Shantay Patterson can backup first base and the outfield.
“We’re pretty strong in the batters box,” said Hull. “Defensively, we need to improve a little bit. But we’ve been making the plays we need to make.”