Prep softball: St. Albans seeking new leaders
Even without the winningest Class AAA battery in Kanawha County history, the St. Albans softball team plans to continue without missing a step.
This summer, the Red Dragons have used their three-week offseason training period to identify leaders, both on and off the field, to spark the team next season after graduating pitcher Ali Haynes and catcher Mariah Caudill.
Haynes and Caudill were AAA First Team All-State selections and will continue playing at West Virginia State University.
"Since 2000, we're 250-81, we like to say we reload, not rebuild," SA Coach Greg Garber said, "and we would like to keep it that way.
"Good programs lose good players every year, and we just try to replace them and move on and make the adjustments we need to make."
The Red Dragons certainly qualify as a good program, coming off a 28-5 season. SA won the AAA State Championship in 2010 in the program's winningest season, one that featured Haynes and Caudill as starting freshmen when the team finished 34-1.
As Garber said, the philosophy is "reload, not rebuild" and the records prove that.
"The thing I'm probably the most proud of at St. Albans is in 22 years we've only had one losing season," he said.
The cupboard lost two solid pieces, but it's still well stocked, as seven starters will return, though they might be in different places.
One of those parts in a new position will be senior Madi Marshall, who is expected to become one of the team's top pitchers after starting at shortstop in 2013, third base in 2012 and second base in 2011.
"Madi Marshall, she's been a stalwart of ours starting the last couple years, a very key part of our team," Garber said.
Marshall, the team's top leading hitter at .458 last season, will get the first look at pitcher for 2014, Garber said. She was the lone pitcher beside Haynes to pitch varsity innings.
In addition to on-field production, Garber said he expects Marshall to fill the leadership roles vacated by his departed seniors.
"(Marshall's) just like an assistant coach and that's what I try to get from all of my players," he said. "Last year, this time, it was Mariah and Ali that you heard talking to these new ones and showing 'Hey, you got to get in front of the ball here.' Madi Marshall is definitely an important piece on our team and she's going to be a fine leader."
Beyond Marshall, Garber said sophomore Katie Holstein, who started the last third of the season in centerfield, figures as a promising young arm.
"If she keeps working, she's going to be a pretty good pitcher," Garber said. "I've been working with her even since she was little and she has the ability to be a real nice pitcher. Of course, we know Madi will be on the mound a lot, and you got (Holstein) pitching. Katie can move in here or play outfield. She's done a great job there in centerfield."
Garber added Holstein pitched well in junior varsity games against other top programs, including Cabell Midland.
Senior Whitney Jones, a returning starter in left field, could log some innings in the circle, too, Garber said.
With Marshall pitching, sophomore Madi Chandler should slide from second base to shortstop. As a freshman, Chandler recorded a .984 fielding percentage en route to earning a spot on the Daily Mail's Kanawha Valley All-Rookie Team.
Another potential infield change includes senior Alyssa Bonham, last season's starting third baseman, who will be the top pick to slide into Caudill's vacated position behind the plate. Bonham stole 19 bases during the 2013 season and took catching reps at practice and in junior varsity games.
Because of the amount of potential position changes, Garber said he's trying to focus on instruction rather than scheduling games this summer.
"A couple years ago, I had everybody coming back and we played 18 games in three weeks," he said. "This year, I thought with the position changes - we only lose two players - we're going to have to move several people, so we thought it best to work this way, get them used to their new positions and take a look at them, try to coach them up on those positions."
Without its trusty battery, SA will continue to march. This summer, the Red Dragons will look for their new spark.
"We lost two really good players, two really good seniors, but I don't think anybody could complain coming back from going 28-5 and only losing two players," Garber said.