By Dennis Glade Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — ELNORA — Entering last year’s sectional at North Daviess, the Cougar softball team was the prohibitive favorite after one of the best regular seasons in recent memory. North Daviess was upset in the first round by Barr-Reeve on its own field and the dream of the program’s first sectional in four years went by the boards.
North Daviess compiled a record of 20-8 in 2013, but it enters 2014 with high expectations once again under coach Jodi Berry. The Cougars have won 11 sectional titles, including six since 2002. From 2005-2009, North Daviess won the sectional each year. The Cougars started the season with a 5-3 loss in the opener to Jasper, but Berry sees a group that has a lot of potential.
“It has been a blessing — this is one of the hardest working teams we’ve had in a long time,” Berry said. “The girls are coming to practice working hard and have done everything we have asked. We have had our first game of the year, and even though it didn’t go the way we wanted, I saw a lot of positives from some young kids and from some kids at new positions. I’m excited for the year.”
North Daviess lost two seniors — Larynda Keith and Ashley Troutman from last year’s team and will have seven seniors returning for this season. Aryanna Shands, Morgan Wadsworth, Lora Kutch, Maggie Swartzentruber, Tailon Graber and Kylie Hanna will provide leadership to a team that will also feature eight juniors, two sophomores and six freshmen.
“The leadership that we’ve had from our senior group and even our juniors are stepping up into the vocal components of the team,” Berry said. “We’re very blessed with a talented freshmen class this year coming in. While we lost our secondbasemen and thirdbasemen from last year, we had girls waiting in the hallway to fill in and we have the talent do to that.”
Morgan Wadsworth and Tailon Graber will be the top two starting pitchers in the circle this season for North Daviess. Both girls enter this season with three years of varsity experience under Berry and she said having them on the mound will be instrumental to a successful 2014 campaign. While the seven seniors will play a big role in determining if North Daviess can win its first sectional title since 2009, the underclassmen will be important as well.
“We’ve got some sophomores stepping up, Sarah Fitzgerald (first base) will be key for us this year,” Berry said. “We’ve got some freshmen, while they may not be prominent early in the season, I think by the end of the year they’ll be putting some pressure on those upperclassmen. One person that will be really important as a freshman is Kayla Knepp (catcher) — she’s a hard worker and a hard-nose ball player and we’re looking forward to what she’s going to be able to contribute this year.”
As it is in boys and girls basketball, the Class Sectional 63 is a gauntlet for all involved as one of the best sectional’s in the state for every sport and Berry recognizes that it’s not an easy road, but her team has the talent to reach some, if not all the goals that have been set for 2014.
“Our expectations are always to be in every game and improve from day one through the end of the season,” Berry said. “To say that we aren’t craving a conference championship and a sectional championship, I think every team in the area would have the same craving. We are hoping we can bring some of that to fruition.”