The Holden Lady Eagles softball team kicks off regular season play this Friday, August 26 with games in the Greater Kansas City Tournament at Adair Park in Independence.
This year’s Lady Eagles lineup features nine seniors on a roster of 27 total players with multiple starters returning from last year’s team that won the district championship, and advanced to the state quarterfinals.
“This year’s identity will be the shear strength of our lineup from top to bottom,” says Holden softball head coach Jeff Smith who enters the third season in that role. “There really shouldn’t be a weak spot in our lineup this year. Girls are returning, and new girls are stepping into big roles in the lineup.”
Last year’s team finished second in the MRVC-East in a nose-to-nose battle with first-place finisher Carrollton before going on to win the Class 3, District 7 title with a 3-2 victory over Pleasant Hill. The season came to a close for the Lady Eagles in a home loss to Chillicothe in the quarterfinal round of the state tournament.
“We met one of our goals of winning our district championship, and beating a Pleasant Hill team that caused problems for us the year before,” says coach Smith. “We were upset about letting Carrollton get us twice, and costing us the conference championship.
“We are looking to bring that back to Holden this year,” says coach Smith as the Lady Eagles are two years removed from the program’s last MRVC-East title season which occurred in 2020.
Gone from last year’s team which posted an overall record of 20-8 are graduated players Jocelyn McHenry, Sarah Dunbar, Abby Wamsley, Liz Stout, Kayla Rokusek, and Peyton Kilgore.
“We lost one of the best hitters in the state with Liz Stout, which will be a tough hole to fill in our lineup,” notes coach Smith. “Defensively, we lost a third baseman, second baseman, and outfielder. We are working with some former JV players, and incoming freshmen to fill those roles this season.”
Also gone from last year’s dugout is assistant coach Wayne Griffin who served as the Lady Eagles softball team assistant coach for six seasons under two head coaches – coach Smith, and coach Matt Habermehl.
Coach Griffin is replaced by assistant coach Tonya Mallinson.
The senior class of players on this year’s team is made up entirely of returning players, and includes Maddie Sechrest, Tasia Lee, Kimmie Spring, Marah Klover, Millie Davidson, Kameryn Rehfeldt, Riley Newton-Naumann, Gabby Gard, and Alli Iles. Sechrest, Spring, Klover, Davidson, and Rehfeldt have received postseason recognition for their play in past seasons. Klover is a two-time all-state player as an outfielder.
“Our senior goup has already stepped into the leadership role this season,” says coach Smith. “Kimmie Spring is far and away the vocal leader on the team, both on the field and in the dugout. The other seniors lead with their playing ability. They have already gained the respect of the underclassmen.”
Juniors on this year’s team include returners Faith Brown, Rachel Wamsley, Jayden Morarity, and Grace Petersen. Brown returns as an all-district player from last season.
Sophomores on this year’s squad include returners Abby Sisk and Jenna McHenry, Lilly Bay, and Lilee Keller. Keller is a transfer from the Lady Eagles volleyball team after playing varsity minutes on the court last year.
Incoming freshmen on the roster include Haley Brooks, Jazzy Brown, Bobbie Diibon, Clara Ferguson, Macey Greene, Annalissa Ray, Drew Turner, Addilyn Wooster, Olivia Wooster, and Adasyn Yoder.
An abundance of talented pitchers stands out on this year’s team as Sechrest and Sisk return after carrying the brunt of the load last year. Sechrest recorded nine wins, and 68 strikeouts last year in her third varsity season as a starter on the hill. Sisk put up 11 victories in her freshman campaign.
Keller and Jazzy Brown are also seeking starts on the hill this year as coach Smith looks for ways to include them with previous proven pitchers Sechrest and Sisk.
“We should have at least four pitchers that are capable of pitching, and pitching effectively at the varsity level,” says coach Smith. “Each have shown their own unique abilities to get outs, and be effective. I’m still unsure on how I will work this, but it might look like a true baseball rotation or simply play the hot hand.”
Providing a backstop for the pitchers will be Millie Davidson who returns to the catcher spot.
“Camille Davidson has stood out for this role,” says coach Smith in describing the catcher depth chart. “Camille has been rock solid behind the plate her whole high school career, and we expect much of the same this season. Faith Brown is also an extremely solid catcher. We also have an incoming freshman, Haley Brooks, who has been solid for us this summer, and is likely to take over the role in future years.”
Klover in centerfield looks to return for a solid senior season.
“Marah Klover is coming off of an errorless season in center field, and has been a centerpiece of our team both offensively and defensively.”
The shortstop spot looks to be sealed up by Spring who has filled the role for the past three seasons.
“Kimmie Spring has held down short from her freshman year to her senior year,” highlights coach Smith. “She has been amazing defensively, providing us tons of range and confidence.”
Looking for playing time at first base are Sisk and Keller.
In analyzing the infield, coach Smith adds, “Lilee Keller has looked great at first base this summer, and supplies us with some height and stretch at that position.”
Sechrest looks to return to second base when not pitching. Greene is looking for playing time at second base as well.
Rehfeldt, Sisk, and Lee are at the top of the depth chart at third base. Rehfeldt provided solid play at first base last season. Lee gained valuable varsity experience last year when a late-season injury afforded her the chance to play during the team’s district and state tournament run.
Likely offensive leaders listed by coach Smith heading into this season include Klover, Davidson, Spring, Rehfeldt, and Faith Brown.
“All of those players had great seasons last year, and we are hoping for much of the same this season,” says coach Smith. “Lilee Keller and Abby Sisk have also been swinging a great bat this summer.”
Once the season starts, it comes down to fundamentals.
“Keys will be finding new and creative ways to score runs, playing solid team defense, and all pitchers throwing strikes and consistently working hitters well,” says coach Smith. “My outlook for the team is to play well with solid senior leadership. If there has been a motto so far, ti has simply been to set our minds on a state championship.”
Setting a goal that high is based upon the returning veterans on this team with some new pieces fitting into the puzzle.
“The most exciting part of this season is the amount of experience that will be on the field,” says coach Smith. “Most of our returning starters know what it takes to win high school softball games. They also know how to win conference and championships. Each year, this group of girls has improved from the previous season, and we are looking to do the same this year in a big way.
“I am also very excited about our group of seniors taking a very talented freshman class under their wings, and showing them what it takes to continue a long-standing tradition of success the Holden softball program has had.”
The tradition of the Holden softball program carries on in the 2022 season, beginning with pool play games in the GKCT on Friday, August 26. The Lady Eagles play Liberty at 9 a.m. that day, and Platte County at 2:15 p.m. Bracket games of the GKCT will be played on Saturday, August 27.