Skiers softball hopes mix of young, old and new yields success
ASPEN Every season presents challenges for Aspen softball coach Ed Zane.Concerns about generating enough interest and numbers to field a team were rampant in years past. Sixteen players turned out for practice Wednesday at Aspen High School, but the discrepancy in talent has made teaching trying at times. “We have a lot of young girls, and a lot of them have promise,” said Zane, who is entering his 11th season. “But it’s difficult when you have no feeder program, and some of these girls are playing for the first time. We have two weeks to turn them into varsity players.”Those two weeks of advising many how to properly run the bases, swing the bats in various situations and hit the cutoff man are rapidly coming to an end. The Skiers host the Aspen Invitational on Saturday. And while the tournament will not count toward the final standings, it well help the Skiers evaluate where they stand.”We need all the practices we can get, but, until we play a game, we won’t realize where we are,” Zane said. “Saturday will be a good indicator of what we need to work on to improve.”
A short preseason isn’t Zane’s only hurdle. He is searching for replacements for last year’s starting pitcher, catcher and first baseman. The emergence of a experienced group of seniors plus an influx of talent should ease the transition.Senior Grace Seigle, fast becoming one of the 3A Western Slope’s top shortstops, will anchor a new-look infield. Junior Whitney Hubbell, a transfer from New Jersey, is the front-runner to take over for Taylor Buzbee at first base, and freshman Taylor Bennett, a Basalt transfer, has taken the bulk of the work at third. Second base remains a question mark, but it’s likely sophomore Sierra McKinney or senior Julia Hassall, a standout soccer and basketball player who is coming out for softball for the first time, will fill the role. “I haven’t seen enough of [Hassall], but my instinct says if she stays with it, you’ll be writing a lot about her this season,” Zane said. “We’ll plug her in wherever we have to. This is a big jigsaw puzzle, and we’re still trying to figure out where all the pieces go.”Sophomores Liz Baty and Kerry Braisted are the front-runners to replace Taylor Schlepp on the mound, although Zane and new assistant coach Kayden Christiansen, a former Division III college pitcher, have been working with others, too.”We try to get as many players out there to look and see if there’s something we can work with,” Zane said. Our pitching was a little erratic, and we lost a few close games [last year], so developing pitchers and catchers is important.”
Senior Sarah Nininger will move from outfield to catcher to replace the departing Reghan Mahaffey. The move brings increased responsibility, but also enthusiasm for the third-year player.”I’m more involved in every part of the game,” Nininger said. “I feel like I’m more important and have more to contribute.”Zane said the pieces are in place to develop a talented squad in a six-team Slope in which four teams qualify for state; Gunnison, Norwood and Basalt are expected to contend for the league title. It will take time, however. Seigle, a four-year starter, agrees.”We lost a lot of older players and we’re rebuilding, but it looks like we can build a solid team,” she added. “I’m expecting a little bit of a rocky start. It’s definitely always nice to win, but it’s also good to have fun. That matters more in life.”
Nininger is not expecting big things in terms of wins and losses. Instead, she and Seigle are relishing their roles as veterans and are working with younger players to help strengthen the program over the long term.”I don’t think we’re here because we think we’re going to be the best,” Nininger said. “We’re all here to help each other so, in the future, [Aspen] will be able to succeed.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Key departures: P Taylor Schlepp, C Reghan Mahaffey, IF Taylor BuzbeeKey returnees: IF Grace Seigle, C Sarah Nininger, Key additions: UT Julia Hassall, IF Whitney Hubbell, IF Taylor BennettCoach speak: “It’ll be an educational start to the season and we’ll start off slow, but I think we’ll develop a pretty good team.” – Ed Zane
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Strange is a word that will likely define the winter high school sports season. But, after numerous delays and endless doubts, that season is finally here. It will include fewer games, more masks and a lot of empty seats, but adapting to that strangeness is better than the alternative.