Last May, the White Hall softball team graduated four seniors, including The Commercial’s Player of the Year Rachel Box and pitcher of the year Sydnee Clark.
The 2013 graduates had won back-to-back state titles to finish up their career, and the foursome left some pretty big holes to fill.
But just as the two groups before had overcome the loss of important seniors to finish top of the mountain in 5A, this year’s team had several players rise to the occasion to help lift another trophy.
“It was different,” senior Abby Weaver said. “They were some good leaders. We knew we had the talent and coaching. We just needed people to step up in the games.
“I think we adjusted well. We owe a lot to just hard work and dedication.”
“Every year, when we lose seniors,” Lady Bulldogs coach Terri Smith said, “I’m always looking around wondering who is going to step up and take this spot or that spot.
“And someone always does, even if it’s not their favorite spot to play, they help take care of it.”
Smith mentioned junior Kayla Reap as one such player.
“Kayla Reap played in the outfield last year,” she said. “This year we had a big hole at third base that needed to be filled.
“We tried a few different people there until we found someone who felt fairly confident there, and she held her own.”
With Clark playing at Arkansas Tech, a huge chunk of the pitching responsibilities had to be taken over, too.
“With Clark graduated we were lucky to have three pitchers in (sophomore) Lauren (Graves), Abby and (junior) Karia (Hall),” Smith said. “They didn’t have as much experience as Clark, but they had played enough tournament ball that we had confidence in them.”
Even with the lack of experience at the hot corner and in the circle, Smith called the catching position, “Probably the biggest question mark,” heading into the season.
Smith said a lot of people questioned her decision to play left-handed senior Maddie Martin behind the plate. Martin, though, did an outstanding job working with the three pitchers.
“She decided she wants to be good,” Smith said of the Williams Baptist signee. “She works really hard and it paid off.
“She’s just a good ballplayer.”
Next season, Smith will be looking to fill in the holes left by another four graduated seniors in Martin, Weaver, who is also the starting second baseman, first baseman Lindsey Williams and Emily Law, who provided a big bat off the bench.
“We’re losing our catcher, first base and second base,” Smith said, “so that once again gives us some question marks. We have to find out who’s going to be able to step up.
“We should be talented enough than we find somebody who can.”
The talent includes a bumper crop of juniors, six of whom played in White Hall’s 7-3 win over Vilonia in the state championship game.
Speaking to the depth of her team, Smith said the 10 soon-to-be seniors should not expect to all start next season.
“Back when they were freshmen there were 14 of them,” Smith said. “I told them then, only nine of you can start and I don’t normally start nine seniors. If I have a freshman who I think is better, they’re going to start.
“I just ask them to be a part of the team, and do their job when called to do it.”
Junior shortstop Summer Henderson said that threat of losing a starting spot really motivated the players during the season.
“It pushed a lot of people,” she said. “We knew she was going to put who is best there.”
Graves pointed to the leadership of the seniors as something Henderson and her classmates should look to emulate next season.
“It definitely played a major part,” Graves said. “They picked us up when we were down.
“They did a major job in the leadership department.”
Henderson and Graves said if players step up like they did this season, another state title is definitely possible in 2015.
“This junior class is pretty big,” Henderson said. “We would have a big part of them at times out on the field. …
“You just have to take on the responsibility. If we can do that, we could go for a four-peat.”
“Yeah, I think we have a very good chance at getting a four-peat,” Graves interjected.
“Very,” Henderson added.