Meadowdale excited to begin state title defense | SoftballSeniors Dent, Helm lead younger team
Like just about every other softball team in the state, Meadowdale is retooling its lineup for the 2017 season.
The Mavericks, however, aren’t just like any of the other 3A teams in the state. They are the defending 3A state champions.
Five players who helped Meadowdale win its first state softball title in history graduated.
The good news is that two key players – senior pitcher Lauren Dent, the player who won all four games at the state tournament and senior Emma Helm, who drove in the winning run in the title game – return to lead what is definitely a younger squad.
“They’re probably the No. 1 battery in the state,” Meadowdale coach Dennis Hopkins said of Dent and Helm.
When she thinks back to the Mavericks’ state title run, Helm admits the memories can be overwhelming.
“Our team chemistry at that time was so good,” she said. “I hope that we can get back to that point. I think we’ll be able to.”
Two of the team’s top hitters – Samantha Gregoryk and Julia Reuble – as well as center fielder and leadoff hitter Kaitlyn Webster are gone. Starting shortstop Lauren Wallace, who would have been a junior, moved to Oregon.
Meadowdale outscored its district playoff opponents 33-1 last year. Both the state semifinal (12-2) and championship game (10-0) were won by the Mavericks via the 10-run rule. The team hit nine home runs at the state tournament and finished with 47 overall for the season.
Hopkins expects the team’s new players to do just fine once they get used to playing at the varsity level.
“Once the younger ones get accustomed to this, they’ll be fine,” he said. “Whether we’ll have the offensive power we had last year, it’s yet to be seen. I’m hoping, but time will tell. It’s tough for 14-, 15-year-olds to be facing an 18-year-old throwing 60-plus miles an hour. I have faith in them.”
Dent expects the Mavericks to have some growing pains this season, but she remains confident.
“We’re building our team because we lost five people,” she said. “I feel like it’s going to be a growing year – just developing those underclassmen to get to the postseason. … Last season we started strong. This year I feel like people will have to learn as we go.”
Helm expects she and her teammates will have to work harder than last year. She said that everyone needs to be prepared for everything and not take anything for granted.
Meadowdale is used to feeling pressure and having to take every other team’s best shots. The Mavericks have won four straight league titles and two district crowns and have made five straight state tournament appearances in the last five years. Meadowdale also took home two third-place state trophies.
But being the defending state champions takes the pressure to a new level.
“Dennis always says that we’ve got a target on our backs as big as this field,” Helm said as she looked out on what was a wet softball diamond at Meadowdale High School.
“We’re ready,” Dent said.
All the Mavericks want right now is dry weather and the opportunity to start building some rapport with each other.
“One of the biggest things with this team is everyone becoming comfortable with each other again,” Helm said. “We have the five seniors and we have some new people.”
Senior Kaylee Williams, who saw some time at first base last year, shifts over there full-time. Freshman Olivia Dimmock is the new second baseman and freshman Kelci Studioso has been penciled in at shortstop. Senior Savanna Spratt shifts from right field to center field. Senior McKenzie Beavin is back at third base. Meadowdale will look to develop freshman Katherine Houghton as a pitcher.
The strength of the Mavericks the past five years has been the leadership of the upperclassmen, Hopkins said.
“The older kids in the program embrace the younger ones, every new player that comes in,” he said. “They become a team on and off the field. They spend a lot of time working with each other.”
Dent stresses to the younger players that it’s all about the team and supporting each other.
“Working together wins games,” she said. “It’s not just one person.”