Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Last year, Tatiana Su’e Su’e came through for the three seniors who inspired her.
This season, the reigning Ms. Softball is a junior who hopes to be the kind of leader that last year’s upper classmen were to her. It is one of the ways the San Juan softball team has been successful year after year.
“The girls learn from example,” said San Juan head coach Craig Swenson. “The older girls set an example, and the younger girls are expected to follow it.”
Creating a culture of success, hard work and high expectations “is huge,” said Swenson, when a program hopes to continue winning as key players graduate every year.
While the top-ranked 2A team lost three talented seniors, the fact that Su’e Su’e returns to the circle has expectations high from everyone — including those teams that would love to challenge the Broncos in postseason play.
“Tatiana is the amazing powerhouse that she is,” said third-ranked Manti's head coach Susan Hatch, whose team boasts some talented pitchers as well. “Both Enterprise and San Juan are going to be tough. And I think South Summit is a sleeper team.”
San Juan is off to a 6-2 start with Su’e Su’e pitching most games. Su’e Su’e, who had a 1.60 ERA and 215 strike-outs, is nominated for a State of Sport Award for Best Female High School Athlete. The winners are determined by votes, and Swenson said the entire community is supporting the online voting effort. (Anyone can vote at www.stateofsportawards.com.)
The team broke a state record for most home runs by a team last season with 45. Su’e Su’e, Justin Hutchins, Kellie Palmer, Jessica Swenson and Heidi Hiatt all promise to make the Broncos one of the state’s championship contenders.
Swenson joked that between the talent on the field and the knowledge and experience on his coaching staff, all he has to do is fill out the line-up card.
“I just kind of sit back and let them go for it,” he laughed. He hasn’t seen the other ranked teams yet, but he knows the challenge will be significant.
“I hope we’re pretty even,” he said. “I haven’t seen any of those other (teams) play, so I can’t talk about them. But I think we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Hatch is hoping that Manti is among those teams challenging the Broncos this May. The Templars are off to a 6-0 start after a disappointing finish in last year’s state tournament.
“We struggled so bad last year with pitching,” Hatch said. “It was not fun.”
Part of the difficulty came when Kali Thompson tore her ACL during volleyball season.
“She had ACL surgery and she’s so much stronger,” Hatch said. “She’s pitching so much better.”
Thompson is off to a 5-0 start, and with Lizzy Palmer and Darcy Barker capable of sharing some of the load, the Templars have depth and consistency that they didn’t have last year.
The team hopes to do what they did in 2012 when they won the 2A state title. In order to do so, Hatch told them they have to look at what’s made them successful in the past.
“We were so inconsistent last year,” Hatch said. “We have goals. I tell them they have to expect more out of themselves.”
They don’t just want to win. They want to play to their potential every play.
“We looked at those past years when we won and in all of those years, we had no more than four losses in those years,” she said. “I told them, ‘If you want to be competitive, you can’t lose. You have to keep rising to the occasion.’”
This year’s seniors were sophomores when the Templars last won the title. In addition to solid pitching, the team will rely on catcher Natalie Peterson and Ashlie Stevens, as well as Mikaela Cox and Madison Blauer.
Second-ranked Enterprise lost that heart-breaker in last year’s 2A state championship, and it's a team that’s both motivated and capable of winning the title this season.
Pitcher Dakota Robinson is back and off to an impressive 4-2 start. Kaylee Christensen, Madison Holmes, Darbye Moyle and Jaycee Reber all provide talent and leadership for the Wolves.
South Summit is ranked fourth and off to a 7-1 start behind the pitching of Natalie Nichols and Hannah Peterson. Jamie McNeil, Sidney Vidrine and McKaye Woolstenhulme add offensive power to a tough team.
Gunnison rounds out the top five and has a 6-3 start behind the pitching of Sadee Sorensen. Braylie Peterson, Alyssa Morgan, Lynzee Bartholomew and Kennedy Overly provide key play for the Bulldogs.
South Sevier, Emery, Delta and Millard could all provide some excitement as the season progresses.