Softball loaded with talent, togetherness

By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Daily Sun

Navarro’s Lady Bulldogs have it all.

They’ve got power, pitching, speed, depth — and togetherness.

Yup, togetherness.

You won’t find that on the scouting report or in the box score, but it could be just what this team needs to get to the nationals — and beyond.

“This is a different group than I have ever coached,’’ said Navarro softball Coach Jessica Karenke, who has been coaching at Navarro for 14 years. “Their cohesiveness makes them different. They really get along. They just click. I think that’s what makes a great team. They all know they are working for the same goal.’’

That doesn’t mean it’s not competitive. There’s a lot of talent and everyone is trying to get on the diamond.

“They push each other to be better,’’ Karenke said. “They are so competitive with each other, and that makes them push each other. But they like each other. Whoever wins the spot so be it.’’

Karenke thinks that may be the ingredient that ties it all together for this year’s team, which has a chance to get back to the nationals for the first time since 2005.

“We’re a very close-knit group,’’ said All-American shortstop Monique Miller, a sophomore who hit .451 last year. “We’re close and a lot more together than last year. We hang out together, go to dinner, watch movies, listen to music, just hang out. Usually on a team there are a few girls here and there who hang out, but with this team it’s all of us.’’

Miller calls the team’s locker room, which is pretty plush and comfortable with large couches, two big screen TVs and a pool table, home.

“It’s the chill zone,’’ she said. “We chill there.’’

On the door of the locker room there are three sets of numbers —85 (as in the number of games they will play if they don’t reach the region title game), 92 (if they qualify for the nationals in Utah) and 111 (if they win it all).

So if you’re going to play 111 games, and that’s the goal, you better get along.

“We have all the talent and we’re close,’’ said Kristen Ahearn, a power-hitting third baseman who transferred from Arkansas Tech. “I wasn’t happy there, but it’s great being here and being (with these players).

“We have talent and depth and this team is so close,’’ she said. “When one person is down the team is there to pick them up.’’

It’s an all-for-one, one-for-all mentality, but that’s not the only reason Navarro is excited about the new season, which begins Friday in the Galveston Tournament.

“This team can hit,’’ said Jade Havard, who hit .350 and drove in 51 runs last year. “We can hit. We only have two or three slappers in the lineup. Everybody else can drop bombs.’’

It might be bombs away for Navarro, but the Lady Bulldogs won’t have to wait for the big home run. They can hit and run — boy can they run.

They stole more than 200 bases last year, including 63 by Miller alone.

“We’re going to run,’’ Karenke said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the other team.’’

The Lady Bulldogs bring back seven starters, including pitchers Camrie Helm and Britney Bledsoe and Karenke is excited about her two freshmen pitchers Ciarra Luna and Mildred’s Olivia Farmer, who was the All-Golden Circle Player of the Year in softball and the Daily Sun’s and Community National Bank’s Female Athlete of the Year.

Karenke said Farmer could pitch and also play the outfield, and that versatility gives the coach plenty of options.

Karenke loves options and admits the lineup may be ever-changing during the season. Farmer will add speed to an already swift outfield that includes sophomore Kelsey Villasenor and freshman Logan Polasek.

Navarro has power at first, second and third.

Freshman Alyssa Dotson, a power-hitting lefty, takes over at first. She won two state titles at Lufkin, where she hit some monster shots. Havard will play second or third, and Ahearn comes in as a third baseman. Miller is a vacuum at short, quick and fearless.

Navarro is loaded behind the plate, where two starting catchers return. Both Kristin Lopez and Megan Noel are back and will split time behind the plate.

“We have sophomores in good leadership roles, and we have two sophomore catchers who are really tough,’’ Karenke said.

Other freshmen such as Destiny Kennedy, who can play a lot of positions, Caitlin Moerbe (OF), Eden Favela (IF). Macey Morgan (IF) and Daniele Jetton (IF) are all expected to contribute.

Navarro is deep in talent and has some players who can go deep.

“I feel we’ve got the talent to be very successful in every aspect of the game,’’ Karenke said. “I’m excited about this season.’’