As games draw closer, the Statesmen of William Penn’s softball team are gearing up to have a bounce back season. Coming off a disappointing 19-32 season and placing 9th of the 12 teams in the Heart of America conference, the Statesmen are looking to turn things around behind the leadership of senior outfielder Kodee Johnson, senior infielder Gabby Braniff and senior catcher, Kayla Browning.
In the offseason coach Christner went to work, recruiting over 15 new girls in order to replace last year’s key players including; Siarra Velasquez, Chelsee Herron, and Marissa Pereyra.
With the new additions to the roster, the captains, along with some of the returning players, were responsible for welcoming their new teammates into the program and learning to gel as a team.
In an interview, Browning stated, “You can just tell now, from the first day of practice to today, how we actually mesh together, talk to each other, communication is there, and we are not individuals, we’re a team.”
Some new additions like freshman shortstop, Michelle Castro, as well as the new pitching staff including Katie Springer, Jenny Navarro, and Brittany Ensley are among those who stand out. For the returners, outfielders, Kodee Johnson and Chyanne Koko look to continue a great campaign at Penn after claiming All-Heart Conference awards.
This season is looking up for the Statesmen as preseason rankings have them coming in 5th in conference; enough to earn them a spot in the Heart conference tournament if the rankings turn out to be a reality.
Coach Christner is optimistic about this season, as he gives his reaction to the preseason placement and gives his own prediction as well. “It [the 5th place preseason ranking] comes from history, it comes from coaches knowing the program, and they know that we have 10 or 11 new players…we should be competing for the top, right around where we are at, five or above.”
William Penn softball begins their season in Fort Worth, Texas for the Cowtown Classic on February 10, but you can catch them at their home opener double on March 11 against Clarke University. First pitch is at 1:00 PM and the second game follows the first by 30 minutes.
Three camps on three different days were hosted by the Softball team throughout the month of January. The camps allowed the program the chance to work with the youth of the public on their skills.
The annual event is something that is important to the program because it allows all of the members of the team to get involved with the children and help them become better players, all while giving back to the community. According to Coach Christner, the clinics were held on the three subsequent Sundays on the PAC turf and they all had solid turnouts of about 50 participants. The Statesmen worked with players of all ages ranging from first grade through high school while offering help in pitching, hitting and fielding.
“We enjoy teaching the game to young people and watching them develop over the years and seeing what successes they have in high school,” is what Coach Christner said about working with the youth.
It is evident that the community has a strong connection through softball as Oskaloosa High School is just coming off winning a state title.
The camps also give the athletes a chance to relax and get back to basics, “It is a good time for them to give back to the sport that has done so much for them as ballplayers and young ladies,” is Christner said about the player’s participation at the camps.
This year, the team took the time to give back in a more unique way. After a young boy in Washington was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, he was no longer able to travel and leave his house. His mother started a project that sent a stuffed bear named Fergus, around the country to visit places Michael wouldn’t be able to. After the hitting clinic, the team posed for a picture with Fergus to show he had visited Iowa and signed a Penn Softball shirt to send back to Michael.