Columbia High’s eight returning softball players from last year’s Southwest District tournament team have been joined by seven new players to give Bruins Coach Kaylene Herman “a very special feeling about this year.”
“I am excited to see what possibilities we can create with this year’s group of girls,” the third-year coach noted. The group includes five freshman and four seniors for what Herman described as a “prove it” year for the CHS fastpitch program.
Tops among the returnees are senior catcher Kathirin (Kat) Hylton, a 2017 All-Trico First Team selection.
Hylton belted seven home runs and drove in 25 runs last season while batting .700.
“I am excited to see what Kat is capable of doing this year,” Herman said.
Hylton will bat clean-up in a CHS lineup that is pretty much set. Herman has set her mind on eight of her starters; the ninth spot is still up for grabs.
Senior Amanda Waldron returns as the Bruins’ primary starting pitcher and lead-off hitter. Waldron missed a big chunk of the 2017 season because of a knee injury.
“Amanda is versatile in her hitting abilities and is one of our quickest players to the base,” Herman noted.
Batting second is rookie shortstop Mya Aman, who is taking over for injured senior Samantha Tardiff. The latter suffered an ACL injury late in basketball season. Herman said Tardiff’s “leadership and talent will be missed.”
Still, she went on, “we are much farther along at this point in the season than the previous three years in terms of athleticism, ability, and game situational awareness.”
Aman is new to the Bruin softball program but has several years of softball experience in her bat bag.
“Mya is quick and reads the ball extremely well,” her coach said. “She works extremely hard and brings a competitive edge to our team.”
Junior Gracie Vaughan has shown skills growth at the bat and in the field in her two-year career. She will be playing first base this year and taking on the responsibility of hitting third.
“Gracie is hitting the ball really well this spring,” Herman said. “She is more confident in her swing and hitting ability. I have high expectations for Gracie this year in the lineup and at first base.”
Following Hylton in the lineup will be Rylee Kona, an “athletic, aggressive, and competitive” freshman. She will slot fifth in the lineup and at third base defensively.
“Rylee lays down a bunt nicely but is also working on her swing,“ Herman noted. “She adapts well in whatever is asked of her.”
Another first-year player, Keri Hylton, will be batting sixth and playing second base. The freshman “is strong and has the potential to be a powerful hitter for us.”
Sophomore Natalie Humphrey is another program newcomer with several years of softball experience to her credit. Humphrey will play left field (and bat seventh), but can also handle third base and pitch.
“Natalie will be our backup pitcher this year, and she continually impresses me with her calm and cool demeanor,” Herman said. “She is able to hit the corners with great accuracy, and it will be nice to have another option in the pitching position for the first time in three years.”
Cristani Coe will bat in the eight hole and play the No. 8 position on defense, center field, in her senior season.
“Cristani is a natural leader on our team, and brings speed to the center field position,” her coach remarked. “She continually impresses me with her ability to read the ball off the bat.”
Four players are vying for the ninth spot in the lineup and a starting spot in right field: senior Katlyn Vermiere, junior Makenzie Sutton, and freshmen Liz Ochoa and Jaylen McCormack.
“Regardless of which direction we decide to go, I am confident that I will be able to put either of these girls in at any time, and it will be a seamless transition.”
On the point of, can this team challenge for a district playoff spot again, Herman's answer is an emphatic “Yes!”
The 1A Trico League will be back to four teams in 2018 with the return of Stevenson. The league schedule has the Bruins playing Stevenson, Castle Rock, and La Center four times each (six double-headers) for a total of 12 league contests. The top three teams will advance to the district playoffs in May.
Herman said, “For the first time, my answer is not La Center. I think Castle Rock will be our biggest competitor, but the season is young and I am sure there will be surprises along the way.”
Columbia’s overarching goal this year is to earn a state tournament berth. It’s why the team comes to practice every day, ready to work hard; teammates pushing one another to be better than they were the day before.
“The girls and I have a special feeling about this year,” Herman said. “We have a chip on our shoulder, and the attitude this year is, we have something to prove to the league, and to ourselves.”