The Grove Lady Red softball team enters the 2008 season with clear goals and the talent to achieve them.
Head Coach Charli Duff enters her second year at the helm and is joined for the new season by assistant coach Trace Brown. Both coaches come with plenty of experience on the diamond; Duff was a collegiate All-American pitcher at Lee University while Brown was a varsity player at the University of Oklahoma and played in the Houston Astros system.
“He’s awesome and we work really well together,” said Duff. “Our personalities go well together. He was a pitcher and I was a pitcher so pitching minds think alike.”
The coaches head up a young team with a year of seasoning under their belt.
“Last season was a little shaky at first because I was new and because our starters had never played together before as a unit,” said Duff. “Some of the girls had JV experience but hadn’t played hardly any varsity ball.
“But they bonded,” continued Duff, “and by the end of the season everyone was playing really well together.”
The ’08 squad features three seniors who also serve as team captains and provide the leadership necessary for success.
“We have a pretty solid line up 1 through 9, but the hitters to look out for are Margaret Pogue, Stacia Sarwinski, and Shandi Crossley, our seniors,” said Duff. “And we have some underclassmen with some power. Andrea Gonzales hit a homerun in our preseason scrimmage at Tulsa in her first at bat, and she’s a freshman. We can be pretty salty all the way through if we do what we are supposed to.”
Adding to the strength of the mix is first baseman Rachel Allington, a junior and team captain.
Sophomore Katie Stout is a versatile defensive player adept at both third base and catcher. The sophomore has looked impressive at the plate in the first two games of this season.
Victoria Winters is a sophomore that has transferred in from Sperry for the coming season and has found a starting spot in left field.
Gregoreye Epperson is a sophomore who showed well in the pitcher’s circle during summer scrimmages.
Shae Scott and Katelin Threet are sophomore starters who return to the team for the new season.
Alex Woods has shown well at shortstop in the opening games of the season for the Lady Red.
The roster is rounded out by Alyssa Linn, Shelby Lupardus, and Alyx Rupe, all promising players who move up this season from the JV squad; Logan Cook, a varsity starter on the Lady Red basketball team who is learning softball very quickly; and Kori Watkins, an athletic player who was a starter for the Lady Ridgerunners soccer team last spring.
The Lady Red team has ambitious aims for the coming campaign.
“The girls have set their own goals,” said Duff. “They want to win their conference, and obviously win districts; go and compete at the regional, and hopefully earn their way to state.
“I think we have all of the pieces of the puzzle to do that, but we have to make them all fit, getting everything in the right order,” said the coach.
The Grove troops have worked hard to prepare for the ’08 season.
“They had two-a-days for a week,” said Duff. “They came in at morning for running and conditioning and then came back in the afternoon for practices. They worked really hard and got a lot accomplished.
“We also hosted a summer league where a lot of local teams came to play,” Duff added. “It’s scrimmages for the girls and it allows them to practice and learn. It’s really good for the incoming freshmen because they get a chance to show the coaches what they can do. And it lets us know how much work we have to do to get ready for the season. It’s a good assessment time for the coaches.”
While physical preparation is vital, it is, by itself, not enough to achieve success. Coach Duff has found a unique way to help prepare her team mentally.
“Grove’s First Baptist Church let us use their cabin for our team retreat this summer,” said Duff. “The girls had a blast. It was good team bonding. The girls learned a lot about each other and I think it’s going to help us down the road.
“I gave the seniors a baggie with twenty-six marbles in it. That’s how many days they have in this season to play softball,” said Duff. “It kind of shook them up and brought them to the reality that their high school career is about to come to an end.
“They give me a marble before every game that they play, or tournament that we enter. They need to realize that one day they are going to reach into that bag and there won’t be any marbles left,” said the coach.
With skills honed and attitudes set, the final component of the program, the facilities, look better than ever this season. The Lady Red field and the locker complex that accompanies it are top-notch from head to toe by any standard.
“We got a new backstop donated by Arvest Bank and it looks great,” Duff said. “I’d like to thank all the local businesses that donate to the program.
“Mr. Dodson (Pat, GMS Principal) is always a huge help. He comes out, and whatever we need he’s always there for us.
“Tony Armstrong and Ed Crossley helped us with painting this summer and Coach Ward (John, GHS wrestling head coach) did some welding for us.
“Dale Fredrick from Bargain Center, and Fine Threads made donations and Donna Helm did a great job with the landscaping and the flower beds,” said Duff.
“All the girls’ parents are very supportive. I feel blessed to be a part of it,” she added.
Everything seems to be in its right place as concerns the 2008 Lady Red softball team. The squad will look to be adding their own entry into the strong history of the program, which claimed the State Championship in 1996 and 2000.
“We want to take conference back,” Duff said. “We think that’s where Grove belongs- on top. Hopefully we have the talent and ability to come through with that.”
To achieve that end the Lady Red will have to face and overcome some challenges.
“Obviously Jay,” said Duff. “They are a huge rival. And Pryor. We’re getting a good rivalry stated with them, too.”
The Lady Red has all the makings for a strong run in ’08.
“I want to thank the girls,” Duff said. “I’m young and sometimes as a player it’s hard to trust everything a young coach says. But they get me and I get them. Coach Brown and I worked really hard for them and I think they are going to work really hard for us.”