At the beginning of the softball season I got a note from Regis head softball coach Jim Deignan about the Ramblers’ upcoming season:
“It’s a complete rebuild. … We have five returning players, one of whom has only one year of playing experience. In addition, no player has any pitching experience… The seven new players are freshmen, and only two have any experience from several years ago. The other five have never played softball.”
Oh, no, I thought. This is going to be ugly.
I was right. And, it might have been worse than I could have expected. The Ramblers haven’t won a game this year. They were outscored 311 to 45 on the season.
In my first season covering softball, I’ve seen coaches get on players for making mistakes. I’ve seen girls cry after tough losses and disappointed after allowing runs. I figured whatever was happening at Regis had to be miserable.
So I went to see the Ramblers play the recently crowned co-Western Cloverbelt Conference Champion McDonell Macks in a game I figured to be a blow out. Instead of seeing gloves thrown on the ground and girls begging to be taken out, I found something incredible.
The Ramblers found themselves in trouble early. With the bases loaded, pitcher Maegan Jiskra couldn’t find the plate and walked in a run. This would have been a time for a coach or parent to yell at her to get it together. Instead, a teammate yelled in.
“You’re good Maeg!” someone yelled from the infield. “You’ve got this!”
None of the parents seemed mad.
The girls didn’t seem to mind the lopsided 22-2 loss. They were playing to learn, to have fun, and they didn’t dwell on their misfortunes.
“We just try to look at the positives,” freshman shortstop Lauren Seeman said. “If we make a good play we try to focus on that rather than all the mistakes.”
The Ramblers are just a year removed from an 11-6 season. They finished third in the conference last year, but they graduated three key starters and senior Grace Gilles, a 2018 all conference player, decided not to play after having foot surgery in the winter. For a moment, it almost looked like Regis wasn’t going to field a softball team.
“We started asking every team in the Western Cloverbelt if they would consider co-oping with us prior to the 2017 season,” Deignan said. “Everyone turned us down.”
So he began looking at the incoming freshman class.
“We only had nine people going out and we can’t play with nine because we have to have people on the bench,” Jiskra, one of the team’s two seniors, said. “So, we had some of the freshmen talk to the other freshmen.”
The girls asked their friends to come out. Maybe even begged. But finally, they found 12 girls to roster a team.
“I actually had to order more small jerseys so that I could fit these girls into something that would allow them to play well,” Deignan said.
Then came the hard part. Softball isn’t an easy game to understand. Try explaining the tag-up rule or a run-down to someone unfamiliar with the sport.
“I remember a moment where I asked someone to lead off and they didn’t know what that meant,” Deignan said.
But Deignan is patient with his players. He has a plan on how to approach everything, even if sometimes it gets a little too complicated for the girls.
And it’s paid off. Not on the scoreboard, but that isn’t what matters this season.
“We have had our ups and downs with scoring, but I think we’re really working well as a team considering we’re pretty new this year,” sophomore Emma Wahl said.
After their loss to McDonell the girls packed into their cars and headed to Altoona to finish up a darkness-delayed game with Cadott in which they were trailing 19-0 after two innings.
It was a cold, windy and miserable evening. But the girls didn’t seem discouraged. Before taking the field, one girl turned to her brother and gestured by making an L and an inverted L with her fingers.
“Two Ls make a W,” she said with a chuckle.
Prior to the game Deignan decided he wanted to let freshman Alayna Myren play in right field. As the two drove to Altoona he told her what she needed to do. She was nervous, having played just one inning of defense all season, but he tried to calm her.
The Ramblers haven’t had many balls hit to right field this season, according to Deignan. He figured it would be a good spot to have her play as she builds her confidence.
Sure enough, with two outs in the third, Cadott hit a high fly ball to right field. Myren moved in, camped under it, and made the catch. A big smile exploded onto her face and she was mobbed by her teammates as she ran toward the dugout.
“It felt good,” Myren said. “I’m happy it made the team feel good too.”
For Deignan, that moment is why he loves coaching sports.
“Each game, if I were to get the scoreboard out, I could point to a moment that made me proud,” Deignan said. “Tonight, that catch that Alayna made in right field… that’s a prideful moment because she never had a glove, in fact, the glove she has is a new glove.”
I don’t know why we play high school sports. Do children play to win, to represent their communities, to have fun, or for some combination of the three?
What I do know is if the Regis girls are having fun this year, their season is a success.