While the pandemic took a lot from many spring sports teams last season, it has given the Junction City softball coaches one thing: time to think.
“We've had some really good practices and now we’re farther along than we've been in the last couple of years, and I think that's a testament to the reflections that we've made as a coaching staff,” head coach Aaron Craig said. “We took time and looked at each of the years that we've been together and took some positives and some negatives. We talked to some of our alumni and asked them for input and now we're out there, adjusting, teaching, and it's just fun. The girls are having a good time right now and you know attitudes are really solid and we're coming together, more and more every day.”
After a 4-13 campaign in 2019 ending with a 13-1 loss to Topeka in regionals, the Blue Jays have their sights set on looking internally at ways to get better and form tighter bonds within their team.
“We've got some really good pieces of the puzzle and, you know, I think we just got to take those pieces together and the girls have to learn,” Craig said. “One of our biggest things is called LEO, Love Each Other, and that's what we want to do. We’ve got to love each other. The coaches got to love the kids, kids love the coaches, running on each other. We got to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Junction City is led by two stellar seniors in Taylor Strickland and Megan Hunt, both of which have been with the team since they were freshman. Strickland has played varsity all four years as a pitcher.
“I really like the team this year,” Strickland said. “I feel like we're really strong in a lot of aspects, and I feel like we'll be able to trust each other out there.”
Strickland had club softball to fall back on over the summer when things got canceled in 2020 but Hunt was not so lucky.
“I play through the city during the summer but that got canceled too so I hadn’t touched a softball in almost a year when practice started back up,” Hunt said “ But I am getting back into the groove of things and I'm feeling a lot more confident in my abilities and everything. I'm shaking off the rust.”
In addition to Strickland and Hunt, several other veterans like Lucy Rivera and Ava Deguzman will be playing a big role alongside some underclassmen who have shown that they can handle the rigors of varsity play.
“I definitely feel like this year we can probably win more games,” Hunt said. “I'm really confident in our team this year. All the girls get along so well. We mesh. It's just so fun and I just love the team this year. And I'm really confident in our abilities. We still have a couple more weeks before our first game and I definitely feel like when that comes around, we're gonna be ready for it.”
The Blue Jays will open up the season on the road on Friday, March 26 versus Salina Central before returning to Cleary Park for a three-series homestand starting March 31.