Cedarville softball seeks ‘positive experience’

Natalie Kroger didn’t get much training to be a leader for the Cedarville High softball team. She played under seven seniors last year and is one of only two seniors on this year’s team. It’s been a crash course.

“Rebecca Harris and I have really had to step up a lot this year,” Kroger said. “We didn’t really have a voice last year. So this year I enjoy helping out the younger players, and they look up to us.”

Young players learning to play the game well and seniors being coaches on the field are important to the kind of program first-year coach Katie Woodard wants to build. Kroger, a second baseman and part-time center fielder, has had to push herself beyond her quiet personality.

“I try to talk to everybody on the team and bring them up so they can have a positive experience,” Kroger said. “I love seeing everyone come together as a team, win or lose.”

Woodard has Kroger in the lineup because she is one of the Indians’ best hitters and the team’s most experienced player. Leadership, however, is what they talk about most.

“I’m asking her to be a leader, to do her own job and helping other people be reminded of their jobs,” Woodard said. “I’m asking her to be vocal and to be a leader on offense and defense. And she’s done that consistently.”

The Indians are off to a 2-3 start after a six-win season last year. The goals this year are 10 wins and at least one tournament win. Woodard’s other goal is an attitude that every game is winnable.

“To have a more positive mindset about Cedarville softball is another major goal for us,” she said.

Youthful enthusiasm is helping Woodard and her seniors build that positive attitude.

“I feel like the girls are having a lot more fun this year,” said Kroger, who has had three coaches in four years. “And they’re learning a lot more.”

Learning to win starts with two young pitchers, sophomore Lauren Whitaker and freshman Grace Jacobs. For most games, Woodard expects to start Whitaker and bring in Jacobs in the middle innings because she wants to keep the opposition off balance.

“Grace is probably one of the most coachable players that I’ve gotten to coach,” Woodard said. “She’s new to the game, but she’s learning quickly.”

Kroger and Whitaker, who has shown some power, and sophomore first baseman Kaylie Cyphers are being counted on to get big hits. Cheyenne Jeffers, a junior, and Sami Buettell, a sophomore, bat 1-2 and are using their speed to spark the offense. Woodard said they both run home to first in under three seconds, which is a time some small college recruiters have noticed.

“This is our rebuilding year and is a big year of growth,” Woodard said. “But I’m expecting a lot in the future.”

Kroger said Woodard, who played softball at Cedarville University, and assistant Erin Hayes are just the two to establish some consistency and build the program.

“She seems to really care about the program and that’s really nice to see,” Kroger said of Woodard. “She seems to think it can be a good program.”