For high school senior student-athletes, the spring sports season is a funny one.
Unlike its fall and winter counterparts, the spring represents a double dose of finality for seniors: Not only does the spring bring an end to their sports careers, but their academic careers abruptly end as well. With college beckoning, it’s natural for seniors to hit the cruise-control button and put their responsibilities on the backburner to enjoy the final few months of high school before being ushered into the cruel, unpredictable realities of adulthood.
Luckily for the Archbishop Ryan softball team, their two senior captains leading the way have avoided the dreaded case of “senior-itis.”
Well … at least partly.
“I think I have senior-itis when it comes to school,” senior co-captain Heather Forward said with a laugh. “But not for softball.”
With college decisions already in hand for Forward (she’ll play softball next year at Widener University) and co-captain Megan Wolf (bound for the University of the Sciences to play basketball), the allure of coasting through the last few months of their senior campaigns may be tempting on the surface, although it’s not a thought that has crossed their minds.
After all, it’s not easy to rest on your laurels when there’s unfinished business to tend to.
Some background: For the last two seasons, the Ragdolls have defeated archrival St. Hubert in the regular season. However, when the two teams later met in the postseason, it was the Bambies who had the upper hand both times, eliminating Ryan in the Catholic League semifinals last season and knocking out the Ragdolls in the 2010 title game.
This season, the two teams met on April 10, and the outcome was familiar — Ryan held off a late Bambies charge, winning that contest 2-1. And although it’s uncertain if the two teams will meet again down the line, it seems at this point that they will, and Wolf and Forward plan to buck the trend of recent seasons to beat their rival when it counts the most.
“I don’t know what it is, because we always seem to have their number in the regular season, but the playoffs have been another thing,” said Forward, an outfielder for the Ragdolls. “It’s been the same every year … we’re always so close at the end but we just struggle closing them out. But we know we’re right there, so we’re not going to change the way we do things. To work so hard to get to where we want to be, only to lose to a team we beat earlier in the season … to us, that’s not an acceptable outcome this season.”
Added Wolf, also an outfielder: “This is Heather, mine and the other seniors’ last year, so we’re not taking any shortcuts. We’re treating every practice like it’s our last one, but we’re not putting any extra pressure on ourselves, because what good would that do?”
Wolf and Forward have had plenty of help this season (the Ragdolls were 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the Catholic League standings when the Times went to press this week). Head coach Andy Hafele praised his team’s balance before the season, saying a blend of experienced veterans and talented underclassmen would be a key to Ryan’s success.
That has proved true. Forward and Wolf have had help from fellow seniors Alyssa Gospodarek (shortshop) and Tiffany DiMatteo (outfield), while underclassmen like freshman Kerri Dadalski and sophomore pitcher Nikki Michalowski have made tremendous strides. Catherine Hammer, Jenna McGee and Christina Zeglinski also have been key contributors to a team that wants to send its seniors out on top.
Lately, the bats have really come alive. The Ragdolls have exploded for 14-3 and 25-0 wins over Cheltenham and Bishop McDevitt.
ldquo;We’ve been pretty consistent, and while we’re not firing on all cylinders just yet, I’ve been pleased with our work ethic,” Hafele said. “We’ve got that nice balance I talked about before the season, and we’re getting to where we need to be. What I’ve really liked is how the sophomores have pushed the seniors to keep playing hard. Sometimes there can be some complacency with seniors, but not with this group.”
Still, Hafele dismissed the notion that the Ragdolls are focused solely on the Bambies because of the unhappy end to the last two seasons.
“Look, there’s not an easy game on our schedule,” Hafele said. “We still have tough games against Conwell-Egan, Archbishop Wood, Cardinal O’Hara… . Maybe the girls put more emphasis on that than I do, but as a coach, I’m just more focused on us playing well in every game and not just getting all pumped up for one opponent. We’ve got to get up for all of them.”
As much as Wolf wants another postseason shot at the Bambies, she agreed with her coach’s statement.
“The way I look at it,” she said, “is that if we lose any of these upcoming games then we won’t get to see Hubert again. In the back of our minds, it’s always there, especially for the seniors, but we also understand that if we don’t concentrate on the next game in front of us, then we won’t get to see them in the playoffs again, and we definitely want to.”
As usual, if the teams meet again, slaying the Bambies in May will not be an easy task for the Ragdolls. St. Hubert has lost just one league game thus far — the 2-1 nail-biter to Ryan earlier this season. But no matter how things turn out, Ryan’s senior co-captains are enjoying every moment they have left.
ldquo;Even if we lose, we have such a strong bond that we know, after our anger and sadness subside, that we’ll be laughing in the end,” Forward said. “That’s just how close we are. We love each other to the point that no matter what happens, we’re always smiling when we’re around each other.”
“We know we’ll always have the memories,” she said. “And as our careers have progressed, we’ve seen the alumni come back to support us, so even when we’re done here, that doesn’t mean we’re done with Ryan softball. We know we’ll always be part of it.” ••EndFragment