Northeast Times

Ryan seniors savoring one last championship run

“It's our last year, so we're not tak­ing any short­cuts. We're treat­ing every prac­tice and game like it's our last one.” — Arch­bish­op Ry­an soft­ball co-cap­tain Megan Wolf on the team's seni­ors.

Arch­bish­op Ry­an seni­or Heath­er For­ward up at bat dur­ing a match against the ladies of Chel­ten­ham High School on Sat­urday, April 21. The Ry­an Raid­ers beat the Chel­ten­ham Pan­thers 14 - 3. (Photo / Greg Bez­anis)

Start­Frag­ment

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.”

Wolf con­curred.

“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

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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