Last Tuesday, the Owen Warlassies softball team dropped a lopsided league affair to an undefeated Madison Patriots team at home. It was a continuation of a slow start for a squad that was heavily depleted by graduation after going 13-7 overall and 10-5 in the conference last year, but was 0-4 to start 2019.
Second-year head coach Angela Louis is working with a young team to get them critical game experience this year, while she also works on plans to build a long-term approach for high school softball in the Valley that will take some of the peaks and valleys off the team’s annual performance.
“We’re starting from the ground up this year. I’ve heard that I have a group coming in, eighth graders next year, about seven or eight. So that should help a whole bunch,” Louis said. “My vision for this program is to start a feeder program. I know some of the girls play travel ball but they’re not playing at the level of travel ball they need to, so I’m hoping to get that going.”
Louis has an extensive coaching background and prior to arriving at Owen, coached in Texas and Louisiana – two hotbeds for the sport – as well as Virginia. “When I was in Texas, I had four high school teams: one varsity, one JV, and two freshmen. My freshmen A and B teams had 9-10 players on a team,” said Louis.
While that number of players isn’t in the near offing, the coach does hope to develop travel teams for younger players at the eight, ten, 12, 14, and 16 and-under levels. Ideally, players will build a team bond, and skills, before they arrive at Owen. “You’ll grow up playing with those same girls all the way through, and then you’ll get what you just saw with Madison,” said Louis, in reference to a Patriots’ team that is 5-0 this year and went 21-1 in 2018.
In the near-term, one of the younger leaders for the young Owen team this year is sophomore Madison Austin, who plays both shortstop and third base. Sophomore Hannah Fortson, who also plays basketball for Owen, will see time in the infield, as she did last Tuesday.
The team's two seniors, Hunter Mundy and Destiny Karber, bring the most experience to the diamond.
The Warlassies had another key member, junior Kaitlyn Lambert, suffer a torn ACL at the end of her basketball season, which was a big setback for the squad.
“She was going to be my starting first baseman, actually everywhere; she’s a pretty awesome athlete,” Louis. “So, we have a lot of freshman and some are playing in spots they haven’t played before.”
The current roster is 13 girls, and the coach’s plan to grow youth programs will help build a junior varsity team That should in turn mitigate the impact of graduating seniors, as younger players with more game experience step into fill roles at the varsity level.
Owen’s primary starter this year will be freshman Emily Stone. Coming in to relieve her last Tuesday was another freshman, Frances Holladay.
Sophomore Addison Hamilton is typically behind the plate for Owen and will also be called on to pitch this year. Should the team get to a fourth starter, they’ll look to freshman Chloe Little, who is “a pitcher in training,” per Louis.
Louis is joined this year by assistant coach Pete Ledford, whose daughter – Caitlyn Ledford – was a key contributor last year but has since graduated.
“We’re on the same page with a lot of things, and we have a lot of the same philosophy about these girls,” said Louis. “We want them have a good time while they’re learning and not be too stressed.”
“We want to show sportsmanship, be fundamentally sound, have a short game, put pressure on the defense and play with integrity,” said Louis.
That philosophy, in keeping with Louis’s plans to develop the younger ranks of Owen softball, bodes well for the Warlassies’ future, even as they battle uphill in 2019.
The Warlassies’ next home game is schedule for 4 p.m. on Friday, March 29, against Polk.