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Friday, April 3, 2020

Western softball gets ready to play hardball

Western’s 2019 softball team looking set for the start of the season.        // Photo courtesy of WWU Athletics

By Ashlynn Johnson

A Preseason Coaches Poll has Western’s softball team projected to finish fourth-place in conference play this season, a prediction that reflects increased confidence in the direction of the program under the leadership of new head coach Sheryl Gilmore. The return of star senior players who sat out last season has only added to the buzz.

During her time at Edmonds Community College, Gilmore had a program record of 42-8. By joining the program, the hope is that Gilmore will improve on Western’s 2018 season record of  15-32. According to Gilmore, the talent is there to make that happen.

When speaking of the seniors, Gilmore could not contain her praise.

“They’re out there and they’re intrinsically motivated. When you see as a young player some of the greatest players to ever come through the program working that hard, I think it has to motivate you,” Gilmore said. “They’re probably going to start anyways, but to have them be out there every moment, that they get to find a way to get better, has been really neat to see. And that gets me excited.”

Senior pitcher and third baseman Shearyna Labasan and shortstop Cylie Richards will return for their final season. Joining them are first baseman Emily Benson and pitcher/infielder Makinlee Sellevold, who both chose to not play last season.

Sellevold said she’s returning this season healthy and enthusiastic to be coached by Gilmore. As one of the best two-way players in the program’s history, she is constantly looking for ways to stay in the game.

“I feel like when I’m out of one part, I’m not as connected to the game. Whatever I can do to help my team, I’m there. Whether that be hitting, pitching or playing the infield,” Sellevold said.

Gilmore explained how for softball players, this college experience is the last chance for student-athletes to play the game that they love.

“I think the unique thing about [softball] is that in men’s basketball, football, baseball you can go pro, so that can turn into a job,” Gilmore said. “You’re really here to get your education, so we might as well make that fun.”

Freshman Rachel Christensen joined her sister Rylie Wales on the team for that very reason.

“I would come up to visit her at Western and would watch her play,” Christensen explained. “I don’t know if coaching is in my future, but if this is my last stint, I want to be the best.”

Christensen also credited fellow freshman catcher Sam Mutolo with pushing her to become better.

“She has a really strong arm, so she throws down really great, so I try to ask her for tips on that. I’m really good at blocking, so I give her tips on her blocking. We’re good friends,”  Christensen said.

The biggest challenge Gilmore expressed was getting the players to put their egos aside and to always stay ready. With only nine spots on the field and a 21-player roster, for some players game time will be limited. Putting the team first was a common mantra throughout practice.

Labasan tried to embody that message, doing her best during practice to be a good mentor to younger players. She could be seen assisting teammates with their bunting. The way they not only listened, but eagerly expected her feedback made their respect for her clear. If she wasn’t leading drills, she was running around the field to meet all who wanted her attention, whether it was a question on how to improve, to share a joke or bolster team morale.

In two weeks, the team will head to Las Vegas to battle California State University Dominguez Hills for the 10th-annual Desert Stinger on Feb. 1. It will be the first game of the season for players, and the first game of coach Gilmore’s Western coaching career.

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