WINONA LAKE – The 2017 season for Grace’s softball team initiates a new era for the Lady Lancers under first-year coach Nora Reece.
The Lady Lancers face a stiff slate of opponents this spring, but Reece believes that Grace is ready for the test after putting the squad through a challenging offseason.
Grace is coming off its second-straight 30-win season (30-29 in 2016) and has just one senior on its 2017 squad. Grace also won 20 games in the Crossroads League for the first time in program history last year, leading to an optimistic outlook for the upcoming campaign.
But Reece is making sure that Grace is not content to rest on its laurels. Reece has stretched the women in preseason workouts, prompting the team become familiar with new positions and situations. As a result, Reece hopes the Lady Lancers will be prepared for any game scenario.
“I’ve tried to put the girls in uncomfortable situations in practices to stretch them. We want the practices to be so tough that games become the fun part,” Reece said. “Whatever work you put in, you’ll get out. This team has invested a lot already, and I want them to reap the benefits of what they’ve put in. Success doesn’t happen by coincidence. You don’t just win ball games by coasting through your work.”
Reece has also helped train the Lady Lancers on the mental side of the game. Reece emphasizes what she calls the “pre-think process.” She wants the women to envision each scenario before it happens on the field, allowing for quicker, reactive play. “It’s not always about working harder; it’s about working smarter,” she added. “It doesn’t matter how fast or strong you are if you’re not thinking through the game.”
Clarissa Knight is Grace’s lone senior and is one of the most decorated players in program history. She batted .459 last year which was the second-best single season ever for Grace. The All-American shortstop also sits on the cusp of breaking the all-time hits record, needing 36 more hits to break the program record.
She is joined by fellow All-American Chandler Elliott, who excelled both at the plate (.385 average, 72 hits) and on the mound (4.56 ERA, 139.2 innings) last year. Both Elliott and Knight have exemplified servant leadership so far this year, leading by example and by their coachability according to Reece.
Joining Elliott on the mound this year is the sophomore duo of Hannah England and Elaina McClellan. England had a standout year in 2016 with a 2.85 ERA in 31 appearances.
Freshman Erin Lawhon and junior Hannah Herbster will aim to give Grace depth on the team’s pitching staff. Herbster also proved to be a menace on the basepaths last year, swiping 26 steals in 27 attempts to rank in the top 30 of the nation.
Offensively, Kyleigh Garner hit .367 in league play during her freshman season in 2016 and proved to have a reliable glove in the infield. Abby Mozingo (.320 average) and Ashley Kleinbub (.324, 29 RBIs) bring two more strong bats to Grace’s lineup.
Kati Gregory drove in 22 runs and had six extra-base hits as Grace’s primary catcher, and Reece believes Gregory is ready for a breakout season on offense after gaining comfort at the plate.
Emily Bobb, Michaela Lee, Mariah Roman and Paige Hlutke have also impressed in preseason workouts and are likely to play an integral role in their sophomore seasons.
Reece’s freshmen include Morgan Tapscott, Lawhon, Hannah Harless, Olivia Scarbrough and Hannah Upchurch. All five bring versatility and athleticism to Grace’s team and have a shot to break into the lineup this spring.
For Grace to realize its potential this year, Reece believes the team needs to remain together and equally invested through the ups and downs of a season.
“We’ve got some studs on this team, but we need everyone floating in the same stream to be successful,” Reece said. “I’m really excited to see this group have fun and enjoy the game that God gave them a talent for. If we play this game as an act of worship to God, then the rest will take care of itself. I’m ready to roll, and I know the girls are, too.”
The Lady Lancers start the season this weekend at the Martin Methodist (Tenn.) Meltdown.