Chaparral softball fields young team with state championship aspirations

Last year, the Chaparral High School softball team fell just short of the 5A state championship game, but this season the Firebirds, reloaded with new talent, aim for another state title run.

Chaparral’s Lauren Werning (left) practices at first base. (Photo courtesy of Max Kelley)

After losing 12-5 to eventual tournament winner Cienega High School in 2017, Chaparral focused on retooling an already skilled team with strong younger talent. Then, the school added two former players who volunteer their time to mentor the young girls.

So far, the strategy has paid off. Chaparral is off to a 12-5 start and seems to be improving with each game as the team heads into conference play.

“Last year we made it to semis and lost in semis, and this year (the goal) is to win state,” says sophomore Lauren Werning, who plays first base. “I definitely think this team has way more talent than last year. Our freshmen this year are producing so much, these girls are just so, so good.”

Chaparral starts a freshman at shortstop who splits time at second base and plays two sophomores on the corners at first and third bases. Head Coach Mike Stoffey says the infield is where his two new volunteer assistants have helped immensely.

Kendra Coleman, who played third base for the 2013 runner-up Chaparral softball team, and Kyleigh Ortiz, a 2017 alum who played second base, have volunteered to help mold this year’s team into a hopeful state-title contender.

“Having those two girls is invaluable to me,” Coach Stoffey said. “They played the game, not only at Chaparral but Kendra played in college, and them imparting their knowledge on these younger kids is really significant.”

With youth comes a learning curve, and also the anxiety of adjusting to high school softball. Pitcher Maggie Thurston, one of three seniors on this year’s squad, said she has experienced that anxiety.

“I think they get nervous a lot,” Thurston said of the first-year players. “So (I) try and calm their nerves, tell them to relax a lot of the time. And also just try and tell them where to go on the infield. When they make errors, tell them like, ‘it’s okay, chill.'”

Chaparral volunteer Kendra Coleman (left) speaks with members of the Chaparral softball team. (Photo courtesy of Max Kelley)

Chaparral has made a point to focus the team on communication on the field, working as a more cohesive unit while eliminating mistakes.

“I think that the infield needs to communicate and tell each other where to go,” Thurston said. “Even when it gets dead, just speak and make noise because when it gets quiet everyone seems to get more nervous and errors seem to happen more.”

Although Chaparral is still working out kinks within the young roster, the Firebirds have won their first two conference games against Notre Dame Preparatory.

Four out of Chaparral’s five losses came on the second game of a double-header or a tournament series.

“I think (that’s) a product of focus,” Coach Stoffey said. “It’s tough to come out there and go back-to-back with 100 percent effort.”

Luckily for Coach Stoffey, Chaparral’s second-half schedule includes no more double-headers, only tough matchups with Northeast Valley region opponents.

Chaparral will face last year’s runner-up Arcadia at Arcadia High School on Thursday, April 12, and again on its home field Tuesday, April 17. Arcadia has already compiled 15 wins and only two losses this season, according to maxpreps.com

Coach Stoffey said he is content with team performance but realizes more improvement will be needed to advance in postseason play.

“It’s a challenge every day. We’ve got freshman doing some stuff that is really unconventional, so I guess we haven’t had enough time to fix everything,” he said. “Our goal is to just improve every day before the state tournament starts.”

Editor’s Note: Max Kelley is a student-journalist at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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