A gritty second-year coach, Saturday night get-togethers and the leadership of two seniors might just be the recipe that the Meadowdale softball team has needed for some time.
Mavericks coach Pauline Leenstra, a 1988 Meadowdale High School graduate and a three-year softball standout at Ball State University, is using an iron fist and a BFF (best friends forever) mentality to keep the Mavericks focused and committed.
“It’s all about being focused,” said Leenstra, who replaced longtime coach Larry Culver in October 2004. “We are doing a lot to keep the girls’ minds on the team and the game. And it is really starting to work. They are committed this year, that’s something we didn’t have last year. And it really shows regardless if we win or not.”
After a forgettable season last year, the Mavericks are coming together on and off the field.
Leenstra has implemented, for the second time, Saturday night get-togethers. After spending five days a week practicing or playing games, the team is now hanging out on Saturday nights watching movies, bowling or just having dinner. The idea is for players to develop stronger bonds and better friendships.
“We tried this last season,” senior catcher Tiffanie Olds said. “But it didn’t work. A lot of the girls had different priorities. This year, it’s different. Coach Leenstra has inspired us and is holding us to a commitment that everyone on the team wants to fulfill.”
Along with the hot fudge sundaes and Austin Powers movies is a higher standard for the players.
“We have come a long way,” senior pitcher Jessie Williams said. “Coach (Leenstra) has us working hard. She expects a lot from us and we know that. She’s a fun coach, but she has a serious side, too. We all know when it’s time to practice.”
Despite the stronger team chemistry, there still remains the inexperience and youth factors that could be Meadowdale’s biggest obstacles this season.
Aside from seniors Williams and Olds, the Mavericks are made up mostly of juniors and sophomores. The team lost seven players from last year, three to graduation and four who didn’t return.
“Our biggest downfall this year is that we are so young and inexperienced,” Leenstra said. “But with Jessie and Tiffanie, we have great leaders who can help the younger girls and lead the team. I can already see us improving. They improve every inning.”
Olds and Williams have been playing together since sixth grade. More impressively, Olds has been on the opposite end of a Williams’ fastball, change-up and everything in between in every game Williams has pitched during her high school career. Their remarkable streak, however, ends this season. Next year, Williams will be playing softball for the Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne, Indiana on a partial scholarship.
“We have gotten to know each other very well,” said Olds, who plans on attending either Edmonds or Everett Community College. “So well that she doesn’t shake off any of the pitches I call. That says a lot.”
The Mavericks also return junior infielder Tiffany Griffiths, centerfielder Kelly Requa and first baseman Tory Bjodstrup. The team’s biggest surprise is the addition of freshman outfielder Kristi Nguyen.
“Kristi is one of those nice surprises that coaches sometimes get,” Leenstra said. “She has incredible speed. We are very excited about her future with our team.”
The Mavericks continue Western Conference South Division play on April 3, when they host Mariner. Meadowdale then plays at Lynnwood on April 4, marking the team’s third of four back-to-back games this season.