Jackson softball has clean slate, ready to roll

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Jackson pitcher Julia Gossett delivers a pich against Medina in the Bears home opener Friday, April 4, 2021.

JACKSON TWP. Two years away from the field as a team, with a new head coach and facing all of the normal challenges that come with a new softball season, it's fair to say it's been a busy and exciting spring for the Jackson Polar Bears.

One year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of the 2020 season and sent the Class of 2020 off without a chance to play its final season together, the Polar Bears have gotten back on the diamond under the direction of new head coach Laura Cheyney, who not only has had to learn a new roster, but do it all in the new normal that has become life during the pandemic.

As she's gotten rolling, she has found herself working with a clean slate in more ways than one.

"We started this season on a completely clean slate after being away for so long and with a mostly new coaching staff," Cheyney said. "Going into this season we kept telling the girls that all positions were wide open for anyone who works hard and earns it."

One staple whose spot has remained in its previous hands was center field, where senior Amanda Oeder has made her home since her freshman season. Having a speedy, capable center piece in the outfield has set a solid tone defensively in the early going.

On the mound, senior Sami Secrest and sophomore Julia Gossett are the arms counted on to lead the way.

As they've learned their new coaching staff and made a welcome return to varsity softball nearly two years after their most recent season ended, the players have had to deal with myriad challenges – both expected and unexpected.

Sydney Wake of Jackson rounds second on the way to scoring in the fourth inning against Medina in the Bears home opener Friday, April 2, 2021.

"Our biggest area of strength is the girls’ ability to adapt to whatever is thrown their way while always working hard," Cheyney said. "This is one of the hardest-working and focused group of girls I have ever been fortunate enough to coach."

The continual improvement mantra that's a staple for many coaches has taken on added importance this season. "No plays off" has been the phrase to go by and building that competitive mindset into the program has been central to all of Jackson's efforts.

Playing with travel ball, fall ball or winter league teams has helped many of the players on the varsity roster to stay in softball form despite not having a varsity season in 2020. However, not playing with one another in nearly two years has posed some challenges simply in terms of being comfortable playing with one another and knowing teammates' tendencies on the diamond.

For players who would have been on the varsity roster last season but didn't get to play there is excitement to be back, but according to Cheney, very little looking in the rearview mirror at the missed campaign.

"The girls are just excited to be able to compete as a team again. I was very proud of them during our first game of the season. From the moment they stepped on the dirt it was game on, and they did not stop working until the final pitch of the game," Cheyney said. "Spending a whole season apart is tough, but every spring sport across the board is in the same boat. We really don’t spend time dwelling on what was lost. We are just excited to be able to play this year."

Maintaining the mental and physical toughness that has defined the early weeks of the season will be essential as the year unfolds, but for a team that's extremely appreciative of its opportunity to finally play again, each day has proven to be a blessing regardless of the difficulties the season presents.