WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla Community College’s softball team graduated the lion’s share of its offensive production from last season, but don’t expect coach Mike Staudenmaier to settle for a rebuilding year.
Along with his responsibilities as the softball coach, Staudenmaier is also WWCC’s head trainer, the supervisor of the college’s athletic facilities, head equipment manager, and an instructor at the college in sports medicine.
He’ll have a busy weekend, as he will be coaching, training or working at three seperate tournaments.
He was at the TRAC in Pasco Thursday, helping prepare the playfields there for a 116-team soccer tournament.
He will also be working at the men’s and women’s NWAACC Championship basketball games at the Toyota Center in Kennewick beginning Saturday.
And, of course, he will be coaching the Warrior softball team and helping run the softball tournament.
The Warriors were runners-up for the NWAACC East Region title, but finished disappointingly in the NWAACC tournament last spring.
Still, their 37-8 record was their best since going 39-8 in 2000.
They return just five sophomores from that squad, however, and only three played significant innings in 2012, meaning vast changes for the Warrior lineup.
Staudenmaier said the Warriors won’t use the team’s youth to excuse poor play.
“I try to get (my players) to think you need to be ready to compete for the East Region championship this season and the NWAACC championship in May,” Staudenmaier said. “We need to win now, it’s go-time now, you’d better be thinking like that.”
The Warriors open their season with a bang Saturday and Sunday, as WWCC is hosting the NWAACC Preseason Tournament in Richland at the Columbia Playfields, where they will face Chemeketa, Grays Harbor, Pierce and Lower Columbia.
Walla Walla opens the 16-team round-robin format tournament Saturday at 1 p.m. with Chemeketa, and Staudenmaier is excited for his team’s first games to be on the road.
“It’s being run during the NWAACC basketball tournaments, so it gives our team the chance to go and cheer on the basketball teams after games,” Staudenmaier said. “It’s a fun weekend and it gives our team some time to bond.”
Although the Warriors lost a duo of sluggers in Jill McDaniels and Katie Martell, and their two-time All-American leadoff batter and pitcher in Dara Kosanke, the cupboard isn’t completely bare.
Sophomore Brandy Knowles is set to be the team’s leading bat; she batted .482 last season while launching 10 home runs and driving in 58 runs in the 3-hole. She was a National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American last season and on the East Region first team.
“She’s one of our horses and one of our captains,” Staudenmaier said. “She’s a great kid.”
With Kosanke gone, the Warrior’s pitching roster is in flux. However, Staudenmaier said sophomore Kelsey Locke will be the team’s go-to pitcher.
Locke pitched just 15 innings last season, compiling a 4.67 ERA in limited action while spending most of her time in the outfield.
“Kelsey’s ready to go,” Staudenmaier said. “She’s really worked hard in the weight room and she’ll be the one we go to when we need a win.”
Sophomores Kate Hawk, Kelly Morton and Kaydee Tarin round out WWCC’s returning players.
Staudenmaier said his freshman class is well-balanced and features multiple players that can play more than one position.
“Number one, we try and bring in really good kids, which we did,” Staudenmaier said. “This team has blended together and they work really hard. As a coach, sometimes you think you have to go out and push players, stretch them out a little bit, but they actually go out and do extra. They have really bought in.”
Karly Hudelson, a freshman from Canyon Ridge, Wash., will take over at leadoff from Kosanke and, although she could play outfield or catch, she will likely settle in at shortstop.
“She’s pretty quick,” Staudenmaier said. “She hits from the right side and she can take the ball out of the yard. She’s a good player that is just continually getting better.”
He expects another newcomer in Marisa Gonzales to push Hudleson for time at short, but currently Gonzales is at first base while rehabbing an injury to her throwing arm.
The Warriors also bring on a trio of players from Mac-Hi who, along with Tarin, should provide WWCC some flexibility in the pitcher’s circle.
Former Pioneers Hailey Freske and Kaitlin Erm will split time in the circle, and sophomore Tarin will do most of her work as an off-speed releiver.
“With this group, if we have the chance we’re going to do something to throw somebody else off because we can do that,” Staudenmaier said of likely pitching changes. “With this group we’re going to change it up a lot.”
At the same time, though, he expects the Warriors will not be able to get by with three-to-four runs a game consistently like they did with Kosanke in the circle.
“This year we’ve got a great lineup,” Staudenmaier said. “They’re young, but they can swing the bat. But we might have to score a little bit more this year, too.”
Erika Griffith is the final player to make the jump from Mac-Hi, and the Warriors are also getting the services of Wa-Hi’s Paige Pontarolo.
Pontarolo played soccer and softball at Wa-Hi and is doing the same for the Warriors, which meant that she wasn’t able to practice with the softball team during the fall. Nevertheless, Staudenmaier was excited to have her aboard.
“I’m really excited to see her play and I think she’s excited to play,” Staudenmaier said. “She could play infield or outfield, center or start at second base. She’s a good player and right now we’ll probably have her hit in the 2-hole so Brandy (Knowles) can hit in the 3-hole.
“She just needs to get in there and use the preseason to get better and figure things out,” Staudenmaier said. “She’s going to get better.”
With so many players that can play different positions, the Warriors will have the flexibility to make up for a younger roster, Staudenmaier said.
“All of the kids on the roster pretty much know their roles,” he said, “but they also know that at any given time they could have a chance to get in there and play. They’re all good competitors and they have a really great team chemistry right now.”