WALLA WALLA — After finishing one win away from reaching the state tournament last season, the Walla Walla High School softball team is eager to respond.
Last year’s finish snapped a streak of four straight trips to state.
The Blue Devils did claim the district championship with an 18-6 record, but fell to Richland at regionals.
This time around, head coach Kate Keyes is looking to her three senior captains — Ellie Rassbach, Jacie McDaniels and Maddy Aichele — to lead this team back to the postseason.
“It’s going to take our senior leadership really stepping up and bringing in those underclassmen on board with our postseason goals and believing in themselves and to compete at that higher level,” Keyes said. “If we do that and work on the fundamentals every day, then we’re going to be in a good place.”
Rassbach, a pitcher and first baseman, will likely headline the Blue Devil pitching staff, with sophomore Brandi Schoessler also throwing some innings.
“We don’t really know what it’s going to look like,” Keyes said of the pitching staff. “(Rassbach) is our returning varsity pitcher.
“(Schoessler) pitched well last year,” she added. “We’re expecting big things from her as well.”
McDaniels, a four-year varsity player, will get some time behind the dish and in the outfield this season. Aichele will also get some run in the outfield, as well as at third base.
Keyes said her talented trio of seniors bring critical game experience and leadership, which will be integral to Wa-Hi’s success this season.
“We have a handful of girls who have experience playing at that high level of competition,” Keyes said. “That’s exciting for us. Then, we’ve got some young bodies out here trying to fill some big shoes and play at the next level.”
Along with the seniors, the Blue Devils’ junior class — Jordy Storm, Kate Ferenz and Lauren Likes — will be tasked with passing on their varsity experience to the team’s newcomers.
Storm, a second baseman, Ferenz, at first, and Likes, who will split time with Aichele at third, comprise most of the Blue Devil infield.
Keyes said Wa-Hi’s starting lineup is still a work in progress, but should be clearer after the Blue Devils finish preseason play on April 4.
“We’re just trying to solidify some positions and make sure we are prepared to fill those spots,” she said.
Sophomores Whitney Enriquez and Schoessler joined the varsity team during its postseason run last season and will be counted on again this year.
The Blue Devils welcome newcomers Maddie Fortney and Lexi Leighty to bolster its outfield, and sophomore Sadie Tonn will likely see some time at catcher. The three new faces spent time on at the junior varsity level last year, which was crucial for their development, Keyes said.
“We try to all be on board with what we’re coaching and teaching,” she said. “We also rely on our senior leadership to raise the level of competition on this field to make sure the kids are striving to get better every day.”
Keyes, who enters her second season as head coach, said her first year was a positive one.
“It was a really poisitive experience all the way around,” she said. “My assistant coach and I were well supported in the transition. People were on board and excited for us.”
The Blue Devils open the season with a jamboree at Hanford High School on Saturday. The Blue Devils square off with both Hanford and Pasco at the jamboree.
Keyes said Wa-Hi’s Mid-Columbia Conference foes all pose challenges, but one team sticks out.
“Richland is usually our biggest competition and someone we prepare for from the first day of practice,” she said.
If the Blue Devils need any added motivation, it was the Bombers who ended Wa-Hi’s season last year.
“Every year our goal is to be successful in postseason play,” Keyes said. “We want to win districts and win at regionals. That’s our goal every year.”