Maize South softball coach Teri Larson entered the season searching for leadership. Four key leaders graduated in 2013, and there were holes.
Consider those holes filled.
Seniors Kelsey Sterneker, a 2013 All-Metro selection, Annika Bray, Taylor Mannis and Macy Allred have all started since their freshmen seasons. Senior Emily Keller is a three-year starter.
Larson knows it is a luxury to have so many veteran players, and she’s taking full advantage.
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“I pair Taylor up with my outfielders and she’s doing a great job talking to them,” Larson said. “She and Macy work with my slappers. I can’t be everywhere, so my assistant and I, we break them up and let them help. Of all my seniors, Annika’s the most vocal. She’s the one who takes charge when we’re in a group.
“… I kind of forced the issue with them leading, but they like it. If they hated it, I’d back off. But they’re doing great.”
Those five players also fill key spots in the field for Maize South, which opened its season on April 8 with a sweep of Andover.
Sterneker sets the tone on the mound and has outstanding control and movement. While helping lead Maize South to third place in Class 5A in 2013, she had a 2.01 ERA, 170 strikeouts and 17 walks.
Maize South also has other pitchers, including sophomore Jordyn Sage and freshmen Kerrigan Dixon and Tia Kohl.
Bray moved from second to short.
“She’s been a great second baseman, but I felt like it was best for the team to move her to short,” Larson said. “She’s played both, so it won’t hurt her.”
Mannis, a speedy center fielder, is a stabilizing force in the outfield because Larson plans to use a sophomore and two freshmen in the outfield at times. Keller, a first baseman, will spend time in the outfield, as well, when Sterneker isn’t pitching.
“Emily loves first base, and she’s my best first baseman, but she’ll do what’s best for the team,” Larson said. “That’s the mentality of all the kids.”
Derby’s tough start — Derby coach Christy Weve isn’t one to yearn for an easy schedule. She knows a tough set of opponents will make her team better.
But facing perennial powers Goddard, Northwest and Maize in the Panthers’ first three doubleheaders? Um, that’s rough.
“You can look at it as, we’re getting three of the top teams in the state right away,” said Weve, whose team is 0-6.
Derby lost six starters, and it took some time to figure out what players would play where.
“We didn’t focus on opening the season with Goddard, we focused on figuring our stuff out,” Weve said. “We have approached it so far as not necessarily who we’re playing in the beginning. We knew going in when we saw our schedule that it’s going to be tough. We’ll have to see what we’re made of from the very beginning.”
A 3-1 loss to Goddard, one of Class 5A’s top teams, was a positive. The run-rule loss in the second game of the doubleheader? Not so much.
Shortsop Tori Miller, Derby’s only senior who has played varsity all four seasons, has been a rock. She had three stolen bases in the first four games.
“She’s done a really good job of being a leader and being a positive influence on the girls,” Weve said. “Sometimes you can get seniors that are not positive, but on and off the field, she’s tried to bring the team together. She’s vocal on the field. I’m hard on her, but she’s tougher on herself.”
Miller, who is hitting over .300, has signed to play volleyball at Kansas, but Weve is certain that she could have played college softball, too.