The Bishop Carroll softball program has reached a territory that is exciting and terrifying at the same time for Angie Dal Pozzo.
As a coach, there isn’t anything better when your program expects to be playing for a state championship, which Carroll has four of the last five years.
But when expectations soar, so does the pressure. That’s just the concession when anything less than a title is a disappointment.
“You expect a lot, you get a lot,” Dal Pozzo said. “If you don’t go into every season anticipating the highest levels for your kids, then I think you’re doing them a disservice.”
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Last season Carroll returned to the summit, winning its ninth state championship and first since 2004. The Eagles were a machine led by six seniors all playing collegiately this season.
The task of repeating will require a new identity of be forged. Carroll has one senior and must transition six young, but talented, players into its lineup, which starts Tuesday in a doubleheader against Maize at Two Rivers Youth Club.
“We will try to build off of last year,” junior pitcher Jessi Haffner said. “We weren’t perfect last year. This year we want to build our own team that will be different but still be just as good.”
It all begins with Haffner and Katelynn Smith on the bump. They’re effective in different ways. Haffner has the confidence to think she can blow her fastball by anyone, while Smith frustrates hitters with her variety of junk pitches.
After seeing one for an entire game, opponents often struggle with the other in game two.
“You can definitely see the change in their attitude,” Haffner said. “They don’t really know what to do at first. It takes awhile for them to adjust to.”
Buying time for their youth to become acclimated to varsity will be crucial for the Eagles, at least early on. Carroll returns a solid nucleus in shortstop Clara Savage, third baseman Kacey Jansen, outfielder Hunter Hogan, first baseman Mary Jo Peter and designated hitter Taylor Schawe.
“The pitchers are the leaders on the field,” Dal Pozzo said. “They set the tone for the game. If they go out there and play with confidence, then the rest of the team will follow behind them.”
But Carroll won’t be able to reach its goal down the same path it took last season. This year is about finding a new one.
“It’s going to have to be different from last year,” Savage said. “This year we are going to have to come together and find a new way, which I think will be just as successful.”