Players on the Groveport Madison High School softball team will be thinking of assistant coach Kristine Ensign each time they take the field for the remainder of the season.
Ensign, 44, died April 21 after battling cancer for more than three years. She had been part of the softball team's coaching staff and an accounting teacher at the school since 2000. She also had served as an assistant coach with the girls volleyball team.
"We're going to try to stay focused and put forth our best effort for her," softball coach Steve Cunningham said. "We're not going to go out there and say we have to win every game for her. She was proud of any Cruiser who tried their hardest and gave their best effort. That's all we want to do right now is continue to play hard for her."
Ensign was diagnosed with angiocarcinoma in February 2010. Because of the rarity of her cancer, she traveled regularly to Houston for treatment.
Faculty members, student-athletes and members of the student council rallied to support Ensign by organizing a fundraising walk dubbed "Mission Ensign" to help cover her medical bills and travel expenses.
"We've got a lot of really tough games ahead of us, and I'm sure Kristine would want us to focus on those," said Cunningham, a longtime friend of Ensign. "Nobody has truly established themselves as the team to beat in the OCC-Ohio Division."
The Cruisers were 10-6 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Lancaster on April 29.
"We lost two games in the Lancaster Showcase (on April 20) when we didn't have our full roster because of prom," Cunningham said. "We also lost our first two games of the season. Since then, we've played very well for the most part.
"I think we're ahead of where we were last season on offense, but we still need to work on things defensively to get to where we feel we should be."
Through 15 games, first baseman Katie Fellure had a team-high .590 batting average, followed by third baseman Amy Castle (.510) and center fielder and leadoff hitter Tisha Lane (.404).
"Those three have been very good and consistent," Cunningham said. "Tisha is getting on base a lot with her speed and forcing defenses to make some errors. (Pitcher) Emilee Downing, (left fielder) Destiny Bishop, Castle and Fellure all have between 15 and 20 RBI and (shortstop) Brittany Kern has 12 RBI in the seventh hole."
Downing was 10-4 with a 2.71 ERA through 15 games.
"She's only a sophomore and she's had one bad game," Cunningham said, referring to a 16-7 loss to Grove City on April 10. "She's already one of the top pitchers in the area and she still has a long way to go. What we have to do from here to stay in the (league) race is to limit big innings."
Relays leading way for girls track team
The boys and girls track and field teams both finished second in a tri-meet April 23 at Hamilton Township.
The girls team won six events and scored 49 points to finish behind Hamilton Township (53) and ahead of Grove City (47).
Finishing first for the Cruisers were Atyauna Jones in the 200 meters (26.89 seconds), Trenika Bruner in the 400 (1:04.66), Leah Monroe in the 800 (2:41.22), the 400 relay (51.27), the 800 relay (1:47.75) and the 1,600 relay (4:27.72).
"The girls team is extremely talented with young athletes," assistant coach Aaron Fenzel said. "There is a lot of potential. I expect at least one of our relays to get to the regional finals or even state.
"We're also getting some nice surprises, like freshman Leah Monroe. That was her first time running the 800 and she was nervous and didn't even want to do it. She has endurance ability and looked like a natural out there."
The girls team finished 10th (25) in the 10-team Fulton Relays on April 26 at Lancaster as Upper Arlington (85.5) won.
The 800 relay of Jasmine Lisath, Jaliyah Atkinson, Eva Jerkins and Champagne Moss placed second (1:47.62). The 400 relay of Moss, Atkinson, Sharde Bumper and Jerkins placed third (50.62) and the sprint medley relay of Bumper, Jerkins, Moss and Jones finished fourth (1:58.47).
"Atkinson is going to be really, really good," Fenzel said. "She's extremely coachable and a good fit in our relays. Our (400 relay) has the third-best time in the area and the (800 relay) has the sixth-best time and we know we can drop more time."
The boys team won seven events and scored 62 points in the tri-meet against Hamilton Township (64) and Grove City (23). Finishing first were Da'Marious Napier in the high jump (6 feet, 2 inches), Emmanuel Salako in the long jump (18-11), Eddie Wilson in the 400 (52.15), Mecca Swain in the 200 (22.78), Ryan Robinette in the 300 hurdles (42.24), the 400 relay (44.47) and the 800 relay (1:32.43).
The Cruisers finished sixth (47) of 11 teams in the Fulton Relays behind champion Pickerington North (89). Wilson finished first in the high jump (6-6) and Chris Tabor won the long jump (20-1). Placing third were Napier in the high jump (6-4) and the 800 relay of Wilson, Khalil Davis, Robinette and Swain (1:31.68).