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Softball

Deans guiding Centennial's success

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RYAN M.L. YOUNG/THISWEEKSPORTS
Coach Malik Dean has led the Centennial softball team to an 8-3 start with the help of his daughters Alyah (center), a senior shortstop, and Alyssa, a sophomore center fielder.
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Centennial High School softball coach Malik Dean said his daughters, senior shortstop Alyah Dean and sophomore center fielder Alyssa Dean, have proven to be two of his team's best defensive players.

"Alyah is probably our best defender," Malik said. "She doesn't make errors, and she has good range. She's quick enough to get everything that goes up the middle. She instinctively knows where the ball is going and she doesn't hesitate to go get it.

"Alyssa is our best defensive outfielder. She anticipates where the ball is going from the crack of the bat and she's very fast. She catches anything that's hit her way."

Outside of their steady defensive play, however, Malik said his daughters have very few similarities. They also have found different ways to contribute to the Stars' success.

Centennial defeated Northland 11-1 in five innings April 25 to improve to 8-3 overall and 8-0 in the City League-North Division before playing Beechcroft on April 28.

"When it comes to their personalities, they are completely opposite from one another," Malik said. "Alyah is very serious, organized and hard-working. She has some natural abilities, but she has to put in more work to shine.

"Alyssa's a free spirit who is kind of flaky and flies by the seat of her pants. She has a lot of natural athletic talent, and she does things her own way and is still successful."

In her first season of high school softball, Alyssa was batting .409 with a .690 on-base percentage, 13 RBI, 10 runs and a team-high eight stolen bases through 10 games.

"Our hitting coach won't even work with Alyssa because everything she does is through her natural abilities and she's producing at the plate," Malik said. "Her hands are everywhere and her feet are moving all over the place. She swings at bad pitches, but hits the ball no matter where it's placed."

Alyah had struggled at the plate through 10 games, batting .200 with four RBI and six runs. But she had a team-high nine walks and a .533 on-base percentage.

Alyah said she's still trying to regain her confidence after missing nearly all of her junior season while recovering from a partially torn PCL and torn meniscus in her left knee and a fractured left tibia.

She suffered the injuries colliding with Millersport's first baseman in the top of the first inning in the season opener last year. As a sophomore, she had a team-best .441 batting average with 21 RBI and 22 runs and was first-team all-league.

"I had to have surgery where they shaved down my tibia bone and chopped out part of my meniscus, but they weren't able to fix my PCL because my ACL is in front of it and it isn't torn," Alyah said. "My timing has been off since I've returned and I've been in a big slump, so I'm working on getting my rhythm back."

Alyah hasn't put up the offensive numbers she was hoping for, but the team captain is "a strong leader and she can be like another coach in practice," Malik said. "She's out there telling people where to go and how to do things. She's very disciplined and she's always doing something to make herself and her teammates better."

While Alyssa is known for having a relentless work ethic in basketball, she admits she sometimes loses focus during softball practices.

"Sometimes it gets boring being in the outfield during practice and it's hard to keep my focus," she said. "When we do warm-ups, my coaches will hit 80 balls to the infielders and about four to the outfield, so sometimes I'll kind of doze off."

Malik said he doesn't show his daughters any favoritism and isn't afraid to chastise them, such as on April 23 when Alyssa was late boarding the bus before a 14-0 victory at Brookhaven.

"I like having my dad as my coach, but it can also be stressful because he's harder on me than most of the other players because we have a deeper relationship," Alyssa said. "I'm a relaxed, goofy person and I make him mad sometimes. He was real hard on me (April 23) and it got emotional.

"But it's also nice that my dad's a coach because I can work with him anytime I want. He's always there for us."

Not surprisingly, the sisters have different goals for the future.

Alyah has a 3.8 cumulative GPA and has been accepted by several colleges around the state.

"This is probably going to be my last season as a softball player, so I'd like to hit my first over-the-fence home run and help my team win the City championship, just like we did my freshman year," she said. "I was planning on playing softball in college, but after my injury I think I'm going to focus on my education and getting a good degree. Math is my strongest subject, so accounting and business are careers I'm interested in. I want to coach softball this summer and I may do more coaching as I get older."

Alyssa, who has a 3.5 cumulative GPA, plays for an elite AAU basketball team in Cleveland each weekend of the offseason. During her sophomore season, she averaged 17.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.5 steals to help the Stars win their first Division II district title and earn ThisWeek Super 12 honors.

"My main goal is to play basketball in college," Alyssa said. "After that, I want to do something that involves sports, either broadcasting or sports medicine."

In the meantime, the Deans are enjoying their only season of being a part of the same team.

"I get so much into my coaching mode that I need to remind myself that this is a special time that I get to spend with my daughters doing something we all love to do," Malik said.

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