When Sarah Shellenbarger took over the Westland softball program before the 2017 season, she said a pair of freshmen would help lead the Cougars into a new era.

Sydnee Avila and Bailey Garner earned playing time that first season, with both developing into starters as sophomores.

Both wanted to deliver a strong senior season, but those plans were dashed when the OHSAA canceled spring sports because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"They're great kids," Shellenbarger said. "That's what makes this whole situation so sad. My heart breaks for them because they're such good kids. They deserve to have a fun senior season, as do all the girls. You always want your senior season to be memorable and this will be memorable (for different reasons)."

Avila and Garner helped the Cougars progress over the past two seasons. Westland finished 7-15 last season after going 4-16 in 2018 and 1-16 in 2017.

"Bailey and I were there since our coach's first year," Avila said. "I was ecstatic for my senior year and I know Bailey was, too. The opportunity to grow with somebody over the years was awesome. ... Coach Shellenbarger can be tough on you when she knows you can do well. She was tough on all of us. She always wanted the best out of all of us."

Avila was expected to split time between third base and left field, with Garner playing center field.

Last season, Avila hit .388 with 12 runs scored, a team-high seven doubles, a home run and eight RBI. As a sophomore, she batted .340 and led the team with eight RBI.

She will attend Columbus State and then plans on enrolling at Wright State.

"It was heartbreaking not having a senior season," Avila said. "It was a sport that I played since I was 4. I started out with T-ball. I was looking forward to playing high school ball. I've loved my coaches, my teammates, the friends that I've made. It's a bummer to not get to experience the last year. ... I don't get to wear my home jersey on my home field one last time."

Garner, who will attend Bowling Green, also played soccer and basketball at Westland, but softball is her favorite. She is considering playing softball at the club level in college.

"I've been playing softball for 13 years, so it's been a big part of my life and I've developed a huge love for softball," she said.

Shellenbarger said Avila and Garner emerged as leaders last season and were expected to hold similar roles this spring.

"These two girls are very special," Shellenbarger said. "One, they're good athletes, but they're also fantastic student-athletes. They show up in the classroom. They're just overall good kids. I'm sure their parents are proud. They came in willing to learn. They're very coachable. They showed great leadership. They're great role models for the underclassmen. They set the bar high."

The Cougars' only other senior was Jessica Mendoza, who was in her first season with the program and was expected to play right field.

Shellenbarger is looking forward to next season and expects junior Kayla Miller (P/SS/2B) to be a key contributor. Last season, Miller batted .486, scored a team-high 22 runs and was honorable mention all-OCC-Central Division.

"She is a fantastic kid as well and I know she's working at home on her own," Shellenbarger said.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

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