Westland Roundup: Hustle, passion among themes for Cougars softball team
As the Westland softball team prepared for the season, senior pitcher Kayla Miller couldn’t help but notice the passion that was being displayed by the Cougars.
After missing last season because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, energy and enthusiasm have been evident for Westland.
“At every practice we always do a word of the day. Usually it’s hustle,” Miller said. “It’s all centered around everyone wanting the passion to play the sport. Like coach (Sarah Shellenbarger) always says, hustle but you have to have fun. If you’re not having fun and you don’t want to be here, there’s no point. You have to want to have the passion for the sport.”
The Cougars opened March 29 with a five-inning 11-0 loss to visiting Upper Arlington.
“Upper Arlington is a very solid team,” said Shellenbarger, who is in her fourth season. “There will be better days ahead. The girls are working hard. ... It’s great to be back on the field again.”
Although there was no 2020 season, Westland returns several players with varsity experience led by the battery combination of Miller in the circle and senior Melina Morley at catcher.
As a sophomore, Miller batted .486 and scored a team-high 22 runs. She also had three doubles, a triple and nine RBI and was named honorable mention all-OCC-Central Division.
“I’m so excited,” Miller said. “I can’t wait to see what the girls can do. I love to have these girls look up to me and want to ask questions because I remember being the little freshman asking the seniors that I looked up to and I remember how much I valued their opinions.”
Morley batted .359 with nine runs, five doubles, a team-high two home runs and six RBI in 2019.
Senior Haley Starkey played first base as a sophomore, but has moved to shortstop and should provide the Cougars with solid defense up the middle, according to Shellenbarger. In 2019, Starkey batted .414 with 13 runs, four doubles, a team-high three triples and nine RBI.
Senior Alyssa Mullet has returned and will play center field. Also back are senior first baseman Fernanda Rojas and senior right fielder Grace Perry.
“These girls have been awesome,” Shellenbarger said of the returnees. “One, they’re great kids. They’re fantastic kids, but they’re great leaders to the underclassmen and to the kids who maybe don’t have as much experience as they have. I definitely lean on them a lot to be able to show the younger kids how we do things. I really appreciate their leadership.”
Sophomore Lexi Shumaker should start at second base early in the season, with sophomore Morgan Spires at third base.
Junior Esther De la Cruz will play left field.
Junior Katie Halter (P/2B/OF), sophomore Ireland Plott (C/3B) and freshmen Aileen Mendoza Dominguez (SS/2B), Gabriella Shaw (1B) and Unique Taylor (P) will provide depth.
“We’re looking for growth this year and I’ve already started to see it just in the weeks that we have been practicing,” Shellenbarger said. “These kids are really improving. I’m very proud of them and as a coach, as long as they’re getting something out of it and having fun that’s what’s important to me.”
Shellenbarger believes fielding a junior varsity team for the first time during her tenure is another positive sign for the program.
Westland is competing in the OCC-Ohio with Gahanna, Grove City, New Albany, Pickerington North and Westerville Central. The Cougars open league play April 15 against visiting Gahanna.
“It’s going to be a challenge, it’s going to be tough, but (the OCC-Ohio) will be good for us,” Shellenbarger said. “I know we’ll see some great teams, but hopefully we’ll learn from that and we’ll grow.”
INSIDE THE COUGARS
•Coach: Sarah Shellenbarger, fourth season
•Next game: April 5 at Dublin Coffman
•Key athletes: Kayla Miller, Melina Morley, Alyssa Mullet and Haley Starkey