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Kent-Meridian softball seeks elusive victories
The Kent-Meridian High School Royals haven't won a single fastpitch softball game in four years, but coach Jennifer England hopes to buck that trend.
England has tempered expectations for her young varsity team, which includes four freshmen and five sophomores, and only one junior and four seniors for leadership.
England, in her second year with the Royals, faces an uphill battle to break Kent-Meridian's losing streak. It comes, she says, from a number of different factors that are characteristic of Kent-Meridian's location. This is her first job coaching high school players, but she has played softball for more than a decade, including three years at Kentridge from 1993 to 1995.
"I thought it would be fun to take a team that would be struggling and see what I could do with them," she says, "because there's not a lot of pressure to win."
Without the pressure of a hugely successful program to take over, England has been able to instead take her players and build them from the ground up, focusing on the basics of pitching and batting.
"My main challenge with Kent Meridian really is that none of them play outside of school, they do it more for fun," she says. "The division we play in has really competitive players — we're mostly outmatched."
Her lineup consists of a seniors Cherry Alejo and Salina Boney who she says will provide the stability needed to bring the rest of the team together. Senior catcher Bertha Tulensru rounds out the upper class talent.
"These are kids that only play for school," England says. "And Kent Little League doesn't really exist for softball, so it makes it hard for them to go play. Neither of the middle schools in Kent do baseball or softball, which Auburn does."
To help fight the experience gap, England opted to eliminate her junior varsity team and pool all her best players into the varsity squad. She hopes that by doing this she'll have more time to develop freshmen and sophomore players to be competitive by the time they reach their senior years.
Of these newcomers to the varsity team, England sees potential in sophomore center fielder Lacey Williamson.
"She tracks the ball really well, she's super fast, and she gets on base a lot, which is good," England says.
Players at other schools, such as England's daughter who plays at Kentwood, often play on club softball teams during the off season. They have hundreds of more hours of practice and play time and the result is a lopsided experience gap between teams. It isn't helped by the fact that other teams, especially those from Covington schools, are better financed than their Kent counterparts.
With diminished funding from the schools for equipment, many of the girls have to buy their own gear, which England says makes a great difference. Even a low end softball bat can cost $100, and many of England's players are already working jobs to help support their families.
"Competitive softball can be really expensive, and there's definitely an income gap," says England. "A good bat is $300."
Resources are in short supply for Kent Meridian's baseball and softball programs, and on rainy days England finds her team sharing gym space and indoor batting cages with the Royals baseball team.
England is also trying to combat the resource shortage by taking her own initiative into the program's funding. If she can get a booster club for the school, it would help a great deal to bring needed equipment and resources to the teams.
"My daughter's team is $1,400 a year, I guarantee you not one girl who plays for us can afford that," says England.
Despite the gaps in experience and funding, and the Royal's massive losing streak, England hopes to keep her girls focused on the future possibilities instead of fixating on past failures. While they need to learn from their mistakes, it also helps to keep things in perspective.
"The past is the past, and it does not dictate the future," she says. "We may need to work a little harder to get there."