There's nothing easy about this season, but despite the difficulties tied to the pandemic, along with the physical deficiencies his team's facing due to limited numbers and injuries, Glencoe head coach Rob Ray remains optimistic and has set a high bar for his team and a program used to success.
"My expectations are really high, and not only with performance, but with regards to preparation as well," Ray said. "This group has been really good for a long time, so we're really focusing on the details and the mental side because physically most of them are in pretty good shape."
Technically, Ray is in his second year as Glencoe head coach, but he's coaching his first season for the Crimson Tide. Hired last year, he lost his opportunity to coach at the same time his players lost their chance to play due to COVID-19. But while he's easing his way back into the swing of things, too, he said the biggest impact has been on the upperclassmen. They lost a year's worth of experience — experience, Ray says, that is necessary for them to grow as leaders.
"We, as coaches, have talked about that," Ray said. "We need these juniors and seniors to step up and lead. But missing last season really reduced the maturation period for these kids. I've taken them aside and said, 'It's no fault of yours, but you've got to step up and be an inspiration and motivator for your teammates.'"
Those upperclassmen include senior pitcher Dana Butterfield, who was the 2019 Pacific Conference Pitcher of the Year, and second-team all-Oregon first baseman Megan Gaskin, along with outfielder Lizzy Merkel and Athena VanDyke.
Ray said he has high expectations for all four seniors, although injuries to both Merkel and VanDyke have kept them out of the lineup.
The coach also mentioned junior shortstop Ellie Ravins as another key contributor, and one who needs to become the type of leader Ray is looking for.
"Some of the freshmen who had success that are now juniors. They just haven't experienced the urgency and intensity you feel and go through from beginning to end," Ray said. "That's a place they need to get to, and it's difficult with missing a year."
Ray said that injuries have left the team with little more than nine available players through the season's first week, one which saw the Tide improve to 2-0 with wins over Franklin and Sherwood. Because of those injuries, the coach said they've had to bring some junior varsity girls onto a roster that presently includes four freshmen.
The pandemic has also complicated things. Prior to the season, Ray said he had nearly 30 girls working out both in the mornings and evenings when regulations allowed, but without being able to work inside — in their hitting facility — due to COVID-19 restrictions and being limited even with what they can do outside, fundamentals have suffered, and in turn, so has the level of play.
"Having 14 months off is certainly a part of it, but also the overall skill set isn't where it needs to be," Ray said. "So, we spend a good 30 minutes every practice just hammering home fundamentals."
While the basics made need some work, the coach said pitching is a strength of the team. Butterfield leads the team's effort in the circle, but beyond the senior, a capable and up-and-coming corp of hurlers lies in wait, including junior Emilee Dickinson and freshmen Bailey Farrimond and Dom Bouska.
"Dana's going to dominate the innings, but we have three other pretty good kids who can throw," said Ray.
When asked about goals for this year's team, Ray for the most part stayed away from wins and losses. He wants his team to continue to improve and find the extra in every situation — how best to compete, to produce, and how to be a good teammate despite the obstacles facing them all.
"These girls are dealing with a lot of adversity," Ray said, "But it's my goal to put these kids in the best possible situation to be successful and try and boost them up. There are high expectations, but we want them to turn that pressure into a privilege, and it's working so far."
And does he think it will continue to work?
"As long as we stay healthy and our pitching is good, I think we'll compete in every game we play," Ray said. "No matter who it is."
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