Jack Layton retakes the helm for Culver fastpitch softball

Shealene LittleCheryl AldredThere were a lot of things that went wrong for the Culver fastpitch team last season.

The most obvious was the fact that the Bulldogs were sitting at home as the Class 2A state playoffs got underway. But from the inside of the dugout, things were even worse.

“It was kind of a rough year,” junior catcher Shealene Little said. “It was a rough year but this year, hopefully, will better.”

Actually, just a week into spring practice, things are already better. New coach Jack Layton has seen to that.

Layton, who coached the Bulldogs to success from 2003 until the 2005 season, was tapped by Culver Athletic Director Shea Little to right a ship that was headed in the wrong direction.

Layton said he has no idea how the Bulldogs finished last year (they were just 3-21 overall and 2-10 in league) and he really doesn’t care. All he knows is that this team will be an improvement over last season’s.

“I’m impressed with their attitude. Hopefully, we can ride that,” Layton said. “I expect the kids to be very, very competitive. If we’re not, then I am going to take that blame. But right now, I’m impressed with the kids and I’m looking forward to the season. And I’m glad that I am back.”

So is his team.

Although no current Bulldogs have played for Layton, they are enjoying the experience so far.

“It’s been good; we all really like him,” Little said. “He’s been really nice and really helping us out.”

One of the first things Layton did was hand out a sheet about fun. If you aren’t having fun, he said, you won’t enjoy what you are doing.

“I don’t care what you are doing, if you don’t have fun doing it, you’re not going to do it up to your expectations,” Layton said. “You’re not going to get your best ability out. The kids, so far, have been taking it to heart.”

Like most teams in the area, the first week of practice was hampered by weather and the Bulldogs were forced inside for most of the week. And with Layton being new to the program, at least to this group, he is more focused on what they can do now as a team than who might be playing where.

He knows he has leadership in returners Little and Cheryl Aldred, but is anxious to see what else he has to work with.

“I’m impressed with our team,” Layton said. “There are some little things we need to work on, especially with the kids that haven’t played softball before.”

He is looking for improvement in fundamentals more than anything, knowing that growth in that area will take care of everything else.

The first step has been overall morale and the institution of fun back into the game.

“We’ve probably come together more as a team (during the first week),” Little said. “We had some issues with the team last year, so I think if we all come together and work hard, I think things will be good.”

“I like how we are so enthusiastic now,” Aldred said. “We are all really happy to come to practice because coach makes it fun. Last year, practice was kind of dead. He said he wants us to win but he wants us to have fun winning.”

Despite the limited practice sessions, Little said she likes what she has seen. Friday’s sunny weather allowed the team to take some infield and get some fly balls to outfielders and everything went pretty smoothly.

She hopes that continues.

Aldred is the lone returning pitcher that saw much varsity time and the battery of her and Little will be key. In fact, a lot of the pitching development will fall onto the Bulldogs’ junior catcher.

“I’m very ready,” Little said. “I’m excited to get out there and do the best that we can.”

Aldred and Kellee Anderson look to be the team’s one-two punch inside the pitching circle, but Layton said he hopes to slowly build a group of solid pitchers that he can choose from.

Being a little early to get a real grasp on everything, Aldred said she feels the team is solid at the plate, but not yet great. That will come with more practice.

“We’re pretty on top of it, we’re just not home run hitters,” Aldred said.

So heading into the season, which begins March 18 with a home doubleheader with Sisters, the Bulldogs will be a work in progress. But that is just fine with Layton.

“I haven’t seen anything that we can’t overcome,” Layton said. “And with their attitude, they will overcome it.”

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