Chemistry is the key to success for young softball team


Kaitlyn Woodward

There is still snow on the grass at JSC, but the softball season is already underway for the 2018 season.

In his 10th season as head coach, Robert Gervais believes that, despite the youth and inexperience on the team, the willingness of the players to be coached and the chemistry puts this team in good shape.

“We have a team made up of 75 percent of new players, so it’ll be interesting,” he said. “All of the additions are strong players and my returners are among the best I’ve coached, so I have high expectations. We have two very effective starting pitchers, incredible leadership with our three captains — Kaitlynn Woodward, Abby McRae and Kasie Craig — and our defense is solid at every position. We need to work hard on improving our hitting, and that’s been our focus since we returned. This is my 10th season at Johnson, and I would rank this team in the top two in terms of coachability, working towards improvement and being self-motivated. I just try to direct them what to focus on and then get out of their way.”

One of the most experienced players is Kaitlyn Woodward, who is in her last year playing. She notes that watching her older teammates throughout the years has made her a better player and teammate. Now, being a captain and one of those older players, she is trying to help her teammates develop team chemistry, so that the team can succeed this year and for years to come.

Despite being so early on in the season, the team has already played 12 games in the span of a week during a softball tournament in Florida. For Woodward, these games are important to her and the team for several reasons.

“One is to make sure we have enough games for the entire season. Another reason is that it allows us to play outside because, right now, we can’t play outside here due to the weather. Lastly, we will play teams that are more skilled than teams we will face in our conference. It’s good to play up to other teams’ levels,” she said. “Those 12 games really challenged us to work on things that we haven’t been able to work on, being only able to practice inside. If you look at how we started the tournament, our first game was a loss by a score of 18-0. The second game, we lost but we cut the score in half. It really gave us a great opportunity to improve over the course of the tournament.”

For Gervais, he sees a huge disadvantage with playing teams in Florida that are able to practice outside during this time of the season while his team is practicing in the SHAPE multi-gym.

“Teams we faced in Florida have never played softball in a gym, whereas we have already spent the last five weeks practicing on a ‘fake softball field.’ Imagine a basketball team playing without backboards, or a soccer team playing on an octagon field, then changing it up when it’s game time. Not a level playing field at all,” he said. “The best we can do is work on isolated and stationary skills. Not a lot of strategy or timing. For instance, how do you practice throwing from third or short stop when the distance is 20 inches shorter than it is in a game? Or how do you simulate fly balls that only go 15 feet high? There’s no way to build fly ball judgment, or strengthen your throws, let alone hit against a live pitcher and field live hits. Not to mention working on cut offs and baserunning. Virtually every aspect of the game is ‘simulated’ in a poor way, but it’s what we are forced to deal with.”

The rest of the season can be especially grueling for Gervais. At the end of the day, though, it can build great character within his team and put them on a good course for success.

“The schedule is essentially a guessing game,” he said. “The last two seasons we have had approximately 20 schedule changes due to games being postponed, cancelled, or the time or venue changed, which makes it extremely difficult to stay focused and plan for academic work and responsibilities. We have travelled three to four hours to play ‘home’ games twice in the past three seasons. Very difficult to adjust to, but it does build character. We simply stay focused on our motto, ‘Better Than You Yesterday,’ and find small ways to improve ourselves regardless of outside influences.”

At the end of the day for Woodward, she hopes that even with all the obstacles facing her team, they can do better than last year.

“My general expectation for the season is to have a better record than we did last year,” she said. “I definitely think that we have the talent and athletic ability to do better than we did last year, even though we have a very young team.”