Often times when a coach comes into program, the first year is spent learning the new players.
Bill Loar doesn’t feel that will be an issue for him this season after he left Trinity High School to take over the girls softball program at McGuffey.
The Hillers and Highlanders both played in Section 2-AAA the past couple of seasons.
“I kind of came in knowing the girls, but not really knowing them,” said Loar.
What he does know is that the Highlanders have a solid nucleus of players returning from last year’s 14-6 team that went 7-3 in in the section and qualified for the WPIAL playoffs. He also knows McGuffey will be shifting to Section 2-AA this season.
“The expecations are pretty high,” said Loar. “The people around town have talked about it, and the girls hear it. Going from Triple-A to Double-A, people expect big things.”
Though the Highlanders lost three talented seniors in Ashley Narigon, Elesye Stoner and Taylor Orisko, they return a solid group that includes junior pitcher Cassie Weiss, seniors Sarah Kleinhans and Mandy May, junior Marlie Mounts and sophomore Sammie Weiss.
If some of those names sound familiar, it’s because several aslo were key members of McGuffey’s WPIAL and PIAA playoffs girls basketball team. While the basketball players learned valuable lessons in playing in pressure-filled playoff situations, their deep run into the postseason did take away some practice time in softball.
“It set us back a little, about a week and a couple of days,” Loar admitted. “But Cassie pitches throughout basketball season, and I know that they’re in really good shape conditioning-wise from basketball.”
And, as is usually the case with a pitcher, everything revolves around Cassie Weiss and her work in the circle.
“I think she proved herself last year in Triple-A,” Loar said. “She should dominate this year in Double-A. She has four or five pitches she can throw consistently. That helps a lot.”
Cassie Weiss admits the expectations are great for the Highlanders, even though they are moving into a section that also includes perennial power Chartiers-Houston, which moves up from Class A. The Highlanders handed the Bucs their lone regular-season defeat last year, 10-2 early in the season.
“I think it’s putting a lot of pressure on us because we’re dropping down,” Weiss said. “But we’re confident. We feel like we’re pretty good.”
The Highlanders won’t have a lot of time to figure things out. Section play begins Monday, with the Highlanders playing at Beth-Center.
Then again, because of the weather, McGuffey, like pretty much everyone else, is still waiting to get outside to practice, let alone play a game.
“We’ll beat anyone in the gym,” Loar joked. “But it’s easy to look at us dropping down and say we should be good. But we have to improve and keep improving.”