By Shelley Ebbrecht
As defending district champions, Clever is ready to return to the field to earn consecutive district and conference titles. But this year’s team wants more.
The Blue Jays return five starting seniors from last year’s championship squad. The team went 17-6 overall and won districts, but were disappointed with a loss Plato in sectionals. Fifth-year head coach Cheryl Grant said this year’s team won’t be satisfied with only a district championship.
“I like what I have seen in the offseason and our girls are ready to practice hard,” Grant said. “We have a lot of seniors this season and the girls are hungry to go further than they did last season. With hard work, dedication and teamwork, I feel they can accomplish anything.”
Clever welcomes back senior pitching/catching duo Emily Mendenhall and Allison Nolan. Both were named all-conference, all-district, all-region and second team all-state for their respective performances last year. Mendenhall will once again pitch most of the innings for the Lady Jays after going 17-6 last season. On offense, she had a .441 batting average and led the team with 38 RBIs. Nolan hit .345 and the second-most RBIs with 24.
“One of our greatest strengths is the knowledge of the game we have with our returning starters,” Grant said. “Everyone has a role and overall our fielding and our bats should be strong again this year. Our pitching/catching combo is one of the best in the state with Mendenhall and Nolan.”
Senior Taylor Farmer returns to third base after hitting a team-high .453 last season with a .527 on base percentage. She knocked in 23 RBIs and was an all-conference, all-region and second team all-state honoree.
Taylor Menzies, senior first baseman, had a batting average of .429 and 19 RBIs with a .515 OBP. She was named all-conference along with shortstop and outfielder, Abi Menzies. As a freshman, Menzies hit .429 with a .541 OBP and 21 RBsI.
“The girls are all hard workers and this year we have great motivation with so many seniors on the team,” Grant said.
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Senior Gabby Cole and sophomore Ashton Graaf round out the returning varsity letter winners from last year. Grant said they have some great numbers signed up this season but it’s too soon to know what to expect from some of them. She expects Hanna Wilson, Ashley Pearce, Emily Ledbetter and Cara Brown to have more of an impact this year. There are several freshmen and sophomore girls that could battle into a varsity spot as well.
Clever kicks off its regular season on the road at Spokane before appearing in the Mount Vernon Tournament on March 20. The team’s home opener is set for March 27 against Billings.
“My expectations are to work hard, have a positive attitude and make improvements throughout the season,” said Grant. “If we can play together as a team, I think we will be a strong contender in the SWCL again this season and have the potential to make a run in the postseason.”