Alexis Leonhart is one of Nixa's top returning players.
Posted: Monday, 30 July 2012 5:03PM
Walker takes over Nixa softball program
Nixa, Mo. (For Ozarks Sports Zone) -- It’s a new year for Nixa softball and with that comes a new coach.
For the second time in as many years, Nixa softball will have a new coach at the helm. Matt Walker left his post as head softball coach at Glendale to take over the Lady Eagles team after David Kelly took a position as assistant principal at Hollister High School in May.
The new coach could breathe some much needed life into a softball team that had its share of ups and downs last season, finishing 10-16 and falling in the semifinals of their district tournament.
“They were young and had some injuries early in the year,” Walker said. “What I remember about them last year is they made some good strides throughout the year – were a very competitive team.
“We’re going to continue that and see where we can go.”
Walker has had success in the past, which is one of the reasons Nixa Activities Director Karen McKnight tapped him as Kelly’s replacement.
“He’s no stranger to winning,” McKnight said. “He’s had a softball team in the (state) final four when he was at Morrisville.
We knew that he was going to be a great person to come in and take over what we’ve started there and keep them on a winning path.”
Even though he came on board later than most new coaches – he was officially hired June 14 – Walker’s been able to get acquainted with his new team this summer through running open field practice, as well as watching them in the Ozark Youth Softball League.
“I’ve been able to learn a lot,” he said. “... I think it’ll be a good season this fall.”
Walker will be looking to a few seniors to help lead the team, notably pitcher Taylor Gibbs, infielder Alexis Leonhart and outfielder Sharice Ouellette.
“(Gibbs) was injured, I believe, the first part of last year, and was able to come out at some point and improve the team quite a bit with her being on the mound,” Walker said.
Of Leonhart: “She’s an infielder … from what I’ve been told, she’s kind of the heart and soul (of the team) and the team leader,” he said.
Ouellette made an impression on Walker this summer: “She’s going to be a good starter for the team, hopefully getting on base.”
Walker hopes to tap into Ouellette’s quickness on the base paths, pushing his offense to be aggressive.
“My teams in the past have been aggressive, as far as taking extra bases, moving runners, stealing bases – just trying to put pressure on the other team to force them to get us out,” he said.
Using input from assistant Scott Sparkman, Walker said he plans to focus early on defense.
“(Last year) they kind of struggled on the defensive side of the ball, so there’s definitely going to be a huge emphasis on making sure we field and throw the ball across the field and make outs,” he said.
With only a handful of seniors returning this year, Walker is looking to the Aug. 6 tryouts to see what his underclassmen have in store, especially the freshmen.
“Kind of the way I’m looking at it is having some good, young freshmen come in and put a little fire in some of the upperclassmen to make them realize they got to come out and fight every day for a spot,” he said.
One young player he expects to compete for a spot is incoming freshman Makaila Leonhart, Alexis’ sister.
“I think she’ll probably be up there day in and day out with the varsity group,” Walker said.
The team’s first game will be Aug. 23 at Pleasant Hope. The Lady Eagles will host Ozark Aug. 30 for their first conference game.
It was a tough weekend for our local teams in Blue Springs.
Both Springfield Catholic and Nixa went 0-for-2 on the weekend, forcing them to settle for fourth place in Class 3 and Class 1 respectively.
CLICK HERE FOR NIXA 3RD PLACE GAME PHOTOS --...
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