The Rogers High softball team is going through some changes this season as four key players have departed the program, leaving only a few spots open on the roster.
In steps, three talented freshman — Raigan Barrett, Rachel Wicker and Gracie Dawes — are looking to help build up the new core of the program.
“We have some freshman that can play,” said Taylor Dawes, a senior and sister to Gracie. “It’s good to have new people come in because it pushes the rest of the team. We have to match their energy.”
Rogers is in a strange predicament this year as the team is loaded with seniors and juniors, but the team lacks sophomores on its active roster.
That’s where the key additions of Barrett, Wicker and Gracie Dawes takes root.
“My rule is, I wouldn’t put a freshman on varsity if she cannot start for us,” coach Jaclyn Ramsey said. “That’s just it — she has to be able to start for us, play at the level we expect here at Rogers. But these girls can play. We just need to get out and get them game experience so they can pick up what we’re telling them quicker.”
With Kristen Johnson locking down the circle as the Rams’ No. 1 starter, and with key players like Taylor Dawes at third base, these two will become critical elements in the development of Rogers’ next wave of softball players.
“It’s different because I always had Jessica (O’Toole) ahead of me, and with her gone, I get to step into the top spot,” said Johnson, who has taken on a mentorship role with Gracie as both are pitchers for the Rams. “But I know that I can do what she (O’Toole) did for me in helping me and helping both pitchers behind me get better.”
And that’s what the hope is between Johnson and Gracie Dawes.
“I’m just trying to listen and use the advice given to me. I haven’t played a game yet, so they already can teach me a lot,” Gracie said.
For Johnson, she had Jessica O’Toole, now a pitcher at Saint Martin’s University, as her mentor of sorts over the past couple of seasons. By sitting back and watching O’Toole work the circle, Johnson was able to elevate her game and take the No. 1 spot in the rotation — the go-to starter in a pinch or critical playoff situation.
And that’s what Ramsey hopes will happen to Gracie just from her proximity to Johnson in the dugout and at practice.
The softball torch has been passed before, and with not knowing what players are coming into the program, it’s always nice to have that insurance of a reliable starter next year. That’s what Rogers is hoping Gracie Dawes turns into.
Young middle infield
Probably no place on the diamond is going to look more different than Rogers’ middle infield as both Barrett and Wicker will step into the roles of the starting shortstop and second baseman, respectively.
“I’m trying to come in and be a part of the team. Just become one of the girls,” said Barrett, who committed to the University of Washington softball program back in August. “I try not to focus on my offer, because I want to help my team right now and go further than they did last year in the playoffs.”
For Barrett, already a Division-I recruit despite never playing a game at the high school level, these are the times to get to know you teammates and figure out who can help you the most and how they can do it.
That’s the job of third baseman Taylor Dawes, arguably Rogers’ top returning defender, someone who handles the hot corner with the best of them.
“Having freshman up the middle means I have to take a leadership role with them and the team,” Taylor said. “I know I can help them with their positioning, and just get them ready to help us win. It doesn’t matter who’s playing short or second base — as long as we play as a team, we should be fine.”
Trust and faith will be hard for Rogers at first as Ramsey is still tinkering with her defensive lineup; both Barrett and Wicker’s natural position is shortstop. So Ramsey is moving both around to get the right fit for the team.
Makes sense, but will it pay off?
“I think it will help us understand what the other is thinking a little bit more,” Barrett admitted. “But I’m a natural shortstop and I want to play short for Rogers. And so is Rachel, but we both understand only one of us can be out there during games.”
Whoever lines up at shortstop or second base for Rogers, there are no worries coming from the returning members of the team.
They feel these freshmen have it under control.
“I’m not worried because everyone has faith in each other,” Taylor Dawes said. “And that’s what matters most with us here at Rogers is coming together and winning together. It doesn’t matter who is pitching or who is playing that day. We all believe and trust each other.”