There’s a new feeling at Bonney Lake High softball practices this year. After an incredible run where the Panthers expected to — and have — reached the Class 3A state tournament seven out of the last eight seasons, this year’s quite different.
It’s a bit of a rebuilding year where Bonney Lake (4-3, 2-1 league) has no expectations.
"You know, I don’t ever care about those things," Bonney Lake coach Andrew Sage said. "Now when I’m promoting the program, I’ll rattle off (the state placements) number like an auctioneer. For me, success is getting the most out what you have."
This year, it’s about going out and playing the Bonney Lake way.
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"Sometimes we’ve had continued success, and that created a lot of pressure for us," Sage said. "I don’t ever place expectations on these girls — people outside the program have their own, but I don’t do that here. To me, if the best they can do is second and we get fourth place, that’s disappointing. If the best is third and we get second, that’s great. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past."
It’s about what the Panthers can do in the future. And with a team that features seven freshman and sophomores on a squad of 13 players, the future looks bright.
Even without expectations for the year’s outcome, Sage does require one tiny little aspect from his players: They must work hard.
Bonney Lake’s captains embody that edict.
If the younger players needed two players to look up to and understand what it takes to play for Bonney Lake, there’s no better place than to gaze in the direction of captains Marissa Goodier and Courtney Campbell.
Ever since these two players came up through the program — first through junior varsity before making varsity — the Panther duo have molded and crafted themselves in the image Sage wants from his players.
"I think going into a season you should just focus not on what’s happened in the past, but really hone in on your strengths and where your weaknesses lie," Goodier said. "The expectations are wanting to do work hard and do good."
Leading by example is what Sage describes when talking about these two captains. For him, if the younger players see the effort put forth, then they will follow.
"You do have expectations for yourself," Goodier added. "It’s about getting in the mindset of getting better every single day … small goals make big achievements."
Finding that trust
Bonney Lake has produced an outstanding crop of standout pitchers over the years. Behind star pitcher Melissa Charron last season, the Panthers finished eighth overall at the 3A state tournament.
But Charron has gone off to play for George Fox University, leaving a space for a new Bonney Lake ace. In comes junior right-hander Robin Morin.
Before Morin rifled her first pitch this year, her catcher, Campbell, came to her with some friendly advice.
"I told her to not worry about replacing Melissa,” Campbell said. "I told her to be the best pitcher she can be and let the rest take care of itself."
"She’s really encouraging and helpful behind the plate," Morin added.
It’s sound advice Campbell was giving, but utilizing it in practice is much different. Defense is a pitcher’s best friend, and when there are freshman and sophomores in the field, it can sometimes make it hard on a pitcher to rely on young players who have not seen a lot of action at the varsity level.
"I know I can pitch better than how I’ve been pitching," Morin said. "I’ve just been getting nervous really fast because I have trust issues with my defense. I trust them at first, and then once errors happen, I don’t trust them."
With a young defense out in the field, mistakes will be made. Young players and teams have to gain the experience to learn how to cut down on the fielding mistakes, a fact Sage knows all too well.
"We have sophomores and freshmen that just need time in the field," Sage said. "Mistakes will happen, but it’s not about getting down on yourself when they do."
That’s the lesson Morin is trying to apply when errors are committed. By trusting the players behind her, she will gain their trust in return. Softball is a give and take relationship with teammates.
"When I start thinking like that, I have to step back and calm myself," Morin said. "I need to get out of my own head and learn to trust them better."
As Bonney Lake softball begins to develop that trust among the program, then the Panthers’ potential can begin to shine. That is what’s left now from years of state playoff runs — an unknown commodity of players with limitless potential.
"We’re a young team, so we haven’t had a chance to know each other and know where we’re best at," Morin said. "It’s just going to take us a little while. Just hopefully not too long."