High School Softball

Through 'bumpy road,' leadership paves way for Tigers’ district title

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 4/12/21

Katy High’s softball team won its sixth consecutive outright district title with a 9-0 win over Taylor on Saturday, April 10, but it did not come smoothly.

Junior catcher Kailey Wyckoff …

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High School Softball

Through 'bumpy road,' leadership paves way for Tigers’ district title

Posted

Katy High’s softball team won its sixth consecutive outright district title with a 9-0 win over Taylor on Saturday, April 10, but it did not come smoothly.

Junior catcher Kailey Wyckoff called it a “bumpy road.” Senior infielder Olivia McFadden said it was a process, one the team is still trying to figure out.

The Tigers are a team of veteran upperclassmen and precocious freshmen. They are talented, surely, as their 12-2-2 overall record and 10-0 district record attest, but it is mostly raw skill unproven in big games. It has been tedious, diligent work getting that talent and inexperience to mold into a disciplined club of consistency and urgency.

The good news is, to achieve that, it starts with leadership, and that’s what coach Kalum Haack’s team boasts in spades. It is leadership, Haack said, that led to another district title.

“It means more in that it was tough for the kids that didn’t get to finish their season last year (canceled after 12 games because of the pandemic), the ones that are still here and the ones that left,” said Haack, whose program has not lost a district game since 2014. “What it says is the ones that returned have done a really good job with leadership and getting the others prepared, as far as this is Katy softball and this is how we do things, and this is what our expectations are. The understanding that no matter how many games we got or didn’t get last year, this is a new season, and this is what we’re going to do.”

Katy only has six seniors: McFadden, Ashley Woodring, Sara Orosco, Nina Sury, Morgan Blackstock and Grace Torres. McFadden, Woodring and Orosco are regular contributors. Otherwise, the Tigers are young. Very young.

Three freshmen are counted upon for significant production: pitching ace Cameryn Harrison, hard-hitting center fielder Ashtyn Reichardt, and infielder Paige Schulze. A sophomore, Peyton Watson, plays shortstop.

“Being a new team, a young team, we had to work on gelling, work on chemistry,” McFadden said. “In practices, in games. Throughout last year and throughout this year, it’s been a process. But now we’re getting a lot better. From here, I think we have a good shot at doing what we know we can do.”

The underclassmen are quickly finding their way. They performed well against Taylor. Harrison struck out 14 Mustangs and walked none in a two-hit, seven-inning gem. Reichardt had two RBI singles. Schulze produced two doubles out of the No. 8 spot. Watson, the No. 9 hitter, drilled a two-run home run.

But the primary key behind Katy’s success this year has been the stewardship of McFadden and Wyckoff. They were starters on the 2019 state title team. Not only do they lead by example, but they are vocal in doing so. The two NCAA Division I signees have the credentials to back it up.

Teammates are starting to follow their lead and assert themselves, too. Orosco is a quiet leader. Woodring is the “humorous” leader, Haack said, keeping things light and poking fun with teammates, able to take as much as she gives. Harrison is emerging as a natural leader, a spirited voice known to lead postgame team talks.

“We try and encourage all of them,” Haack said. “They’re all equal, so they all have a say. If there’s something they see that’s not right or something on their mind, speak up. Every player has an equal part in this thing.”

McFadden said she could tell the freshmen were nervous at the beginning of the season. She can sympathize, because she was too when she first stepped onto the Tigers’ field. Katy is a program with tradition and high expectations, all warranted with two state championships in the last five postseasons. A long, black banner flag draped across the outfield wall serves as a glaring reminder.

“We don’t change anything we do,” said Haack, who coaches his Katy players the exact same way he coached when he spent 18 years at the college level at Sam Houston State, Nebraska, Kansas and Alabama. “We’ve done the same thing forever. But when you have a bunch of new kids, you’re doing a lot more repetitive things, so they know why and how you do things. When you have a veteran team, you do less repetition and probably spend more time on hitting or other aspects. A lot of things we do, most of these girls have never done before on their club teams. It’s another level of thinking. But they’re getting it down, and when we do get all on the same page, that’s when we’ll make our run.”

Haack said this point of the year, with the district season winding down and the playoffs just weeks away, is especially crucial from a leadership perspective. It is on the veterans and older players to get the young players to understand time is limited. If this is truly a state title contender, the Tigers have to ramp up intensity and urgency. Now.

The veterans understand that. There is championship pedigree on the roster with four players remaining from the ’19 champions (McFadden, Wyckoff, junior infielder Erynne Castillo, junior infielder Emily Parks). More importantly, it is known that it’s not just about saying what needs to be done, it’s about actually going out and doing it.

Talk is cheap with the Tigers.

“It’s about being prepared mentally,” Wyckoff said. “We understand that we can talk about the things we need to fix, but if we don’t actually go out there and do it, there’s no point to saying it. We know the games we’re seeing now will be completely different once the playoffs hit, and it starts with our mindset.”

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