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High school spring softball season incorporates state playoffs

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MSHSAA changes have local schools seeking state title

First-year Scott City softball coach Kaitlin Zink along with 81 other coaches in Missouri, will have the chance to motivate their teams in to playing for something more than just a conference tournament championship this spring.

A vote last May on the Missouri State High School Activities Association spring ballot created several amendments to the organization’s constitution, with the installment of a spring softball state championship among the changes. Previously, only a fall championship existed.

MSHSAA communications director, Jason West, said that while the measure would allow schools to play in one of the two seasons, there is one part of the state it should affect the most.

“It was primarily schools in the southeastern portion of the state that played in the spring but could never fight for a title,” West said. “That’s where it should have the most effect now.”

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Advance, Charleston, Scott City and Scott County will play in Class 1 District 5, while Leopold, Meadow Heights, Oak Ridge and Woodland will compete in District 6.

Softball was re-implemented as a spring sport in 2004, but there has not been a MSHSAA-sanctioned spring championship since the early 1980s.

The amendment, which passed by a 214-205 vote among member schools, allows the Scott City softball program, among others, to better co-exist with the school’s girls volleyball program, which competes in the fall.

“I have a lot of senior girls on the team this year that haven’t played softball for the past three years because they’ve been playing volleyball in the fall,” Zink said about the impact of the amendment on her team. “The two sports have been competing against each other in past years and girls have had to choose volleyball or softball, and a lot of them chose volleyball. So right now, it’s back to square one for a lot of them, and I will have to be patient with them as the season goes along.”

Zink, a former Southeast Missouri State softball player, said moving softball to the spring provides female athletes with a chance to play sports all year round.

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“When I was in high school, I could play volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter and softball in the spring, so there was always something for me to be in,” Zink said. “I think that’s the great opportunity this switch provides for these girls because they can stay active and stay out of trouble since they have an opportunity to play sports all year long.”

The Rams’ spring team returns three seniors and nine players overall from the 2012 fall squad. Zink said her team will face some challenges and rebuilding, but she will rely on her experience in college as a player and the advice she received from her coaches to teach her players the fundamentals of softball for the spring season.

“I’ve had coaches who went to some of the best schools in the country, learned from the best coaches and passed it on to me,” Zink said. “I want to do the same for my team and bring the little things you learn from playing college ball — like hitting and fielding — to the high school level, but I’ve learned that I have to break down some things and reteach it until they get it right.”

While Scott City is in the process of rebuilding its program for future spring seasons, other schools such as Woodland, which always has played softball in the spring, are prepared to compete for a title that they never have had the chance to play for.

“Since we don’t play in the fall and we’ve never competed for a title in school history in the spring, it gives more purpose and meaning to the season,” Woodland coach Andrea Arnold said. “To be able to finish the spring season, whereas before we had the conference tournament and then we just kind of had some games and then the season just ended leaving this empty feeling. It gives us some satisfaction knowing that we get to compete for a championship.”

Woodland returns five seniors to this year’s team. Senior Kathlyn Cooper led the team in batting average in 2013 and is a valuable asset for Arnold in both games and practice.

“My seniors are a great group of leaders who are dedicated to our motto and are in the here and now,” Arnold said. “Josie Long and Cooper are really pushing this forward because they know that this is their only opportunity to play for a district title because they haven’t had that the last three years, and their drive for that is really pushing the team to go for our goal and seize opportunities.”

The Cardinals will look to their senior leaders on and off the field all season.

Cooper already has signed to play softball at Westminster College next spring. Arnold said Cooper realizes there is more at stake this spring, and it is that which drives her to perform well and keep her teammates attuned to playing well.

While the season is barely underway, Woodland is looking ahead to a game against Leopold, a team Arnold says will be a district rival this year and for years to come.

“Leopold, for sure,” Arnold said. “We take it one game at a time, but I’ve already told my girls to mark this one down, because they will be our district rivals all season long and even after that.”

No matter the outcome of their seasons, both teams are just happy to have a chance to play for a spring title.

“Now that it’s real, we’re ready for it,” Arnold said. “We’ve got a chance to win our school’s first spring championship, and we’ll do everything to make that happen.”

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