By Dave Ricci
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Kenmore East softball coach Sara Ark knows that life in the Niagara Frontier League is never easy and that every day is a battle. She also knows that win or lose, her girls are a group she can be proud of.
“They’re just great kids,” Ark said. “They come every day, I haven’t heard one complaint. They work hard. They do what I ask. They’re always prepared and they’re ready to go. So it’s been a smooth start.”
As the Lady Bulldogs move into the new season they do so minus key players like Jaclyn Bellanti, who was one of their most consistent hitters, and 2012 Tonawanda News Player of the Year Gabe Boldinski (shortstop) who was the emotional and spiritual leader of the team.
But change is the nature of the beast in scholastic sports and the Bulldogs have a cast of talented girls ready to step up and lead.
The Bulldogs return junior starting catcher Gabbie Johns, who was a captain last season, as well as junior Julia Snitzer (middle infield) and senior Jessica Hyland (3B).
“We graduated some amazing athletes that had great personalities and big personalities. There’s a lot that’s changed this year,” Ark said. “The returning players are stepping up and they’re beginning to fill those roles the way that they need to. And the underclassmen that have moved up from JV are held to the same standards and are working hard to take their place.”
While every girl has to pull her weight, Johns, Hyland and Snitzer know the expectations are on them to set the right tone every day in practice and in games.
“The dynamics have definitely changed. It’s essentially role reversal I guess (for) me, Jess and Julia,” Johns said. “Even though I was a captain last year I was still learning from the veterans. I think we’re just hoping to do the same thing. Just make them feel comfortable, welcome them in and let them know that varsity isn’t a scary thing. And we want to create a good, family environment so we can really build off of that.”
Though their season came to a heartbreaking end after a 1-0 extra innings loss to Hamburg in the sectional semifinals, pushing one of the best teams in Western New York to the limit should increase the Lady Bulldogs’ confidence this year.
“We definitely have a very optimistic feeling for the season especially coming off of that,” Johns said. “We lost a lot of people from last year but it doesn’t really mean anything because we still have high hopes. We’ve replaced them with great talent. So we’re really just having good hopes for the season.”
Courtney Creasey and Christina Spataro will handle the bulk of the pitching duties. Spataro is medically unable to play as of press time and is expected to probably miss the first two weeks of the season.
Once Spataro does return the Bulldogs will likely take it on a day by day basis and go with whoever is consistently performing the best.
Allison Johnson (1B) will round out the starting infield, while returnees Kara Landberg, Monica Caruana and Lexie Albano will be in the outfield. Returnee Laura Wilkinson will play a variety of positions based on what Ark needs.
Varsity newcomer Chelsea Masich is expected to get the nod at shortstop. Taylor Cutler, Erin Samulski and Krista Cornell complete the team.
“Everybody wants to win, but not everybody is willing to put the work in that it takes to win,” Ark said. “My girls, this may not be the most talent we’ve ever had, but in the preseason so far they’ve worked extremely hard and they work hard together. And I think it takes more than talent to win. Hopefully we can come together as a team and helped everyone bring out the best in everyone else.”