By Moses Leos III
First year Hays High Lady softball head coach Lisa Cone realizes the enormous expectations that was set by her predecessor.
Back-to-back state tournament appearances and a state title will do that.
But with a roster brimming with experience, Cone aims to help the Lady Rebels maintain that level of success, even with the rigors of 6A play.
“I feel like the kids are going to meet those challenges head-on,” Cone said. “I know we’ll be just fine.”
Cone, who previously coached at Geronimo-Navarro and Lockhart, oversees a team that returns five starters from 2014. But replacing the talents of Sarah Leal, Addie Vayas, Maddy Shannon and Michelle Pesina will be the focal point.
Leading the charge will be seniors Haleigh Madden and Kara Davis, who will be the battery for the Rebel defense this year.
A sense of familiarity is inherent with the duo. Davis and Madden have played on the same softball team since their days in the Hays Youth Baseball/Softball Association.
“We definitely feel more confident when we’re out there together,” Davis said. “We’ve been together for so long. It sometimes feels like it’s just her and me out there.”
Davis and other Lady Rebel pitchers will be charged with filling the shoes of Leal. For Davis, using the leadership skills learned from the last two years will be a focus.
But it comes after an injury-plagued junior year for Davis, who battled a non-cancerous mass that developed in her pitching arm, along with a broken foot. Despite those setbacks, Davis said she’s prepared for the upcoming season.
“[Kara’s] got the movement and speed. She is going to be just as good as Sarah,” Madden said. “So we don’t have to worry about that aspect of pitching as much as everyone thinks we do.”
Helping Madden and Davis will be third baseman Alyssa Martinez, along with outfielders the Arroyo sister, Angelica, Lulu and Maria.
On the offensive end, Hays returns five players that hit over .300 prior to the 2014 UIL state tournament. Of those five, Madden, Martinez and Angelica Arroyo hit over .400.
Hays will have to translate that offense to the 6A ranks. The Lady Rebels will be challenged by perennial district power Bowie, along with Westlake, and an up and coming Lehman squad.
According to junior Karina Rocha, the talent faced during last season’s playoff run will prepare them for 6A play.
“It helped us get the picture of how the 6A schools are going to be playing against us,” she said. “They are going to be expecting a lot. We are going to have to play our game.”
As with any coaching change, adhering to a different style is also a focus for the team. Cone said much of what she brings — a hands-on approach during practices — was learned during her career as a pitcher at St. Edwards University, along with her ascent in the coaching ranks.
However, she said the teams’ advanced level of play and experience has helped ease the transition.
Making sure the softball field is their sanctuary is her priority.
“I try to help them understand when we’re at the field, that’s their time to have fun,” Cone said. “Whatever else is going on in the world, let it go and enjoy being at the field and play a sport that not everyone gets to play.”