Much like putting together a complex puzzle, Hays High head softball coach Lisa Cone sought the best way to fit a young Rebel program on the diamond in 2017.
While it took a little bit to get there, the end result was the program’s first district championship since 2014 and a third straight playoff appearance in four years.
Amid a season filled with so much emotion, Cone lauded her team’s ability to persevere and stand tall.
“I can’t say enough about them. They’re a great group of kids and they’re a very close group,” Cone said. “They get along great and it’s a fun place to be, at practice and at games.”
Cone said the team’s pre-district tournaments helped mold the program on the field. Helping were seniors Maria and Lulu Arroyo, who provided leadership during the course of the season.
Maria Arroyo, who last year played in the outfield, was moved into the infield by Cone, who felt the team needed “leadership in the field a little.”
While the move took some getting used to, Arroyo flourished on the diamond. She was backed by teammates in the outfield, along with Lulu, her sister.
Cone said the Arroyos could be counted on to “come through in any pressure situation.” She cited Lulu Arroyo’s ability to call time and settle the team down in the circle during key moments in the game. Cone said the two knew how to handle almost any situation.
“I think for the most part, they’re quiet, but on the field, they get pumped up,” Cone said. “I think they know when to help the younger kids a little.”
Finding a way to bring out a high level of play from her team was one factor of success for Hays.
Cone said she felt the team could play at a high level from what she saw at practice. She also believed it could be challenging for district opponents to keep up “if we played our game.”
Cone realized the possibility when her team notched several come-from-behind wins early in the season.
Helping was the arm of sophomore Max Valdez, who Cone said is coachable and is willing to listen. She said Valdez communicated well with catcher Abbie Blackwell.
“It helped build our confidence as well,” Cone said. “Winning those games made the girls realize they could do this.”
Playing for fallen teammate Brynn Aylor, who passed away in a car crash in March, was the largest motivating factor for the Rebels in 2017. It was a challenging experience for Cone, who like her students, never had experienced the loss of a member of a team.
“I don’t think I understood how hard it would be or understood how hard it was on the girls when we played,” Cone said. “I tried to love them and be strong for them, because they were very strong and they helped each other out.”
Cone said playing in Aylor’s memory guided Hays to a 12-0 start in district play this year.
“It meant a lot to them and it had a lot to do with their success as well,” Cone said.
Readying for next season will be Hays’ focus as the school year closes.
Cone said one aspect the Rebels will look to improve upon is “not being afraid to get dirty” in critical junctures.
“We’re young and that’s something I feel comes with playing time,” Cone said. “The more you play and the older you are, the more you realize how important it is to steal a hit away from someone when your team needs it the most.”
Working on small ball is also a plan to focus on for next year, which was at times a struggle for the Rebels.
“Those are things in situations if we’re not hitting the pitcher well, we can move runners around,” Cone said.