With seven starters returning for the 2018 season, the Hays Lady Rebel softball team is setting high goals as they aim to make a run to the state tournament.
“We talked a lot last year about being district champs,” said Hays Head Coach Lisa Cone. “We talked about playoffs and wanting to go to the state tournament, but we really focused on being district champions last year, and I kind of think we were a little bit too focused with that.”
After being eliminated by San Antonio Brennan in the 2017 playoffs, Cone wanted her team to understand that there is more to the season than being district champs. She said the hope is that they hit their stride once the playoff season approaches.
“We really want to work on knocking away once we get to that playoff season, and we want to get on a roll and stay on a roll,” Cone said.
The Lady Rebels will rely on the huge junior class and a few seniors to lead them to the playoffs in 2018.
Seniors Illyanna Cisneros, Abbie Blackwell and Sienna Ramirez have the responsibility of keeping the team together and focused throughout a tough schedule. Cisneros will move from playing last season’s shortstop position to starting at third base for 2018, while Blackwell will be competing for the starting catcher position.
“She (Cisneros) has great leadership skills and qualities,” Cone said. “The girls really do follow her lead.”
The junior class, led by starting pitcher Maxine Valdez, will have a big impact on how this season goes for the Lady Rebels. Hays also returns junior Brianna Rodriguez at first base, and Madi Butler, Amaya Guerreo and Kaylin Davis in the outfield; all four players started on the diamond last year.
Cone said the team’s biggest strengths are having fun and keeping the energy up on the field. Both of those elements will be key for the Lady Rebels having a successful season.
“They love to have fun, and the more fun they are having in the dugout and on the field the better they are going to play,” said Cone. “We know we have to stay loose, kind of like the (Houston) Astros, you know how they would say ‘you got to hit loose’. You know, just let it fly.
“That’s really kinda how our team is. I know that as long as we are loud and cheering each other on and helping each other out that is going to help us.”
Hays will also rely on team speed during the season as well. Davis, Guerreo, Julie Blumhagen and Alexis Cooks, who Cone said are the fastest players on the team, could create more base-stealing opportunities than in past seasons.
“We do have a lot of speed, which is something that we haven’t had a whole lot of,” Cone said. “We had some speed last year but we even have more speed this year.”
When it comes to motivation, Cone used Houston Astros outfielder George Springer as a teaching point during the offseason. Cone referenced Springer’s ability to overcome an error in Game 5 of the World Series, and then hit a home run in his next at bat.
“As long as you make up for your mistakes later on, you can negate those errors or little mistakes,” said Cone. “So, we talked about how he (Springer) did that and his whole team got behind him. Thats kind of how you have to pick each other up.”
Hays opens the 2018 season on the road at New Braunfels Canyon High on Feb. 13.