by Ken Brown
CRAFTSBURY – The Craftsbury Academy softball program transitioned from a club team into an abbreviated varsity schedule last season and has the numbers and youthful confidence to take on the challenge of their new home in the Mountain League this spring.
Head coach Ashley Gravel’s squad came a long way in a short period of time last year, nearly upsetting Northfield in the first round of the Division IV playoffs to end their season. She’ll return everyone from a young team that didn’t have a single senior on it and has had fourteen strong practicing mostly in the gym the last few weeks. They were finally able to get on their new field for some maintenance and practice last week as they ready for their season opener.
“It was great to see the turnout for practices this season and we basically return everyone from last year with a couple new additions to the team that have some softball experience. This is a great group of girls and athletes who play a lot of different sports together and, with the excitement from last season, there was a sense from everyone that we picked right up where we left off in early practices. There is a good sense of team and chemistry with this group and when we finally got outside last week I was impressed with how sharp they looked. We are really excited for this season after making the strides we did as a program last year,” said Gravel.
Gravel will have a strong stable of pitchers and catchers to choose from, with Savannah Boyce returning from injury to be the workhorse in the circle and battery mate Sadie Skorstad providing her versatile athleticism behind the plate. Hazel Graham has the ability to mix speeds and throw strikes in crucial situations and Hailey Smith will also be developing her skills at the varsity level this season. Sophia Augsberger and Alana Ulrich will also give Gravel more catching versatility to back up Skorstad. Jessalynn Gravel and Ella Gillespie will patrol the infield at shortstop and first base, and Amelia Eagan’s leadership will be utilized as the only senior on the roster.
“Ella is really strong at the corner for us, and Jessalynn attacks the ball without fear, and they should both lead a really strong defensive infield for us. We will rotate captains from week to week and any of the girls on the roster are capable of providing leadership for us. They are a tight-knit, unselfish group and it really makes them a joy to coach,” said Gravel.
The Lady Chargers will tackle a full varsity schedule this spring in the vaunted Mountain League filled with top-notch Division III and IV talent. Although Gravel admits there are some nerves and hesitancy, she feels her young and athletic group has the positive mindset and talent to take on the challenge.
“The way we ended last season gave us some confidence and even though we are stepping up a level this season, we believe this is where we are supposed to be. It is going to be challenging and there will be some learning curves along the way, but we have the ability and now just have to form the belief that we can do it. We are right on the edge as a softball and athletic program as a whole of taking the next step. This is a great group of athletes and kids, and we are excited for the season and are so appreciative of the support we get from the school and the community,” said Gravel.
Craftsbury’s first three games of the season have been rescheduled and they are now prepping to open the season at home against Lamoille on April 26.