by Ken Brown
CRAFTSBURY – The Craftsbury Academy (CA) softball team has come a long way from being a club sport less than four years ago and will enter their second full season in the Mountain League with an experienced roster this spring, including five seniors for head coach Ashley Gravel.
Gravel enters her fifth season of running and resurrecting a Lady Charger program that was dormant for nine years before becoming a club sport in 2019. The program lost another year to COVID in 2020 and was restarted in 2021 with a limited schedule. Gravel navigated her team through their inaugural season in the rugged Mountain League last spring and capped off a four-win season with the program’s first playoff victory in almost two decades. She loves the experience of her team going into this season, but admits it is bittersweet, knowing she’ll have to eventually say goodbye to a special group of ladies that helped rebuild the program.
“I’m super excited to finally have this team with a lot of veteran leadership on it, but I’m torn because I started this journey with most of these girls as just eighth graders. They are a great group of girls who are tremendous athletes and we’ve been through a lot together the last four years. A lot of the coaching has been done already and they know what to do and how to set an example for our younger players. We are really looking forward to this season,” said Gravel.
Last year’s team that blew past Twinfield-Cabot 19-6 in the first round of the Division IV playoffs before falling to top-seeded Proctor in the quarterfinal round, lost only one senior to graduation in Amelia Eagan. Ella Gillespie, Jessalynn Gravel, Alana Ulrich, Alexis VanDyk, and Ariana VanDyk will provide the senior leadership for Gravel along with a talented core of returning underclassmen. Outfielders Ade Gillespie and Sophia Augsberger will look to build off stellar 2022 campaigns that snatched them Second Team All-Mountain League honors. Savannah Boyce and Sadie Skorstad joined Ulrich and Gravel as Honorable Mentions and they all look to take the next step in their second season in the Mountain League. Boyce will be heavily leaned-on in the circle this season for the Lady Chargers after a strong finish last spring. Gravel will be assisted by coach Joel VanDyk throughout the season.
“Savannah will be our ace this season after learning so much last year and she has already demonstrated more of a leadership voice in practices the last three weeks. Sophia is so versatile and started to really develop as a catcher for us late last season and I think these two will work well together this spring. All of these girls are great athletes and their development has led them to being more versatile and they’ll be able to play multiple positions. We’re a small school and we still don’t have big numbers, but once we get into the flow of the season and have everyone available, I think we’re only going to continue to get better,” said Gravel.
Support from the Craftsbury community and the athletic department under first year A.D. Connor Bean will have the Lady Chargers donning brand new uniforms this season, along with new hitting cages and bats. Gravel is confident that her experienced team will not only be playing and feeling good this spring, but looking good as well.
“We are so fortunate to have a community and athletic department that supports these girls like they do. They are a confident group that works hard, but support like that only adds more spirit to your program and it has lit a fire under us to get the season started,” said Gravel.
Weather permitting, CA is scheduled to open the season on the road at Blue Mountain next Monday and will welcome Lake Region to Dustan Field the following day for their home opener.