Upper Merion’s softball team entered the 2016 season with a number of goals and a lot of seniors wanting to make those a reality.
The Vikings had plenty of talent, especially in the Suburban One League American Conference, but they didn’t start out the way they wanted. A 17-8 loss at home to Methacton early in the season was a sign that something needed to change if Upper Merion was going to chase its objectives of another American title, contending for a District I Class AAA title and a state tournament appearance.
Sometimes, coach John Whitney prefers to take a step back and let his players figure it out. That’s what he did this time and so far, it’s paying off.
“I let the kids have their own meeting, we weren’t playing where I thought we had to play and I let the senior captains go talk to the kids,” Whitney said. “I let them get themselves straightened out. They don’t want to hear it from the coach all the time. They’re a motivated group anyway and I think they knew they weren’t playing the way they needed to play.”
The Vikings are on a roll, having just completed the first half of league play with a 7-0 mark and an overall record of 9-1, the loss to Methacton the only setback so far. There are a couple of challenging games left on deck, including night games with Perk Valley and Villa Maria, but the Vikings are on the same page.
In senior co-captains Dezerea Kandy, Olivia Sborlini and Micaela Ghanayem, the Vikings had three players who were part of three straight league title teams. Sborlini is a top pitcher in the league and also a potent bat in the top third of the order while Ghanayem is a steady presence behind the plate and Kandy is the quintessential leadoff hitter and the infield’s voice at first base.
Ghanayem missed Monday’s game at Norristown coming off an injury, but center fielder Abby Volpe acted as the third captain that afternoon.
An early-season team meeting isn’t always a good thing, but it’s been great for Upper Merion.
“It really got us on track,” Sborlini said. “We were slow in the beginning and now we’re getting where we need to be. We’ve been doing really well after that meeting.”
The ace pitcher said she felt the team might have been getting a little ahead of itself early. As the top dog in the American three years running, everyone else is coming for them and wanting to be the first Upper Merion team in history to claim a district title and advance to states is a lofty goal.
Upper Merion doesn’t hit the cover off the ball every game, but there are some solid bats in the lineup aside from the captains’. Second baseman Alyssa Adinolfi and shortstop Allie Moffett are a potent middle infield while Bridget Valeri and Riley Kontra are good corner outfield bats and Nicole Kowalski makes a lot of contact at third base.
“We all just really love each other, we do, I don’t know how to explain it but it just comes to us,” Moffett said. “We all know we’re all there for each other and it just let us know everybody has each other’s backs and that’s what’s most important for us to know.”
Moffett really likes how the team is playing at the moment, but the shortstop thinks there’s still another level the team can get to. She said that no team should feel content and instead keep pushing for the next level and the Vikings have plenty of season left to chase it.
Whitney said having so many seniors is a benefit because they’re able to hold each other accountable if they see an area lacking during a game. His philosophy has always been to start with pitching and defense, so having a senior at each key defensive position is a big help.
Upper Merion still has another half of conference play, plus those tough non-league dates, but what Whitney most wants to see is the same level of consistency that’s helped his team roll through the last few weeks.
It’s the same feeling echoed by his players.
“We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Sborlini said. “That’s focusing on one game at a time, not thinking too far ahead and I think we’ll be good.”