Camp Lejeune | March 9, 2012
There is something about spring that draws the ladies of the Lejeune High School Devil Pups’ softball team to the diamond.
Maybe it is the smell of the grass, the crunch of dried clay or the distinct sound of a bat and ball colliding for the first time in months.
Regardless of what it is that pulls her athletes back to the field day after day, LHS softball coach Rebecca Austin is glad it exists.
With their season officially underway, the Devil Pups’ softball team has a lot to prove this year. After a devastating loss that knocked them out of the tournament last year, they have returned to the softball field with a vengeance and are working to make their upcoming season one for the history books.
“We have a lot more confidence this year than we did last year,” said Austin. “The girls are starting to click a little better as a team and I have nine returners from last year, including three seniors.”
In her second year of coaching softball at Lejeune High School, Austin and her assistant coach, Jennifer Metz, have assembled a team of athletes who are willing to learn and are open to changing old habits that inhibit them on the field. With years of softball under their belts and countless examples to draw from, Austin and Metz use their experience on the field to help teach their young athletes.
“At the beginning of the year, we told them they had to communicate,” said Austin. “The first couple of practices, (Metz) and I would get out on the field with them and be yelling and screaming and going crazy. They thought it was funny at first, but then they caught on and started to call plays and cheer each other on.”
Communication is one of the many building blocks that Austin and Metz have put in place to help mold and shape their young team. Since many of their teammates don’t have a lot of fast-pitch softball experience, the Devil Pups’ softball team is still learning the basics.
Learning technique and conference rules is a part of the team’s daily practice schedule. They have spent time learning the art of stealing a base and perfecting their sliding techniques, as well as worked on hitting and fielding.
“We really try to keep it simple, especially for the girls who have never played before,” explained Austin. “We start out throwing little wrist snaps and then move to tossing, scarecrows, short throws and long throws. When they go to bat during practice, we stand beside them and give pointers so they can correct whatever they are doing wrong.
“We’re lucky to have some really coach-able girls on our team this year,” continued Austin. “We have one girl who has never played before, but she’s learned so much and come such a long way because she is really willing to learn. She works hard. She brought her pants to practice one day to practice sliding and by the end of the day, she had holes in her pants, but she never gave up and she had it mastered.”
In the midst of teaching the fundamentals of the game to their athletes, Austin and Metz refuse to let the little things slide. Incorrect technique and mistakes on the field and at bat are pointed out and worked on. Old habits die hard, but Austin believes the willingness to change is one thing that has brought her team a long way since last year.
“We point out the little things, because when you change the little things and correct them, you are also correcting a bigger problem,” said Austin. “We might not be to the point that we’re teaching right-handed hitting and other specifics, but we’re getting there. We’re still growing and I can see a change in the returners from last year.”
As they grow, the softball team is also overcoming hurdles. Without a feeder program in the middle school, a lot of the young team members have limited experience. In the south, softball is a heavily-occupied sport. For teenage girls in the United States, it is a competitive activity, full of year-round travel leagues, all-star teams and university clinics. However, the constant movement of military life makes it difficult to join a travel team or stay in one place long enough to ease into becoming a team. To compensate, the LHS Devil Pups’ softball team adheres to a strict time management schedule on the field.
“We have a saying that if you’re on time, you’re late,” said Austin. “We keep them busy on the field and we hold them accountable. They are going full speed every minute they are on the field at practice.”
To stay competitive against other local high schools, the Devil Pups have spent a lot of time becoming a unified team. Austin said she has seen her seniors step up, take charge and lead their teammates on the field.
“They might not spend every second together off the field, but on the field, they are clicking as a team and I’m really proud of them for that,” said Austin. “They’re really starting to show that they are confident – they are asking questions and fixing things on their own.”
After completing their first three games of the season, the LHS softball team has started to work on correcting game errors. A “really good” game against James Keenan made Austin proud, as did the way her athletes carried themselves in other less-than-ideal game conditions.
“A few nights ago, we had a really rough game, but I am so proud of the way they handled it,” explained Austin. “It’s not always easy, but they really held their heads up and finished out the game against Northside. It takes time to build a team and it’s not going to happen overnight, but they are really working hard.
“We’re still emerging,” added Austin. “I think in the next couple of years, we’ll really start to step up and be a competitive force in our conference. We’re still growing right now.”