Prep softball: West out to build winning tradition
West softball is in its infancy, but the Panthers are making strides to join the ranks of solid clubs in the state.
West, which features an extraordinarily young roster, has suffered defeats and setbacks, but they haven't dampened the team's spirits.
Senior Shanice Lozano doesn't focus on the wins and losses. The season has been about learning the game and overcoming adversity.
"In past years, we laid down when we got behind and let people step on us," Lozano said. "Doesn't matter if we're down by 20 or up by three we kept strong and kept fighting."
As a four-year starter for the Panthers, Lozano recognized that a lot of West's problems this season came from youth and inexperience. The team struggled with retaining players from previous years, but she believes that the roster finally has the right young athletes.
"At West, there are so many opportunities to get involved with sports, and you can take it as far as you want to," Lozano said. "I like the girls we have, and I think they are making strides to be better players."
The Panthers are hosting a practice more akin to role playing inside the sandlot ballpark sandwiched between 300 West and the soccer field. They are in a cacophonic frenzy, yelling out where the ghost runners are and what the count is against an imaginary opponent.
"Know where the runners are!"
"Cover your base!"
"Make the play!"
Leading the vocal charge is freshman third baseman Raeli Aiono. She yells over her shoulder to the outfield, warning them where the play is and which base has runners. Coach Craig Graves hits a pop fly to center and Aiono gracefully covers third for the out.
"We're working on developing together," Aiono said. "As a team, it's important to keep each other up and going. When one of us is down, we're all down."
At first base, Mariah Arellano has watched Aiono's development. As one of the seniors on the team, Arellano has been impressed with Aiono's focus and determination.
"Raeli has improved a lot this year," Arellano said. "She is much more confident, and confidence equals success."
With eight doubles this season, Graves agrees with Aiono's progression. He is pleased with her constant improvement and willingness to put in the work to become a better ballplayer.
"She is definitely one of our bright spots," Graves said. "With such a young team, it's good to have a girl like Raeli making improvements every day."
In the closing moments of practice, the infield works on a rundown. With a runner caught between second and third, the infield lines up and makes the lobbing tosses, closing the gap between the bases. The last throw finds Aiono's mitt, and she makes the tag.
Graves smiles as his team makes a small step toward success on the field. Graves said throughout the season that Aiono always is where she needs to be. West might need work with some of the fundamentals, but he doesn't have to work on heart.
"Say what you will about them, they haven't given up they never give up," he said.