‘Little things’ propel Olympus softball to first outright region title in 15 yearsMay 10, 2023 06:41PM ● By Travis Barton
Sofia Conlon leads the potent Titan lineup in home runs (3) and RBIs (30) as her team cheers her on from the dugout. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
Four years ago, before Covid canceled the season, the Olympus High softball team only got one out in six games.
Today the Titans are region champions, winning the Region 6 title outright for the first time in 15 years.
The four seniors on this year’s team were freshmen starters that Covid-shortened season, making this championship all the sweeter.
“It’s freaking awesome,” deadpanned senior Sofia Conlon after the region-clinching win at Murray.
“It was hard cause we had to be patient for a long time,” added fellow senior Rylee Rice. “But finally getting here feels really good. I just enjoy being here with my teammates, either way it’d be fun.”
That attitude perhaps best sums up the mindset of a Titan softball squad that is 18-2 and went undefeated in region. An impressive turnaround for a team that went 2-15 in 2021, but showed significant signs of progress in 2022 finishing 9-13.
A perfect storm of a quality roster, senior leadership and a mentality that focuses on the little things has made 2023 one to remember.
Head coach Jackson White has been with the program for 11 years with the last five serving as its head coach taking over after his sister stepped down. This year, he said, is all about the “little things,” the finer details and fundamentals.
For the team’s excellent defense, it means being sound in fielding grounders like making sure you have the ball first before coming up for the throw.
For the early part of the season when games were canceled or postponed and the team spent most practices inside, it meant sharpening the mental side of the game.
March saw the team practice mostly indoors hitting in the “dark quarters” (batting cages) or catching as realistic fly balls as possible in the gym. But White said they had a team psychologist speak with the girls about ways to resolve conflict, would spend Fridays talking about articles that concentrated on team building or mental toughness, and even practiced their dugout cheering.
“We were able to get a lot of growth mentally without having to see it physically,” he said. “It was a game changer to just kind of teach them how to be good teammates and do drills that was about talking to each other or listening to each other rather than catching a fly ball inside for the 100th time.”
White credited the girls for embracing that process as the players developed their own team culture, rules and expectations allowing them to take ownership of the program.
Conlon, the team’s catcher, said they learned how to work, live and grow with each other.
“Being inside is really hard, it's not the same as being on a field so working together as a team mentally made us tighter,” she said. “It pulls us closer and helps us outside for sure.”
It laid the foundation for an enthusiastic and cohesive group, made evident by the dugout’s constant cheering or a collective ability to laugh off their mistakes.
“My dugout has embraced their role,” White said. “It is our job to provide energy. Man they do a good job, they absolutely do a good job. I would dare argue that our dugout plays as big of a role as the girls on the field and our girls on the field feed off of our dugout.”
Even if a batter misses a pitch swinging so hard their helmet falls over the eyes, the coaches and teammates are laughing it off.
“Messing up isn’t the end of the world,” Conlon said. “You can laugh it off and recover, find the next play. It really benefits all of us. Once we hit our stride with the cheering or on the field, we carry it through all the innings so it snowballs into a good thing.”
Senior Hannah Gregory noted the varsity and junior varsity practice together, adding to the family atmosphere. Then almost as if on cue, mid-interview during the JV game, two of the seniors turned to congratulate a JV teammate for catching a flyball.
“At Olympus we haven't had moments that are this big for the program in a long time,” White said. “We pull girls that don't have a lot of softball experience…they've embraced the excitement. So when there's something to cheer about, man, they freaking cheer about it and it's genuine.”
Having started all four years, the four seniors of Conlon, Rice, Gregory and Zoie Addington have experienced it all, possibly making them the perfect leaders for this team.
“It’s hard losing games and that was our first three years, but as people and seniors come and go, you learn to adapt and grow with each other. It’s important to step up yourself as you grow older,” Conlon said
For them it means having a team-oriented culture that looks out for each other and celebrates moments regardless of results.
“You learn to celebrate every success, even if we don't win games just everything that goes well,” Rice said. “It just helps us grow from there.”
Added Gregory, “We lost so many times, it mattered when we won. But now that we’re winning, it’s not something we focus on, it was just about getting better every time.”
White called his leaders “special” noting he’s happy to win region, but it’s the seniors journeys that makes him more excited for them to earn that championship.
“I can tell you stories of when they were freshmen or sophomores and then how they acted as juniors…I’m proud of my leaders, they deserved it. I’m the constant here. They’re the ones that come in and make the change, it’s pretty cool for them,” he said.
Winning region at a school like Olympus where athletic success seems almost automatic has signaled a different experience for the girls. Teachers compliment them, there’s another level of respect from classmates when they come up in school announcements.
“It’s exciting, it’s cool when people talk to you about it,” said Addington, the second baseman. “People compliment us, it’s different and fun.”
In previous years they would tell people not to come to their games, Conlon said, but now they want people to watch them play.
“It’s been a big change from years past,” she said.
While the seniors have embraced their roles and taken ownership of the team culture, the special sauce is complete with a skilled squad.
Conlon leads from the catcher position and is second on the team in fielding percentage right behind Rice, a vacuum at first base (even using her non-dominant hand for her glove one inning after being stepped on sliding into third). Addington takes second base while Gregory holds down third base.
But a large chunk of the talent comes from the underclassmen. Sophomore Charlie Turner is the team’s primary pitcher holding teams to a 2.50 ERA pitching 81 of the 94 innings possible. Sophomore Eliza Johnson played shortstop until breaking her foot midway through the season with another sophomore Adison Comer filling the role and her younger sister, freshman Charlotte Comer rounding out an all-freshmen outfield.
When the Titans beat Murray the first time 7-5, they were up 5-0 in the fifth inning when three dropped balls in the outfield allowed the Spartans to tie the game. But in the second matchup with Murray, a game Olympus would win 8-1, those deep fly balls were instead being caught in right field by Jaedin Mugleston.
“It’s that mental approach to get better every day, it’s fun to make plays,” White said.
The defense has been one of Olympus’ strengths featuring a .929 fielding percentage.
The offense is balanced with eight different hitters all having double digit hits and RBIs as the Titans finished region outscoring its opponents 161-25.
Conlon was quick to point to the coaching staff as the glue of the team. “Our coaches are the main motivators for us to push ourselves and be the way we look out there.”
For White and his coaching staff, the most important aspect about the program is ensuring the quality of the person over any stat on the field.
“We care about being a good teammate. We care about making sacrifices. We care about getting better each day and we care about hard work. That's what we focus on,” he said. “The wins and the losses come and go. It's the experience that these girls graduate high school that really means the most.”
Focusing on that mutual growth over results is what White believes will bring a sustainability to the program.
“When you do that, over time, you will attract a sort of individual that's drawn to that hard work, to that fun, and that acceptance and love from a team. Eventually the pieces are going to fall into place. Eventually you're going to find one of those puzzles that just fit together and lots of good things happen.”
The Titans can expect a higher seed for the 5A state tournament and probably a first-round bye into the super regional where they’ll play at home on Thursday, May 18 at 4 p.m.
“We still have to take care of business and I feel like with the team that we have, we’ll give our best effort,” he said.