Steeped in talent and experience, Auburn Mountainview’s softball team was supposed to compete for a state trophy last spring.
But an unexpected, first-round loss in the district playoffs had the Lions scrambling with unfavorable seeding at state.
A week later, they were bounced after three games at the 4A state tournament in Spokane, ending a 23-5 campaign.
After dominating its division, Auburn Mountainview discovered things can change quickly in the postseason. The Lions hope to be ready this season with a retooled lineup powered by heavy hitters and a fresh approach.
No longer playing with high expectations, the Lions are ready to play up to their high standards, then see how it all unfolds.
“Even though we may have had more talent last year, I think this year we have the potential to get to state,” said coach Alicia Thompson. “We plan on getting back right to where we were last year, maybe even do a little bit better.
“I feel like the pressure is kind of off. We’re just going to go for it.”
Gone to graduation is last year’s nucleus – ace pitcher Zoe Collins, shortstop Emily Ramirez and catcher Laurel Tauzer. But the returning group is more than capable, led by five seniors – Caitlyn Rhoades, Emily Bartholomew, Lily Hope, Megan Perius and Kayla Fox.
Rhoades, with state experience, inherits the circle, and just as Collins did for her, she will bring along an understudy, promising freshman Perla Duran.
Bartholomew, an outfielder, leads the attack with her big swing. Hope and Perius will help anchor the infield. Fox will work the outfield.
The 5-foot-11 Bartholomew returns even stronger, having spent the summer joining Rhoades and other Lions on the 18U Washington Synergy, a select team that competed against national-caliber squads in California and Las Vegas, Nev.
“All my coaches … since Little League … have really pushed me, to work, to keep on striving,” said Bartholomew, one of the district’s top players, who hit .449 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs to lead all 4A hitters last season. “Even though I could hit, I’ve worked on all areas. … There’s always new things to learn with fielding.”
Some familiar faces will surround Bartholomew in the lineup. The Lions return juniors Emma Podliska at catcher, Jordyn Shockman at third base and Adrianna Lomeli-Smith in the outfield. Sophomore Azaria Johnson is among the bright underclassmen.
“Personality wise, these girls have been together since they were freshmen on varsity, and we have had success,” Thompson said. “Team chemistry is awesome. I have awesome leadership. They come back from failure. They’re resilient.
“They get better every year. They’re all pretty consistent.”
The Lions went 13-1 against other teams in the North Puget Sound League Olympic Division last season, but they expect a more difficult run this spring.
“This year we’re definitely going to have to compete harder,” Rhoades said, “and I think we’ll go into it knowing that, and it will make us a better team, not just walking through like it’s easy.”
Bartholomew added: “It will be tough … but if we work hard enough, I feel we could reach the same goal that we’ve had. … We still got the core. I mean, we lost some girls, but we still have good girls who are still growing, still working. They’ll fill the gaps.”
Bartholomew would like to end her senior season with a bang, perhaps launch 20 home runs.
If she succeeds?
“We’ll throw a party,” she said, “a barbecue.”
Auburn Riverside is coming off its first state appearance in more than a decade. The Ravens went 15-9, falling to the eventual state champion Woodinvile in the opener.
Back are four first-team All-NPSL Olympic players – juniors Autumn Lee (pitcher) and Brooke Dye (infielder); and sophomore outfielders Madison Muxen and Karly Tiedeman.
“Lots of talent, but we have to put it all together if we want to unseat Auburn Mountainview and hold off the other teams,” said Ravens coach Bryce Strand.
Strand expects the division race to attract a crowd of contenders.
“Beamer is young and can really hit. They are always tough,” he said. “Enumclaw is always scrappy … and Auburn is really improving, (with a) phenomenal core of sophomores and a few seniors who have really improved.”
Up-and-coming Auburn, 11-11 a year ago, has a large returning cast of players, including sophomores Kiana Adams (pitcher), Lynetti Aumua (shortstop) and Charity Sevaaetasi (catcher, third baseman); junior Jillian Tinsley (catcher, utility); and seniors Carly Ross (utility) and Taylor Hanson (outfielder).