Photo courtesy of Clovis softball – The defending D-1 Central Section champions Clovis High Cougars are off to a flying start (9-1) despite having to replace a strong senior class from last season. They participated in the Kick Off Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada going 4-1 in the process and winning the Silver division.
By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
There may be some new faces taking the field for the 2016 Clovis Cougars softball team but don’t think for a second the defending D-1 Valley champs will be any less formable.
Granted, replacing such players as shortstop Cayla Broussard, catcher Cameryn Reichele and outfielders Mackenzie Emmett and Lyndsay Hathaway is no small task but this 2016 Cougar squad has an excellent mix of returning starters and impressive youngsters.
“We are very young and don’t have a lot of high school playing experience, but we are very happy with the talent that has taken the place of the great group of last year’s seniors,” said head coach Mike Noel.
And the Cougars haven’t skipped a beat starting off the season 9-1 and currently ranked No. 19 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, proving they’re still the top team in the Central Section until dethroned.
With this in mind the team starts with phenom sophomore pitcher Danielle Lung who, according to Noel, when all is said and done could rank among the Cougar all-time greats.
“It helps a lot to have Danielle Lung in the circle,” continues Noel, in his 20th year as head coach. “She has given us a chance to go through our growing pains and still be competitive. I think Danielle can be very special. An ‘all-timer.’”
She’s already cemented herself in Cougar-lore last year as a freshman with her no-hitter in the Valley title game against Central and this season threw a perfect game with 13 strikeouts against Clovis North.
Noel is also counting on senior second baseman Taylor Tiger and third baseman Alyssa Caballero to not only get on base and know ’em in, but to provide leadership. It’s worked out so far as the Cougars sport an impressive 7-1 record.
“Alyssa’s been through it all before and should provide leadership and RBI punch in the three hole,” says Noel. “And Taylor has played in our system for four years. She has a lot of skills and will set the table for the RBI producers and also can be an extra base machine.”
Tiger will be attending Long Beach State next year on scholarship and understands what it takes to be a successful team.
“As a senior I expect the intensity to be there every game,” Tigers says. “Overall, I know my team loves each other. We bonded right away.”
And the youngsters? The future is now, headlined by sophomore catcher Jordyn Martinez (“a great arm and will provide big RBI production in the middle of the order”), sophomore shortstop Tori Mueller (“a tremendous athlete with great ability”) and junior left fielder Mackenzie Byrd (“team leader who is a great example of what we think student athletes should be”).
For the third straight year Clovis traveled to Las Vegas to play in the massive 20-team Kick Off Classic on March 10-12. They went 4-1 overall and won the Silver Division, losing 2-0 to an undefeated Salspointe Catholic of Arizona.
Noel says that tournament is a good gauge to test where his team is at, comparing the top teams in the tournament to the teams of the Tri-River Athletic Conference. High praise to be sure for his Valley competitors.
As for this season, coach Noel doesn’t shy away from the fact the Cougars will get the best from every opponent and, obviously, their best pitcher. And the season’s goal, as always, has been taking one game at a time.
“Our team goals are the same ever year: we want to show up to every game deserving to win because of the work done in practice,” said Noel. “We don’t talk to much about winning the TRAC or Valley, but rather playing each game with as much fight and energy as we can. If we do that, we will be ready to compete down the stretch.”