Trio has some big spikes to fill

The Baltimore Sun

Imagine the task of trying to replace 691 coaching wins that covered 44 seasons and included six state championships.

That's the case this spring in softball-rich Anne Arundel County, where perennial state powers Glen Burnie, Northeast and Severna Park will be taking the field with new coaches looking to pick up where their predecessors left off.

The three schools didn't look far to find qualified candidates.

At Glen Burnie, assistant coach Doug Schreiber takes over for Bob Broccolino; Northeast turns to assistant coach Kenny Miller to succeed Marianne Shultz; and at Severna Park, former standout shortstop Meredith McAlister is now in charge after spending three years as an assistant under coach Jeff Shepherd.

All three new coaches believe the familiarity they have with their teams and the similar philosophies they share with their predecessors will help ease the transition. Still, it will be strange not seeing Broccolino, Shultz and Shepherd giving out signs down the third-base line.

"I think it's very important to have that familiarity," said Schreiber, who split the past eight seasons as the Gophers' junior varsity coach and the varsity assistant to Broccolino. "With the longevity and the success Broc had here, I think the kids coming up, the parents and the community -- everybody is looking for good things and for the success to continue. And if somebody came in completely new from the outside, I can imagine being a kid and thinking: 'Who is this guy? What is he all about?' and 'How's it going to be now?' Yeah, I think it's pretty important."

Aside from the paperwork, the coordinating and the delegating, the biggest adjustment going from an assistant coach to the head coach is having the final say.

"There's added pressure of having that burden on your shoulders. Before, you say what you want to say, but you knew that someone else was there to make the final decision. Now, everything falls into my lap," said Miller, who spent three seasons at Severna Park with Shepherd before spending the past six seasons with Shultz at Northeast.

So when the Eagles have the tying run on first with no outs, will Miller keep the bunt signal on after the batter has a strike on her?

That's what opposing county coaches will be trying to find out.

"That's the unknown," Chesapeake coach Don Ellenberger said. "After a couple years of coaching, you start to learn the tendencies of, not so much the kids, but the different head coaches, because you find them doing certain things in certain situations. You can prepare for that, but will all these new coaches? I don't have a clue. So for the most part, it will be a feeling-out process."

McAlister, a 1999 Severna Park grad who earned All-Metro status, grew up playing softball. She learned the game from her father, Duane, who coached at Severna Park before Shepherd, and had a number of club coaches that guided her. She has taken things from each to define her coaching philosophy. The Falcons bring back 12 players, so the transition has been smooth.

With such a mature team, McAlister is giving some of her more experienced players a say in some decisions, at least early in the season. In other words, if you see the first baseman back and can lay down a bunt, go for it. If you don't feel like you can get a bunt down against this pitcher or struggled a bit on bunts during warm-ups, then hit away.

"I believe that they need to take on a little bit of the leadership and some of the decision-making themselves. So we talk about why we think we should do it this way versus a different way," McAlister said. "I let it play out that way early in the season, and then when crunch time comes later, I'll be telling them more what they'll be doing."

Shultz said the times have changed since she got her first coaching job at Andover High in the early 1990s.

"Back when I started, it wasn't unusual to have a brand new, first-year teacher right out of college jump in and take over a head position. Often now, there's a very good stepping-stone system in place where you have somebody that you can mold and guide," she said.

Schreiber, Miller and McAlister all agreed that the time spent learning from Broccolino, Shultz and Shepherd was invaluable in preparing for the head positions.

Elsewhere, at C. Milton Wright, former assistant coach Russ Kovach takes over for Joe Dunch, who stepped down after 14 seasons that included one state title and 200-plus wins. Dulaney's Lori Ryan, who led the Lions to their first Baltimore County championship last spring, stepped down, with Dave Barwick taking over.

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

THE POLL

1. Chesapeake-AA

Last season -- 23-3, ranked No. 1

Outlook -- The defending Class 4A champion Cougars have Metro Player of the Year Lauren Gibson returning to the mound to go with a potent lineup and reliable defense in their bid for another title.

2. Broadneck

Last season -- 19-3, No. 3

Outlook -- Sophomore pitcher Kourtney Salvarola was sensational last year, leading the Bruins to their first Anne Arundel County title before falling to Chesapeake in the regional finals. Is this the Bruins' year?

3. Arch. Spalding

Last season -- 15-5, No. 4

Outlook -- The Cavaliers have a mix of returning talent and promising newcomers, and might be the early favorite in a wide-open Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference.

4. Northeast

Last season -- 18-7, No. 8

Outlook -- While Chesapeake and Broadneck are the frontrunners in Anne Arundel, the Eagles aren't that far off, with pitcher Heather Brown and catcher Lizzie Wedell leading the way.

5. Hammond

Last season -- 23-1, No. 5

Outlook -- When last we left the Golden Bears, they were celebrating the program's first Class 2A state title when Stephanie Speierman threw a perfect game. The junior returns to lead Hammond's bid to repeat.

6. In. of Notre Dame

Last season -- 17-6, No. 6

Outlook -- With six starters returning, the Indians will look to solid defense and improved offense to offset the loss of standout pitcher Colleen Matthes, who has graduated.

7. Fallston

Last season -- 12-7, unranked

Outlook -- The experienced Cougars have a strong one-two pitching punch in senior Megan Gravell and junior Val Strawbridge, with a talented lineup to provide plenty of support.

8. Seton Keough

Last season -- 15-3, No. 2

Outlook -- The defending IAAM champion Gators graduated the program's most prolific class, but they have enough experience and talented newcomers to contend.

9. C. Milton Wright

Last season -- 16-5, No. 11

Outlook -- Under new coach Russ Kovach, the Mustangs are stockpiled with enough experienced talent to have a say in the challenging Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference.

10. Severna Park

Last season -- 16-5, No. 12

Outlook -- New coach Meredith McAlister, a 1999 Severna Park graduate, was a standout shortstop, and the Falcons have another talented one in senior Jen Haag to put them in contention in Anne Arundel County.

11. Centennial

Last year -- 18-3, No. 10

Outlook -- The Eagles were hit hard by graduation but have enough talent to make a run at the Howard County title.

12. Mount de Sales

Last year -- 7-12, unranked

Outlook -- The Sailors have a commodity few teams in the IAAM possess - experienced pitching. That should help turn the seven one-run games they lost last season into wins.

13. North County

Last year -- 14-8, No. 13

Outlook -- With a talented trio of sophomore pitchers still finding their way, the Knights will count on strong defense and making things happen with aggressive work at the plate and on the bases.

14. Franklin

Last season -- 15-4, unranked

Outlook -- The Indians, who reached the Class 3A state semifinals last spring, could be the team to beat in Baltimore County, with junior pitcher Jordan Eades leading the way.

15. Century

Last season -- 15-8, unranked

Outlook -- After two straight state semifinal appearances, can this be the year the Knights get over the hump and make the title game?

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Heather Brown

Northeast, pitcher -- The junior, who led the Eagles to the Class 3A state title game last spring, has good velocity, an array of pitches and pinpoint command.

Jessica Butler

Towson Catholic, pitcher -- The hard-throwing sophomore, who has made an oral commitment on a full softball scholarship to Maryland, went 13-1 last season and struck out 216 in 93 innings.

Lauren Gibson

Chesapeake-AA, pitcher -- The do-everything junior led the No. 1 Cougars to the Class 4A state title last season, earning Metro Player of the Year honors after going 18-3 on the mound and batting .471. She tossed a no-hitter in the title game, a 2-0 win over Damascus.

Jessica Grimshaw

Centennial, second base -- The senior All-Metro selection brings versatility, leadership and gifted skills to the Eagles' lineup. Last season, she hit .491 with 11 RBIs and five extra-base hits.

Allison Kuchar

C. Milton Wright, shortstop -- The four-year starter, who is set to play at Hofstra University, hit a team-high .431 for the Mustangs last spring and is equally valuable with the glove.

Nicole Lowenstein

John Carroll, catcher -- Feared at the plate and sturdy behind it, Lowenstein is a four-year starter who helped lead the Patriots to their first IAAM A Conference title game last season. The first-team All-Metro selection hit .432 last spring.

Kourtney Salvarola

Broadneck, pitcher -- In leading the Bruins to their first Anne Arundel County title last season, Salvarola's freshman numbers tell the story: a 13-3 record and .698 batting average, with a state-record 12 homers to earn first-team All-Metro honors.

Stephanie Speierman

Hammond, pitcher -- Her perfect game in the Class 2A state title game - a 4-0 win over North East of Cecil County - provided an exclamation point to a stellar sophomore season. The two-time All-Metro pick went 23-1 with a state-record 426 strikeouts, and batted .649.

Anna Struhar

Century, pitcher -- The savvy senior relied on an array of pitches, leading the Knights to the Class 2A state semifinals last spring. The four-year starter hit .434 with 23 runs.

Angela Yannone

Chesapeake-AA, shortstop -- The four-year starter earned first-team All-Metro honors last spring after hitting .391 with 21 RBIs and 17 runs.

Other notables -- Robin Abernathy, Long Reach; Lauren Ahrens, Chapelgate; Sarah Alpaugh, Liberty; Katie Blackston, Western Tech; Shannon Bonnet, Southwestern; Jessica Butler, Towson Catholic; Meghan Clements, Century; Shanice Crowder, Poly; Jordan Eades, Franklin; Kelley Farley, F. Scott Key; Brittany Favazza, C. Milton Wright; Kelsey Fuller, Marriotts Ridge; Michelle Gravdahl, Long Reach; Megan Gravell, Fallston; Jen Haag, Severna Park; Mary Harshman, South Carroll; Autumn Herrin, Northeast; Katie Hobson, Centennial; Maria Infussi, Mercy; Brianna Jones, Institute of Notre Dame; Courtney Kane, Seton Keough; Felicia Knill, Winters Mill; Kara Malvaso, Sparrows Point; Jackie Markel, Mount de Sales; Kaela Mason, Harford Tech; Emilie McFarland, Century; Amy Metcalfe, Westminster; Elaine Nescio, Spalding; Kerri O'Malley, Seton Keough; Caitlin Remus, Bel Air; Akeema Richards, Western; Brittani Rynkowski, North Carroll; Stephanie Schell, Maryvale; Casey Schmidt, Glenelg; Alex Schovee, River Hill; Lauren Scrivener, Eastern Tech; Lauren Singer, Loch Raven; Emma Smith, Howard; Erika Stasch, Chesapeake-AA; Ashley Thomas, Broadneck; Kelly Trimble, Pallotti; Mandlea Uebel, Institute of Notre Dame; Meghan Van Meter, Spalding; Katie Wall, North Harford; Lizzie Wedell, Northeast; Brittany Willingham, Glen Burnie; Abby Wilson, Catonsville; Brandie Wright, Digital Harbor; Kelsea Zeglin, Perry Hall.

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