Sports

New coach, staff, roster give OC new look

t Trio of CK grads fill crucial spots

for Rangers.

To say this spring has been a difficult one for the Olympic College Lady Rangers fastpitch team might just prove to be the understatement of the year.

First it was filling the shoes of former coach Clay Blackwood, who took an opportunity to coach volleyball at The Evergreen State College in Olympia. After that was done with the hiring of 2000 Central Kitsap graduate Jessica Cabato, the team went to work hard getting plays and filling out the coaching staff, only to see her assistant coach leave the team for financial reasons. Several players, too, dropped off the roster, either for personal reasons or with grade issues. That left OC with holes and a roster short of nine players for a period of time.

Add to the mix that Cabato has been battling an illness she still knows little about, and things couldn’t have started much more turbulently.

“We’ve actually talked about that,” Cabato said. “I told them, ‘If we can make it through this kind of stuff, you guys will have no problem on the field.’”

Since then, Cabato, Blackwood’s pitching coach at OC last season, has rounded out the coaching staff with Jeff Robertson and Misty Mackie. The team’s roster is back up to 11 players.

Most importantly, the team is starting to come around, sweeping Skagit Valley Tuesday in a home double header with 4-3 and 3-2 wins.

“It was great to see,” Cabato said of the wins, improving the Lady Rangers to 3-3 overall. “Especially that second game. They were able to pull that out. They had key hits when we needed it. It was a good confidence-builder for them.”

And that’s what most of the season has been about; building confidence in the face of adversity.

For Cabato, it’s been an uneasy season from the get-go, when she learned she got the head coaching job.

“It was definitely an unexpected place to be in,” she said.

Now that the team has its coaching staff filled, Cabato is excited to see what her team can do.

“We’ve brought on a whole new coaching staff,” she said. “They’ve helped tremendously.”

When players started dropping like flies, Cabato said she asked her team how they felt about the season and whether or not they wanted to use the year of eligibility when the team was uncertain they would be able to field enough players to simply compete.

“That wasn’t an option for them,” Cabato said. “They amaze me every day with their dedication and commitment to the team, to being here.”

So OC rounded out its roster, making it to spring quarter and adding new faces still.

“We had to pick up a couple bodies to get us through to spring quarter,” Cabato said. “That was hard. But they were exactly what we needed to get by.”

Now OC is back to focusing on the job on the field.

“I think they’re getting more confident,” she said. “The lack of a coaching staff was definitely a hindrance. I had to put a lot on them. They were on their own. And they did it.”

A trio of freshmen CK alumni, pitcher Erika Quint, catcher Amy Renfrow and infielder Karli Baumgartner, gave Cabato a strong core to start with. South Kitsap grads Natalie Peapea an Kali Butler only added to that team chemistry, as did North Kitsap grad Rachael Korsak, King’s West alum Megan Kreifels and Peninsula grads Keri Leaverton and Carolyn Edenbo. With so many players out of the area, the team had no problem becoming familiar with one another.

“The core of the team is very strong,” Cabato said. “The chemistry is great. That has helped immensely. And a lot have played select ball too together.”

The team also has Alaskan natives Madison Massey and Niki Winburn on the roster. With just one returner in sophomore leader Winburn, Cabato said her catcher/infielder has taken the reigns.

“She’s an amazing leader,” Cabato said. “Now she gets to focus more on being a player than being a leader all the time.”

Quint will be the team’s primary arm.

“She’s pitched great, but the team hasn’t backed her up very much with the bats,” Cabato said of Quint. “She’s pitched some games that should have been wins instead of losses. She’s definitely our ace in the circle. All around she’s a great player.”

And that hitting it something that’s starting to heat up.

“That is slowly going to come around,” Cabato said. “They are a strong-hitting team. They just need to see pitching that’s a little more like what they’ll see in a game.”

While the players have had to make adjustments to the game at the collegiate level in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges, Cabato too has had to adjust from life as a player at CK and Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., to becoming a coach.

“It’s a lot different than playing,” she said. “I didn’t realize how hard it is to be a coach.”

Then becoming the head coach also present some challenges to the former pitching coach.

“Taking the whole team and making that work was tough,” Cabato said. “But I think we’re getting it now.”

As for her own illness, which has manifested itself mostly with severe dehydration, Cabato said she just wants to get over with it and back to her team and normal life.

“It is rough,” she said. “It’s not fair really to the girls. But I also work full time, so that in itself makes it hard.”

But it’s just another challenge the Lady Rangers are rising to.

OC travels to Bellevue today.

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