“We’re definitely emphasizing chemistry this year,” said senior captain Sammy Cunningham-Darrah. “We have a tougher schedule since we’ve been more successful, but after the last few seasons we’ve been able to grow, and since we had great team chemistry in soccer and basketball this year, I think we’ll be able to move that forward.”
Cunningham-Darrah, the Wildcats catcher, is the team’s only captain, but she leads a seasoned squad onto the diamond this year that includes five seniors and four juniors. Coach Aaron Wood expects these veterans to come up big with their bats this year.
“We should be the best hitting team in the state, no question,” said Wood. “I look at our lineup and we have girls who will be batting at the six and seven spots who would be batting in the first two slots on any other team.”
Wood expects big contributions at the plate from his mainstay hitters like seniors Cunningham-Darrah, Hannah Swanson, Jordan Niles, and Abby Putnam, as well as from senior Savannah Nesbitt and junior Christina Moore who both missed last season due to injury.
Last year the Wildcats finished 9-7 and often found ways to win games in the final two innings, relying on their bats to take them to the Division III playoffs. Their bats were silenced in the first round as they lost to Thetford 13-4, but it was another year for their players to gain experience. With the knowledge of what both winning and losing in the playoffs feels like, Wood believes his girls can use their experiences to rise to the challenge.
Wood also has his team’s sights set on its first ever 10-win season, but Twin Valley will face stiff competition this year from new matchups like Burr and Burton, Bellows Falls, and Woodstock, while playing the weaker teams of last year’s schedule only once.
Twin Valley’s pitching provides a big question mark at this point in the preseason. The Wildcats lack a pitcher who can consistently match speed with strikes, and last year’s rotation soft-handed their way through the season. Wood listed Moore, Niles, Putnam, Brianna Rafus, and Colton Butler all as options on the mound, and he expects to name his top two starters by the end of the first week of their schedule. A few of the girls in the bullpen have been pro-active as well by attending pitching clinics to help improve a weak spot on the team.
Wood refrained from naming who would be starting on the defensive side of the ball, but he has a strong group of players to use. Along with Butler and Moore are juniors Natalie Herrick and Jessica Fox, who both contributed offensively and in the field last year, sophomores Kaylea Niles, Teya Johnson, Cassie Bratton, and Rafus, and freshmen Robyn Cunningham and Kassidy Walkowiak. Wood has also brought in three-time former Virginia Tech softball champion Erin Lawrence to help teach his squad.
While their first two goals are team chemistry and a 10-win season, the ultimate goal will always remain winning a championship.
“Anything less than that would be disappointing for this group,” said Wood. “On June 2, we should be in that game.”
The Wildcats are scheduled to begin their season Monday, on the road, against Leland & Gray at 4:30 pm.