Softball, track put a spring in Zimmerman's step
Annville-Cleona's Morgan Zimmerman is a standout in both softball and track and field in the spring.
During an age of increasing specialization in high school sports, the formerly prominent three-sport athlete has reached the verge of extinction.
Annville-Cleona softball shortstop Morgan Zimmerman has followed that trend throughout her high school career, but with a twist. Zimmerman isn't a three-sport athlete, she's an even more rare breed - a four-sport athlete.
In the fall, it's field hockey - Zimmerman was a starting forward on A-C's Section 3 championship team this past season - and in the winter Zimmerman spends her time on the hardwood with the school's girls basketball team.
But it is in the spring when, Zimmerman, a senior, really gets busy. Since her sophomore year, she's pulled off the fairly amazing feat of competing in two sports in the same season - softball and track and field - and at a high level, too. In addition to her standout play at shortstop for perennial softball power A-C, Zimmerman also shines as a sprinter for the Dutchmen track team, having qualified for the District 3 Championships in the 200 meters and the 4 x 100 relay last season.
Oh, and she manages to fit in some school work and a social life in her rather limited spare time.
"It's a little hard," Zimmerman admits. "I don't do a lot of training, track-wise. I spend practices at softball, but obviously with our relay team we have to find some sort of time where I can come down and work on hand-offs and that kind of thing. So sometimes I have to stay a little bit extra, which cuts into my regular life. But I'm doing fine managing it, for the most part."
And busy as it is, it beats the alternative as far as Zimmerman is concerned. She ran track in middle school, but temporarily gave it up to focus on softball in her freshman year of high school. And pretty quickly regretted it.
"Freshman year not being able to do track, I kinda missed it a little bit," she said. "I don't know, I feel like I would have regretted not trying to do both of them. Because I feel like I would have missed both of them. Even though softball is my first choice and what I'm going to play in college (at Messiah), I felt like I should I take advantage of the opportunity to run a little bit of track while I could."
Not a big fan of idle time, Zimmerman has carried that philosophy over to the fall and winter, staying active with field hockey and basketball while preparing for her really busy season in the spring.
"I just love every kind of sport, I guess," she said of not taking a season off. "If I could, I would play everything. When we have a week between seasons I'm honestly bored. I don't know what to do with myself. I don't know what it's like to go to school and then not have practice. It's just kind of what I'm used to, I guess."
An added bonus for Zimmerman in the spring is the fact that competing in both sports manages to benefit her in each. Most notably, her sprint training enhances her baserunning skills on the softball diamond.
"I definitely think running sprints at track obviously helps my baserunning. Obviously the speed and footwork and things like that," she said. "I definitely think the two help each other. And at softball this year, we do a lot of footwork (drills), so that carries into my speed for track. So I definitely think they do help each other."
To compete in two sports in the same season also requires her coaches to be both supportive and understanding, so Zimmerman is most appreciative of track coach Jerome Simon and past and present softball coaches Dave Bentz and Melvin Dorta for allowing her to pursue both sporting passions.
She may need a different kind of support next year, when her four-sport career transforms into a singular focus on softball at Messiah. But she figures to be no less busy, just in a slightly different way.
"I feel like I'm definitely gonna miss every other sport," Zimmerman said. "But obviously softball is kind of my passion out of all of them, and I feel that's gonna basically become year-round. So I feel like I'm gonna be busy with one sport and that'll be enough."
What follows is a team-by-team capsule look at the seven Lebanon County scholastic softball programs and what's in store for them this spring:
Coach: Melvin Dorta, 1st year
Last year's record: 14-7 overall,
Key players lost: Emma Lerchen (P), Hannah Fischer (CF)
Top returning players: Amber Rexrode (1B), Sr., Morgan Zimmerman (SS), Sr., Sarah Fischer (2B) Sr., Ally Binkley (3B) Soph., Lauren Schrader (C) Soph., Michaela Singer (OF) Sr., Cayla Gassert (OF) Sr., Zoee Garis (OF) Sr.
Promising newcomers: Kayla Grubb (P) Soph.
Outlook: A-C lost longtime coach Dave Bentz for administrative reasons, and ace pitcher Emma Lerchen and steady center fielder Fischer to graduation, but still returns plenty of talent and experience to the fold for new head coach Dorta, the former Harrisburg Senators baseball player.
If the pitching holds up A-C should again be in the section title race with arch nemesis Pequea Valley and a strong contender for Lancaster-Lebanon and District 3 playoff spots.
Coach: Eric Edwards, 4th year
Last year's record: 9-11 overall, 7-9 in Section 1
Key players lost: Emma Spang (C), Maddie Gable (P), Lexi Tonini (OF)
Top returning players: Ashley Maulfair (1B) Sr., Anna DeBellis (3B) Sr., Desiree Mancill (OF), Bailey Perry-McClintic (SS-P), Jenna Sloss (INF-OF), Rachel Witherite (INF), Cassie Flocken
Promising newcomers: Morgan Arnold
Outlook: The Falcons lost the strength of last year's team - ace pitcher Gable and catcher Spang - to graduation, but return just about everybody else in the starting lineup, providing hope that they can be competitive against the always formidable competition in Lancaster-Lebanon Section 1.
"With seven returning starters from a year ago, we are hopeful that our experience pays off for us this season," Edwards said. "We are still fairly young (with only 3 seniors) so we have plenty of work to do, but we are optimistic that we can be successful this season. I’m excited to see this group develop throughout the season.
Coach: Randy Derr, 2nd season
Last year's record: 7-12 overall, 6-10 in Section 3
Key players lost: Sara Bentz (1B), Beth Wiczalkowski (INF-OF), Maddie Groy (C), Courtney Henry (RF), Casey Boyer (2B)
Top returning players: Amaya Phillips (P-3B), Jr., Sarah Yermalovich (P-SS) Jr., Maggie Bollinger (2B) Sr., Jess Trump (1B) Soph., Allie Header (SS-3B) Soph., Karisa Miller (OF) Jr., Maddie Nolt (OF) Jr.
Promising newcomers: Erin Speicher (C) Soph., Katie Fields (OF) Jr., Vivian Lattanze (OF) Jr., Daphne Krause (OF-C) Fr.
Outlook: The Raiders showed some flashes of potential last season but couldn't quite put it all together. Derr is hoping that changes this season, as a young group led by Phillips and Yermalovich looks to find its way in the always formidable Lancaster-Lebanon Section 3.
"Our biggest goal is to get to postseason play," Derr said. "We are young, but with great attitudes and the willingness to learn. Every time we take the field it is a learning experience for the first year players (5), and the players want to learn. I expect to improve as the season goes on, win the games we should and steal a couple we are not."
Coach: Bob Norman, 2nd year
Last year's record: 1-19 overall, 1-15 in Section 2
Key players lost: Ashley Kropf (OF),
Top returning players: Seniors - Emily Fake, Katey Roth, Brooke Wagner, Jackie Checo Juniors: Maggie Hinkel Sophomore Aurianis Lassalle (SS)
Promising newcomers: Sophomore Mikayla Bowman, Maddie Clark and Freshmen Ivanna Cumba
Outlook: The Cedars have a fairly bright outlook for a team that won only one game last season. And with fairly good reason, given that only one starter was lost to graduation. There is some talent in the core group that returns, most notably Lassalle, who was solid defensively last year and triple and homered in a narrow 9-8 loss to Elco on Wednesday.
"The team is looking to improve on last year and have been working very hard to be more competitive," Norman said. "We have a good core nucleus of players that have gained a lot of experience last year and they will use that to lead this team. Our pitchers have improved and we return 5 starters on the defensive side. We will be solid up the middle with Wagner, Roth, Lassalle, Checo and Fake holding the fort. Our newcomers will help solidify the corners of our defense. The team has been working extremely hard on improving our offense and they look forward to showing the confidence gained at the plate."
Coach: Kerry Long, 12th year
Last year's record: 0-15 overall, 0-13 Section 4
Key players lost: Allison Warren (SS-C)
Top returning players: Hannah Callihan (P) Jr., Faith Kostow (P) Jr., Alex Cepada (Utility) Sr., Mitchelle Cepada (3B) Sr., McKenna Purcell (1B) Soph., Gabby Andrews (2B) Jr.
Promising newcomers: Sami Hatzfeld (C) Fr., Abriana Eisenhauer (SS) Fr.
Outlook: After struggling just to keep the program alive the past few seasons, things are looking a bit brighter on Assumption Hill this spring.
That doesn't mean wins will be plentiful, but with 13 players out for the team the program appears to be headed in the right direction again."We're looking to compete," Long said. "There's not a lot of experience, but I think we can win maybe one or two this year and really hope to build for next year. We always hold out hope and try to stay positive. I enjoy myself and try to make sure the kids enjoy themselves, too."
Coach: Ed Spittle, 1st year
Last year's record: 7-13 overall, 6-10 Section 3
Key players lost: Katie Hossler (SS), Jess Kreiser (P), Nicole Ditzler (P-1B), Richelle Kreiser (2B), Kaley Donmoyer (OF),
Top returning players: Melanie Showers (OF-P) Jr., Emma Kelliher (P) Soph., Kaylee Mauser (C) Jr., Haley Fegley (OF-P) Jr., Sydney Mengel (OF/C) Soph.
Promising newcomers: Baylee Madilia (1B) Fr., Taylor Douple (CF) Fr,, Hannah Bashore (INF) Fr., Lindsey McFeaters (INF-P) Fr., and Carrie Shuey (SS) Soph.
Outlook: Veteran coach Spittle returns for his second stint as the Vikings' boss and with a young team that he is quite excited about. Off to an impressive 3-0 start, the Vikings have so far justified that excitement.
"We do not have a senior on the team," Spittle said. "We will be very young (I like that). It looks like Mel Showers and Emma Kelliher will do most of the pitching on the varsity level, with Lindsay McFeaters doing the pitching on the JV level. We do not have strong numbers, but we do have a very talented JV team which will provide help soon. We could cause some trouble as we are improving quickly, and I see us starting to be very competitive next year."
Coach: Tod Whitman, 2nd year
Last year's record: 9-11
Key players lost:Kayla Bonawitz (SS), Kailey Werkheiser (C-CF), Mikayla Bomgardner (P)
Top returning players: Abbey Krahling (P) Soph., Rebecca Randall (SS) Jr., Sarah Boyer (C) Soph., Bri Long (2B) Sr.
Promising newcomers: Meagan Quigley (3B/OF), Jr., Ashley Acri (RF), Jr., Payge Coburn (CF), Jr., Molly Nelson (Utility) Soph., Shayla Myers (Utility) Soph.
Outlook: The Cougars showed a good deal of promise in Whitman's first season at the helm, and figure to show some more this time around despite the graduation losses of key cogs Bonawitz, Werkheiser and Bomgardner.
"Losing 3 critical starters, including 1st team Mid-Penn All-Star Bonawitz, team leader Werkheiser, and platooned starting pitcher Bomgardner will certainly hurt this team," Whitman said. "But we are looking forward to added depth this year with the program growing in participants. We almost doubled last year’s player numbers, which will bring back the JV program into existence. Having a year of our new culture and concepts in place should also help get us off to a faster start than last year."