The Gila Ridge softball program was in its infancy when Kaelin Fox, Candra Land and Nikki Kelland stepped on to the Hawks field as wide-eyed freshmen in 2010.
“It was different,” Kelland said. “It was very different from anything we'd been accustomed to, but we were kind of expecting that because it was such a young team.”
Now as seniors, the three are looking to continue establishing a tradition they started last year: making the playoffs.
With such a young program, the pressure was on Fox, Land and Kelland as freshmen.
“They had expectations placed on them straight out of the eighth grade that not all freshmen can handle,” said Gila Ridge coach Jaime McGalliard. “The only difference is now they are the seniors and now they are in more of a leadership role instead of just completely in the performance role.”
As far as performance goes, they've done just fine. The Hawks reached the postseason for the first time as a program last year, finishing fifth in state after losing to eventual champion No. 2 Canyon del Oro.
“Last year we were fortunate that the ball bounced our way in the state playoffs,” McGalliard said. “Some kids got hot at the right time and played well at the right time. Some kids got some experiences that they'd never had as a program and that's kind of fueled the team for some good things to come. It just brings in confidence that this program might not have had before.”
For the players, reaching the summit and realizing what was there was an enlightening experience.
“It built our confidence a lot and we're all very proud of the hard work finally paying off,” Fox said. “It's a good feeling.”
The new leadership role isn't something the seniors are taking lightly. McGalliard has been impressed with the time that has been dedicated toward the program not only on the field, but off it.
“You have to walk the walk,” she said. “And by them walking the walk and being the leaders in the classroom with their grades, them being the leaders in the weight room, them being the leaders when we're on the track doing our sprint work, the other kids know that this is how we do it around here. This is what Hawk softball is all about.”
After their 19-13 record last year, McGalliard sees the Yuma region that was dominated by Cibola last year as wide open.
“I think we're a completely different team from last year,” McGalliard said. “The good thing is we did return a good group of kids, but what we have to do is, everybody has a role, everybody has a job to do and if everybody does their job, we'll be fine. Offensively, we need to execute, get key hits in key situations. Defensively, make all the routine plays and if we do those things we're going to be all right.”