Danielle Robbins of Jonathan Alder puts down a bunt during a 2021 game. The Lady Pioneers have conducted weekly workouts to erase the memories of a Division II district runner-up finish this past season. (Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
A Division II district runner-up finish didn’t mean anything to the 2021 Jonathan Alder High School softball team.
As a matter of fact, it left a sour taste in the Lady Pioneers’ mouths.
“No disrespect for our trophy, but it’s still locked in the dugout,” said JA head coach Dave McGrew. “Nobody really wants to look at it.”
That’s because the Lady Pioneers have been used to advancing past the district level in the past seven or so seasons.
Jonathan Alder won the D-II state championship in 2019 and earned a couple other trips to the state Final Four in preceding seasons.
The Lady Pioneers weren’t allowed to defend their state crown in 2020 as the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2021 campaign ended far earlier than they wanted.
As such, Alder has used summer sessions the past couple of months in order to erase the bitter memories of the district tournament and to prepare for the 2022 season.
“We’ve been working out every Tuesday this summer,” said McGrew. “We’re all about the fundamentals of softball and that’s where our focus has been.”
Particular attention has been paid on throwing and defense.
“The biggest improvement I’ve seen this summer has been in cutting off throws from the outfield and backing up plays in the infield,” said the coach. “We had some trouble with that last year as we started four or five freshmen.
“We’re working on taking proper angles on defensive plays and that will help us next year.”
Each week’s session has attracted 20-to-24 athletes.
“That’s a good turnout,” said McGrew. “For the past three years, we’ve averaged 18-to-20.”
The Lady Pioneers’ success over the past several years has attracted more candidates for the 2022 season.
“We’ve got 34 girls signed up for next spring,” said McGrew. “That includes 14 freshmen, after we had nine on the roster this past spring.
“Success breeds success,” said the coach. “Girls in our school district want to be a part of a successful program.”
The higher number of athletes should allow Alder to play a full junior varsity schedule next spring.
JA played a limited number of JV games this year.
McGrew was pleased with how coachable the 2021 freshmen were as the season progressed.
“Those girls had that ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look early in the season,” he said. “However, they continued to soak up everything we were teaching them.
“They really grew up during the final two weeks of the season.”
McGrew feels the same way about the incoming frosh.
McGrew said those girls have learned a great deal over the summer.
“They’ve done a great job with fundamentals,” he said.
Lady Pioneer opponents may want to approach the team with much trepidation next spring.
Alder (22-5) had no seniors on this year’s roster and will return a veteran lineup in 2022.
That, McGrew said, should bode well for the program.
“The girls learned a lot during our district loss (4-3) to Lakewood,” he said. “They had seven seniors, while we were a very young team, especially since we didn’t get to play in 2020.”
McGrew has taken the Lady Pioneers to new heights since taking over the program in the early 2010s.
Jonathan Alder had some solid teams during the 20 years before his elevation to the head coaching position.
JA, however, didn’t advance very far in post-season play.
“We didn’t make it to the district tournament any of those years,” said McGrew. “Then our motto became ‘district or bust.’”
The expectations, though, have exponentially climbed throughout the years.
“We’ve sort of created our own monster,” said McGrew. “Even though we just concentrate on game-to-game, our season isn’t ‘district or bust,’ it’s ‘state or bust.’”