The Thompson Falls softball team will have to modify its expectations as they reenter competition after a year’s hiatus.
Last year, the Bluehawks did not play and this season they will be under a new coaching staff that will also include a member of the previous regime.
Former Lady Bluehawks’ head coach and current assistant coach Randy Pirker, who had coached Thompson Falls for 20 years but after being diagnosed with cancer had to step down as head coach, will be one of the assistants to Thompson Falls. His leadership and experience will help guide a team that is filled with several players that are new to the sport.
“You have to really modify expectations, you can’t take things for granted and you have to really slow practices down,” new Lady Bluehawks’ coach Jared Koskela said. “When you are coaching players new to the game, there is a fine line you have to follow. It is fun and difficult at the same time.”
In the Lady Bluehawks first MHSA Class B-C sanctioned game since 2016, they played the defending state champion Florence team and lost 16-0 but Koskela said he and his team were undaunted by the loss. They are just happy to be back on the field.
“It was a rocky start but I told my told my team after the game ‘we couldn’t have picked a better team to start out with,’” Koskla said. “I am not saying the completion will get any easier but this was kind of like a ‘welcome to high school.’ After the game, we got back and started practicing. We are learning how to throw the ball, catch the ball and hit the ball when you are up against a pitcher that throws 60 MPH. All my pitchers are sophomores and we have a really young team but they will adapt. We are just excited right now to have a team. I am going to take that and go with it.”
The Lady Bluehawks will be anchored by Haley Morgan, who was designated as a captain and is helping mentor a young Thompson Falls team comprised mostly of freshmen.
“She was picked as one of the captains, has been here for two years and she knows how we’ve done things,” Koskela said. “She has just been a good mentor (to our younger players). She is participating in track and softball, and I have about five girls on the team that will do both. We’ll see how it works because there will be a few games we have that will be overlapping each other the same day. We will cross that bridge when we get there. Because we didn’t have a program last year, some of our girls just did track. It’s kind of hard to switch back again when you are having fun at track but this year they are letting the girls do both.”
Thompson Falls maybe young, but some of their younger players will have experience in youth leagues. According to Koskela, there will still be quite a transition.
“There is a lot of growing that happens between freshman, sophomore, junior and senior year and we didn’t have a program last year,” Koskela said. “We lost some of our players and when you have two years off, the transition is going to be really difficult. We had a lot of talent in our juniors and I have a lot of freshmen right now. Things will be looking way better in a couple of years. Our program has seen some ups and downs. We won a state championship with Pirker (in 2010) and we just hope to be on that way up again.”
Kelsey Frank will be one of the young pitchers that will anchor the Lady Bluehawks team. Only a sophomore, Frank will look to elevate her level of play as the season progresses and get lots of valuable varsity experience in the process.
“She can throw the ball fast and will be a stud next year and the following year,” Koskela said. “She might even bring a few more girls out on the field. She has a lot of character and it’s really good to have a leader that is that young. When you are starting to rebuild a program, you have to start with the young ones and she will play a huge role in that case.”
Koskela remains optimistic with his young team.
“All we can do is go up from here and not having a team last year, we will be headed upward and hopefully stay that way,” Koskela said. “There are many reasons I applied for this year. One reason is that Pirker is a good friend of mine and just having him there is therapy for both the coaches, himself and the players. It’s just awesome. Pirker is still pretty vital to the softball program.”