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Photo by Kyle Parmley.
Above: Sarah Cespedes compiled a 22-8 record and dominant 1.68 ERA last year and returns for her junior season.
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Heather Lee is beginning her second season at Chelsea after winning the Class 6A state championship last year.
This year will undoubtedly be different for Chelsea High School, the reigning Class 6A state softball champions, but the expectations are no less for the Hornets.
“The expectation is to win every ballgame, but every coach will say that,” said Heather Lee, entering her second season at Chelsea. “Like I said last year, we want to win every pitch, and we want to win our last game.”
Last year’s state champion team rode the contributions of a senior-laden roster, led by the likes of Alex Smithson, Mallory Bradford, McKenzie Bryant, Tristan Ziannis, Lexi Preisendorfer, Bailey Coyne and Mallory Heisler.
Their departures left many spots on the diamond up for grabs for the younger crop of players.
“A lot of our girls were in our program last year and saw everything happen,” Lee said. “They’re hard workers, and they have a lot of grit and determination to them. It’s going to be a fun year.”
Allie Miller is a versatile athlete who played second base for the Hornets last season, but she could end up anywhere on the field depending on need.
She also has the ability to hit anywhere in the lineup because of her ability to get on base in a variety of ways.
Kathryne Shoop and Miranda Traylor also return, two of Chelsea’s three seniors this season, along with Olivia Moody.
“I think they’re going to do a great job leading our team,” Lee said.
It remains to be seen which of the underclassmen will seize the opportunity to become key contributors this spring for the Hornets, but Chelsea has an ace in the hole that should make that process less stressful.
Sarah Cespedes, who committed to UAB in the summer, will once again be in the circle for the majority of Chelsea’s games. She finished last season with a 22-8 record and a dominant 1.68 ERA. Cespedes struck out 233 hitters and allowed 46 earned runs.
With much of last season’s offensive production having graduated, Lee said the team would focus on being strong defensively while making sure to retain the ability to manufacture runs.
“It’s going to be different, but I think it can be as great as last year,” Lee said. “It’s going to be a fun year, and a learning year.”
The good thing for Lee is that she and assistant coach Rebecca Roper both coach the junior varsity team as well, and many of those girls will comprise the varsity roster this spring.
“Even though they don’t have varsity experience, most of our girls have played with us,” Lee said.
It would be easy to lower expectations with such a different team, but the Hornets have no intention of doing that. They have not avoided the elephant in the room.
“Of course, (the state championship has been brought up),” Lee said. “For the most part, every girl in our program was there last year. They want that just as bad. But we’re going to have to work harder than we did last year, because people want to play us now.”
Lee has strengthened her team’s schedule this year as well, including games against defending 5A champion Springville and Vestavia Hills, who advanced to the 7A state tournament last spring.
“We’re going to be tested. We’re going to know pretty soon this year,” Lee said.