KCHI Sports Director, Brent Hesse, sat down with Coach Lee Rucker of the Chillicothe Hornets Softball team to discuss the upcoming fall season. The audio of the interview that played on the radio is included in this article, and Coach Rucker’s responses are in bold.
Hello and welcome in, this is Brent Hesse looking at the season preview, talking with Coach Lee Rucker of the softball team. Coach Rucker, thanks for joining me today. How are you doing?
Thanks for having me, I’m doing well. Looking forward to the season.
Yeah it’s definitely an exciting time of the year! We’re getting started, sport season is very close to being upon us, so how is the energy right now with the team as you get approaching the season?
So we’ve had two practices and so far I’ve been really pleased with the energy. We’re looking to fill spots this year. We’ve had some graduations from last year that open up some playing time for some kids and we’ve got 24 girls right now, actually I should say 23 one of them is injured. We’ve got 23 girls out there and they’re competing really hard and they’re coming in with a lot of energy each evening and so we’re excited about this group and to see what they can do.
Yeah it’s definitely early on in the process and I want to go back to last season real quickly. You had such a successful season, 28-7 overall, making a run to the state finals, finishing as a state runner-up. Just talk about that team, what does a season like that do not only for the individual team, that group of players and coaches, but for the program as a whole?
That’s been a special group. Back to back state finals, we had four seniors last year that graduated that started for three years for us and played big rolls: pitcher, catcher, 2nd base and shortstop and we had another senior that started at first base at the end of the year last year for us, so we definitely will miss those girls but they have done such a great job as leaders of kind of laying that foundation for the program over the last few years. These younger girls have watched how they work every day and follow their lead and we got a lot of kids back that know how to work hard and play a lot of softball, even the incoming freshmen got to watch that succession and see the excitement that surrounds it and that just encourages them to keep working hard even though it’s going to be a whole different look this year and we’re going to have to figure out some spots. We’re really excited about the fact that the expectation has been set, the bar has been set and we’ve got a lot of girls that are working really hard to keep it there.
Yeah, let’s talk about some of those individual players that are coming back, key players that you’re expecting to take that next step up. You mentioned how many great seniors you had last year, who are some of the players that are going to step up, leadership roles, but also be the key contributors on the field?
We’ve got some seniors this year that will look to step into those leadership roles. Jolie Bonderer, Adra Stretch, Hadley Beemer, all three have quite a bit of varsity playing time experience and Jolie has anchored our outfield a little bit last year and played a big role before so she’ll be a leader out there for us and Hadley will see a lot of time in the circle, need to be a leader for us and Adra played third base last year so we’re looking for those girls to come back in and lead us and so far they’re doing that. We got a couple other seniors are competing for playing time Isabelle Fitzpatrick, Emily Schreiner, and Emilie Paxton ran bases for us quite a bit last year and Tori Stoner is a junior and she started for a couple years for us so we’re looking for good things out of her and Charley Peniston got a lot of valuable time last year as a freshman and so we’re looking for those people to lead us, but they got a lot of people that are right behind them working really hard and challenging them to be better every day and everyone’s just pushing each other to be the best that we can be.
It’s always nice when you have good competition on your team, that way you can make sure that everyone is playing at their highest level. What do you think some of the strengths of this year‘s team are going to be?
Well this year, we’re gonna have a lot more speed than we’ve had in the past. We’ve lived on some power the last couple years and we’ve had a little bit of speed, but with some of the young players that we’ve got coming in, and some of the people that may be stepping up into different roles, we’re going to have a little bit more speed I think on the on the field and on the base paths. So instead of looking for home runs, we may be looking for stolen bases and bunts and stretching doubles into triples and things like that, so we’ve been talking about that kind of thing. How can we get an extra 60 feet here and there, that gives us more opportunities to score runs because that’s ultimately the goal, is to get runs across home plate and we may just have to do it in a different way this year but we got kids that play that play a lot of softball, that have experience and they know how to do that, so we’re just going to keep working on figuring out what the best combinations are.
It looks like the season’s getting close to beginning. Can you map us out what you’ve got in terms of preseason before the official regular season gets underway and then your first couple games, tournaments, when are we going to be able to see the Chillicothe Lady Hornets Softball team in action?
So we’ve got a couple weeks of practice here, this week and next week and then at the end of next week on that Saturday, we’ve got a jamboree over at Cameron, it’s 19th, let me restate that, it just got moved to Plattsburg. It involves Plattsburg, Cameron and Lathrop so we will be playing that at Plattsburg that Saturday morning starting at 9 o’clock. We’ll get three one-hour sessions against each of those teams. That just gives us a good opportunity to look at some things on the field in live action with the kids and then the following weekend we go to the greater Kansas City tournament where we play five games between Friday and Saturday. We’ll play two games on Friday to kick off the season and then three more on Saturday so that’s an exciting one for us. We get to go play really good competition down there and it really tests us to see where we’re at going into the season.
You’ve had so much success in recent years. Do you set goals or expectations for the team, does the team do that and what are kind of some of the goals and expectations? Maybe it’s early but thoughts on that going into the year.
Yes, so we sat down and set those goals last spring actually because I wanted them to have those things in their mind all summer while they were doing off-season work. We talk about process goals and we talk about outcome goals, and the process goals can revolve around how we go about practice every day what kind of teammates we are with each other and for each other and hold each other accountable to certain standards and so we try to talk about those often because that’s what really drives the outcomes. The outcome goals the girls set are a lot like the ones I’ve had recently. They want to compete for a Conference Championship throughout the season, we won the MEC the last three years and they’re not looking to give that up anytime soon! They want to be ready in October to compete for a District title and get in the playoffs and then see what happens and they threw out there that they’d really like to go back to the Final Four so those are on the goal sheet and now we just got to keep putting in the work to make sure we’re doing the things necessary to try to accomplish those.
Yes, I like those goals a lot! Hoping that we can accomplish all those this season and then just talk about the fans and the support that you have from the community. We, of course, know that the softball team gets a lot of support. What do you want to see from the fans and what do you want to ask for them this season as they go out there and support the Lady Hornets on another solid team?
Yeah we’ve had a lot of support the last few years. It’s been really fun. The nature of softball and baseball is kind of the same way, the games are played a little earlier in the evening and sometimes it’s hard for people to get out there after work and things like that, but we have been drawing some decent crowds for our home games especially the last couple years. We hosted district, the District tournament, two years ago and had phenomenal crowds for that because it was later in the evening and then last year for our state quarterfinal game, it was just incredible. The amount of community support we had, the number of people that were there and the girls really notice it. They really appreciate it. They have really enjoyed over the last few years, just the simple things like people stopping them in Walmart and congratulate them on a great game or a great season and so our community has been really good at supporting our program and other programs at Chillicothe High School and we really appreciate them. I just encourage them to keep coming out and watching our girls compete.
I’m excited for another season. I think everybody is as well. Thank you so much Coach Rucker for your time. Best of luck to begin the season and we look forward to following along.
Thank you very much and welcome to Chillicothe Brent.