Rightly so, recent articles about the sudden COVID-19-related ending of spring high school and college sports have focused on seniors at the end of the journey and teams with legitimate championship potential.
But other squads who are just beginning a turnaround missed out on crucial formative steps of their journey. Witness the Valley Vista baseball and softball programs.
Both teams only played a handful of games with their new coaches before the season ended early in mid-March. Softball trotted out its fifth coach in five seasons. Baseball sported a roster full of seniors, but in many ways was also starting over after not having enough freshmen to field a team last year.
“This year was vital in starting in a new direction. Both coaches are looking at building consistency within the programs including maintaining coaching staffs at the lower levels. Both have work to do as (the programs) have fallen behind our sister schools in building consistency,” Valley Vista athletic director Brad Larremore stated in an email.
Almost a month after the school year and spring sports season shut down, the Monsoon have some good news. Larremore stated both coaches will be back next year. Both are on campus — baseball coach Brady Farrington teaches PE and softball coach Bradley Trachte teaches art/ceramics.
Softball needs the consistency more than most teams. Lindsay Hunley finished her two-year coaching stint in 2016, followed by Melissa Lindley in 2017, Stephanie Kingsley in 2018 and Julie Medrano in 2019.
Trachte did not come into the program cold, coaching the junior varsity in 2018. He stated the team’s seven seniors are special.
Four seniors play all four years at Valley Vista (Moira Mesola, Josette Orion, Mackenzie Goodrich-Williams and Taylor Garner.) Two more transfered in last year, and Trachte said Isabella Ybarra and Alexis Knapp were ready to help the team make a run at an elusive playoff berth.
“They saw the changes happening. They know that growth is going to occur and even though their time has come to an end on the field, they will be helping me continue to build this program,” Trachte stated. “We have not talked much about the past ... I am trying to help them stay focused on their future. They know what they started and know their importance in starting it. The younger girls are starting to understand that they are the future and we are in need of new leaders. These are the girls that are willing to step up and continue the growth and help guide us forward. The team was working hard and willing to do what they could to support their seniors. While we are on hiatus, the girls are going to be working in pairs holding each other accountable in improving upon their weaknesses and growing as a family.”
Monsoon baseball was more stable entering the spring but only by a degree. Founding coach Klent Corley left after the 2012 season.
Mark Flatten coached Valley Vista for three seasons, the left for Verrado. Ernesto Ortiz took the helm for 2016 and 2017 before being hired by Ottawa University-Arizona.
Enrique Cotto led the team the last two seasons.
“Growth is difficult to measure at this point. Coach Farrington had 15 seniors this year! This was due to many student athletes wanting to return to the program with the regime change. The lower levels need a lot of work on basic skills and we were fielding a JV B/frosh team this year after canceling it last year,” Larremore said. “The culture was seeing a positive change that was more inclusive and willing to build skills. This crisis has put this program a few rungs lower on the ladder in terms of player development.”
Softball appeared to be developing something in 2019. Five freshmen played on that 16-13 with four being at least semi-regular starters.
But the toll of the coaching revolving door was noticeable on the 2020 roster. Two of those freshmen transferred — Kayla Bryant to Canyon View and Abigail Medrano to Dysart.
Instead of playing her senior year, former starter Paige Bryant decided to sprint for the track team.
“Since there has not been consistency in the head coaching position, many girls were not in a position mentally to take the program seriously. The girls that were serious this year came to the club meetings and joined the softball class offered at the school. Many didn’t and we had to work to get them ready in a hurry. When the season began, we had girls fall away from the program and some join that hadn’t participated in anything,” Trachte stated. “Coach (Brian) Russell and I knew that we had some good leaders in Moira Mesola and Josette Orion and counted on them to assist us in building a better culture. We had seven seniors with three of them having extensive experience. We had two juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen. All of these girls had great attitudes and were willing to do what needed to be done for the team.”
Larremore said Trachte is passionate about softball and was beginning to create a positive culture, and that the school has some passionate coaches at the lower levels, but they need to improve their overall coaching skills.
Trachte stated that assistant coach Russell’s experience with the program and knowledge of the game is crucial with pulling the team together, and that the seniors are always going to be held high in his book for beginning the change of Valley Vista softball.
“This team has some good, young players who have bonded well,” Larremore stated. “The year was so vital for this development. I’ve had six softball coaches in my 10 years as AD here. So many reasons for this occurring ranging from skill level, pregnancy, reassigning of teaching position to sister school and being overwhelmed in the position coming from the club scene.”
Larremore also stated that Farrington is the right coach for the baseball job.
Farrington’s father, Steve nearly died at the scene of a high-speed car accident May 6, 2019 in Needles, Calif. Brady his brother, Tyler, and other family members have cared for the former Washington State University coach since the wreck.
But, Larremore stated, Steve Farrington he was attending practices and games in his riding chair and helping out.
“This year would have been competitive for varsity and I think they could have won the region. Now, with the 15 seniors gone, the program is starting from scratch,” Larremore stated. “Our baseball kids had bonded with Coach Farrington so well and were really having a positive experience. Just in writing this, I’m so sad for them.”
Thanks to two early-season tournaments, the softball team played more games than just about every other spring team, going 5-6.
Valley Vista was 1-1 in the 6A conference with a loss against Phoenix Xavier Prep. Trachte said the Monsoon went toe to toe with the Gators until the bottom of the seventh. Then Valley Vista played its last three games at the Cool Nights Tournament and won all of them.
“Being in our position and the caliber of talent that we were going to face, we didn’t want any injuries to any of our players and our pitcher, Alex Hess. We were preparing to play Liberty, Sandra Day O’Connor, Mountain View and others before starting region. We really believe that this team, with the growth of Alex and junior Emily Durand as battery mates, and the talent around them that this team could make the state tournament for the first time. The girls were very confident and believe that we are capable of reaching that goal,” Trachte said. “Being in our position and the caliber of talent that we were going to face, we didn’t want any injuries to any of our players and our pitcher, Alex Hess. We were preparing to play Liberty, Sandra Day O’Connor, Mountain View and others before starting region. We really believe that this team, with the growth of Alex and Jr, Emily Durand as battery mates, and the talent around them that this team could make the state tournament for the first time. The girls were very confident and believe that we are capable of reaching that goal. The girls have worked hard for all of their coaches. As a program, we can get stronger, smarter and more confident over the next few years with girls of good character and turn Valley Vista into a strong program.”
As Larremore was honest about, this spring was crucial for both programs in rebuilding their “brand name” in the community.
All the turnover has caused parents in Surprise with kids in baseball and softball clubs to look elsewhere.
“This has been devastating for both programs. Softball needed the time to bond with the coaches and the lower levels needed to learn the game,” Larremore stated. “That is what we are dealing with lately in both sports — getting student-athletes with low skill levels. These sports are now dominated by club kids, and we do not have many in these two sports. However, the coaches are willing to put in the time to develop on their own.”