The leadership may have changed, but not much else has for the West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South softball team.
The Pirates have a new head coach for the third time in four years with three-year assistant coach Jeffrey Schattin replacing Kristin De La Rosa, who was there for two years after taking over for veteran Nikky Arias.
Schattin said feels fortunate to have a lot of familiar faces to work with after the Pirates graduated only two players, pitcher Rachel Julius, who was hurt much of last year, and his daughter, outfielder Sam Schattin, who now plays for Stevens Institute of Technology.
“I think we’ll have a competitive team this year,” said the elder Schattin. “We’re trying to take it to the next level to be like the Steinerts, the Robbinsvilles, the Notre Dames.”
It will help that there is a strong foundation to build on this season. The team is a mix of classes with three seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and two freshmen. Optimism is high that the Pirates can improve on last year’s 8-13 season.
“We’re all a year older and we’ve gelled from last year,” said catcher Courtney Skolka. “I think our team camaraderie is going to be put together well and we can produce better this year.”
Skolka is a tri-captain along with fellow seniors Maddie Lee and Catie Raeter. Skolka’s junior season was highlighted by blasting two home runs in a win over rival High School North, and she’s hopeful there are more games like that this year.
“Kristen called her the field general last year,” Schattin said. “Courtney is a vocal leader in the field and off the field. I’m hoping some of the younger players will be able to replicate that moving forward.”
Skolka adds stability as the primary catcher for the Pirates. Taylor Britt saw plenty of action in the circle last year due to an injury to Julius, and the junior pitcher will be their main pitcher this season.
“Taylor stepped up last year,” Schattin said. “We’ll also have Maddie Lee and Catie Raeter pitching. What I saw last year was many of the successful teams had two or three pitchers. You can’t just throw it on one person.”
He added that the sport is getting more competitive, especially in the CVC in this area. “You need as many different looks as you can give the opposing team.”
The pitching will be well supported in the field. Lee will be at first base, Raeter will play third base, sophomore Samantha Tanapat-Hastings starts at second base, junior Courtney Kobus will be in the outfield with sophomores Sharon Lam and Abigail Carlson, sophomore Kayla Athey can catch and play first base, and Leah Churinskas plays shortstop and right field. The freshmen Alyse Dunn plays outfield and catches and Dana Jung also plays outfield.
“I think we’re really strong,” Raeter said. “Last year, we did lose Rachel and Sammy, who are amazing players. Dana and Alyse are more than capable of helping us out. The outfield is going to be really strong this year. We have our core players in the infield that will hopefully knock down the hard hits.”
Raeter hasn’t been focusing on pitching in recent years, but started back up in the fall and is ready to be a change of pace pitcher. She was also the team’s No. 3 hitter in the lineup, and feels confident that the lineup will return strong too.
“The two freshmen we added are both amazing hitters,” Raeter said. “Alyse is a really good power hitter and Dana is really quick and she gets on a lot. Hopefully we can stay consistent for the team.”
Schattin is looking forward to leading WW-P South as head coach. He has watched some of his team members grow up through the years and has been coaching youth sports for the last 17 years. His first high school head coaching job gives him the opportunity to elevate the Pirates, who last year upset Notre Dame in the regular season.
He likes the group that he has to work with, and foresees improvement this year and going forward.
“They’re hungry,” Schattin said. “One thing I preached to them is we’re going to have fun. We’ll be learning to be a teammate and support one another, which I think is very important. We emphasize that.”
Like most teams in the area, the Pirates couldn’t get outside for a week due to the snowstorm at the start of the preseason, but they used the time inside as best they could.
We’ve been doing a lot in the gym,” Skolka said. “We’ve been hitting a lot in the batting cage, and doing hitting drills. We’ve focused a lot on that. We’ve done a lot of bullpens with varsity. And we’ve been working on that and getting in as many ground balls in the gym as we can.”
WW-P South is scheduled to open the season April 1 against Ewing, one of the top teams last year in the Colonial Valley Conference.
The team’s schedule includes the usual bevy of CVC powers with Notre Dame, Robbinsville, Allentown and Steinert. The Pirates will also play non-conference games against New Egypt, South Brunswick, Monroe and Bordentown.
“I think it’s going to be good for us to see the competitiveness,” Skolka said. “Hopefully it’ll bring our competitiveness up as a team and show us what we’re capable of.”
Schattin is hopeful that with so many players back, the schedule won’t be anything too daunting.
“They got a lot of action in the CVC last year,” he said. “We also played the Rancocas Valley tournament, so we saw some quality competition. They shouldn’t be awed or anxious about playing these teams again because they’ve all seen them. It should help.”
This year’s seniors are looking to make their final seasons at WW-P South their best. Skolka will continue her career at Arcadia University, and Raeter will play at Union College.
“It’s kind of weird that it’s our last year,” Skolka said. “We’ve been here for four years and we’ve grown as players with everyone who’s come in contact with us. We finally made it and we’ll be ready to go eventually. We want it to go slow this season because we’ll miss it.”
They are trying to provide the leadership that Schattin needs from the players. They bring an upbeat attitude and outlook for their final season together.
“I think we’re a pretty competitive team,” Raeter said. “And the way we are around each other, we’re like a family. I think that’s going to be the backbone for our team is that we always support each other and pick each other up if one of us makes an error.”