NASELLE, Wash. - The Naselle Comets softball team has a new coach in Bekah Wirkkala and a new look as a faster, stronger team thanks to a conditioning program she brings from her days as a star third baseman for Concordia University.
"We have a great group of girls and they are buying into the circuit weight training and running program and they are taking pride in softball.
"The key is what I call focused fun. I'm looking forward to an exciting season," Wirkkala said.
The Comets were league champs two years ago, but slipped to 3-12 last season. A return to top form will require strong pitching, and senior Orianne Condon, coming off an ACL knee injury during summer basketball that kept her sidelined until now, is hoping to return to full tilt and provide her fiery brand of leadership in the circle.
Alexa York and Cassie Van Dusen aren't far behind in their pitching prowess and Vicki Corona has also spent time in the circle.
Catching for the Comets will either be veteran Haleigh See or transfer from Olympia Rochelle Mahlur. Whoever isn't behind the plate will likely play second base. Both have strong arms, according to Wirkkala. Amber Wirkkala will also see time at second.
Carley Kitzman and Ciara Sandell are both exceptional first basemen and Nicole Tarabochia looks to again be a stalwart at shortstop for Naselle. Baylee Clark returns at third base and will compete with Corona, Condon, Laura LaRoy and Kirsten Scrabeck at the hot corner.
"With the pitching rubber moved back to 43 feet this year, third base and catcher will be even more important defensively," Wirkkala said.
"Orianne, who took a line drive back through the middle last year is already liking the extra distance, but pitching will be even more of a challenge."
The outfield for Naselle should be a plus with Megan Agee or Jordan Smith in left, Taylor Wasmundt in center, and either Cassie Bolton or Mackenzie Matthews in right. York can also play the outfield and Van Dusen is a capable infielder or outfielder when not pitching.
Rob Dalton returns as assistant coach after a season off and managers Jacqueline Jarrett and Kyryn Jacot will also be a help to the program.
Northwest Christian looks to be the toughest foe in the Pacific 2B League this season, but the district will provide by far the stiffest competition as it will again feature the top teams in the state. District IV teams have totally dominated 2B fast pitch softball since it began in 2002.
Toutle Lake has three state titles, Morton has two, Mossyrock has one and Adna won last year and is the preseason pick to repeat. Mossyrock has been second three times, and Morton, Adna and PeEll last season have all finished second at state since the 2B classification was initiated eight seasons ago.
Those four teams will again be vying with the Pacific League and Naselle for four invitations to state, where Naselle has never competed in softball since the team began in 1988. Look for the new look and more fit Comets to respond to the Wirkkala focus and the fun will be a viable challenge for a state bid as early as 2010.