Coach returns with new name, same game
By MICKEY ALVARADO
Kristalyn Smith is now Kristalyn Musselman. The name change came after she wed this summer but while her softball players are happy for her, it makes little difference to them. They'll still refer to their leader as coach. The players know full well, they still have to answer to the same hard-driven woman who led Tecumseh High School to Division 2 state titles the last two years in a row.
Aggressive is a good description of how the Indians have played the game since Smith, excuse me, Musselman took over. Chances are good, that's exactly how they'll play it again this year, regardless of how many players return. The Indians have just half of the team back after last season.
“There's a lot of new girls but they are going to bring some different things to the team,” said Musselman. “We're looking to have another good showing this year.”
At the beginning of last season the coach was reserved in her predictions of winning a back-to-back state title and she said basically what she said again this season. The Indians will take it one game at a time and make whatever adjustments needed as they go along.
“Last year was special,” said Musselman. “I will probably never have that much raw talent again. That was a really great group of girls.”
What she has to work with this season is intelligence and willingness by her new players to be sculpted.
“I feel like I've got some solid individuals,” said Musselman. “I'm looking forward to working with these girls who are a lot more coachable, and, I think, willing to get better”
There are only four seniors on the Indians' roster, Maddi Benedict, Bailey Brooks, Kaitlyn Kenyon and Kendra Smith. There are several sophomores and juniors but no freshmen listed.
The core of Musselman's pitching staff has returned with Kenyon and junior Catie Kaliszuk ready and willing to step up. Two newcomers will step inside the circle as well with junior Allie Davitt and sophomore Ashley O'Leary each able to throw in a game if needed.
“Allie and Ashley could see time in closer type rolls or middle relievers, something like that,” said Musselman. “I definitely like to mix games up with pitchers. I don't necessarily throw the same girl the whole game so I'm sure all of them will see some innings this year.”
Replacing key positions will be challenging for the coach. The strong arms of catcher Stayci Cook and short stop Jackie Barley are sure to be missed this year along with their big batting powers. However, last season the coach had Megan Oberst get behind the plate on occasion to prepare her for this season.
“You can tell she's a year older and more mature,” said Musselman. “She's worked hard over the summer and she'll be able to step into that role.”
Another potential replacement as catcher is sophomore Chelsea Hutchinson.
Before the season opening home game on Tuesday, April 14, many other positions were up in the air. The coach said she would be fine -tuning the positions until the last minute with a couple of players able to play each of the open spots. It was just going to take some time to determine which position would be best for each player.
“I can't take you around the bases yet,” said Musselman. “It's still very much in the air. I have a lot of girls who can play different positions. It's just going to be figuring out the best combinations. Right now I have several at each spot who are trying to work their way into a starting role. It's just too early to tell.”
A couple of spots looked pretty much set with Brooks making a move from second base to shortstop. Benedict will stay put at first base this year. Several of her catlike moves saved the day for the Indians' during their run to the state title last year.
When not pitching, Kaitlyn Kenyon will spend time in center field while Kristen Kenyon will return to right field when her knee is completely healed from surgery. As stated, Oberst will be behind the plate.
“Other than that, it's all kind of up in the air,” said Musselman. “We have girls who can play both infield and outfield well, and we're hoping to find a spot so they can practice in a consistent location and get better.”
The Indians loss of bat power will be replaced with cunningness and speed. Musselman moves her players aggressively around the bases and the group of players she has are very fast on their feet.
“From the newcomers we have a lot of speed,” said Musselman. “In the past we've had decent speed but this year I think we're going to probably have a little bit more and we're going to be able to work that into our game. So, I'm looking forward to being able to coach some speed. That's always kind of fun and makes games exciting. ”
“I think that the girls are ready and want to win. They want to be able to keep up that tradition,” said Musselman. “The seniors and the returning girls definitely have that championship mentality. They have all talked about wanting to three-peat, going as far as we did last year. They're all about it. The new girls, I think they're going to get on that same train here shortly.”
Tecumseh's Tuesday afternoon home opener was cancelled due to rain. Its next home appearance is in the Tecumseh Invitational on Saturday, April 18, beginning at 9 a.m.