TROY — Looking back, he called it an easy decision.
Freshmen don’t often flourish at the varsity level, especially in a program with such high demands, expectations and accolades.
But in the spring of 2011, Tom Calnen had three rookies that left him with no other choice but a spot on the big club.
In the spring of 2014, those same three continue to serve as the “heart and sole” of the team, as Calnen put it. A trio of talent, passion and excellence that have further established the traditions of the Troy High softball program.
“Anytime you can have kids endure four years of what they are asked to put in, and not only do it, but do it and enjoy being there, and with leadership and with success these three have had, I think that’s pretty incredible,” Calnen said of seniors Cori Mittelbrun, Sally Muller and Allie Cianciolo. “I miss all my seniors every year, and we have eight great ones on this team. But after four years together, these three are awfully special to me.”
Their stories are individual and intertwined all at the same time.
All three hit the ground running as freshmen, earning roster spots on a veteran team that would come to count on them before the year was out.
As their time at Troy winds down four years later, they’ve become staples of the program, leaders and example-setters for those who’ve come on board since.
“It’s amazing, really. Just an awesome experience,” Muller said May 8 during a doubleheader against Beverly Hills Groves. “To spend four years with this program and have four different teams is so cool.”
“It’s emotional to think about it,” Cianciolo said with a smile. “I mean, it’s a roller coaster of ups and downs, like anything else, but we have something special here. It’s like we’re part of a family.”
“It’s been great,” Mittelbrun said. “Every year has been a little different, but it’s something pretty special to be a part of.”
Mittelbrun, a pitcher and first baseman, wasted little time leaving her stamp on the team.
As a freshman, she slammed a two-run double against Romeo High in the regional final, lifting Troy to a 4-3 victory.
Since then, she’s become one of the team’s most consistent players, even garnering All-State honorable mention a year ago.
“She’s been huge in the clutch ever since she got here,” Calnen said. “There’s also something so unselfish about her. She was never someone who had a spot that was hers for four years, but she accepted her role. Whether it was pitching, or just hitting during games, she understood the team concept. And her best time of the season has always been early June.”
Entering the Groves’ doubleheader, an eventual sweep by Troy, Mittelbrun was hitting .480 with 13 RBI and 16 runs scored.
Calnen called Muller the “best player nobody knows about.”
“I think she’s been overshadowed because of the talent we have in the program,” he added. “What sets her apart is her defense, though. She’s as good at second base as anybody I’ve ever coached or seen.”
Muller was hitting .420 on the season with a team-high 17 runs scored.
“Her defense and her leadership set her apart,” Calnen said. “As a freshman, she didn’t say 100 words the whole year. Now, she’ll say more than that in the first five minutes of practice.”
Asked about Cianciolo, Calnen just laughed.
“Let’s put it this way, she enjoys playing for me, and I enjoy coaching for her,” he said. “In our four years together, we’ve certainly knocked heads time and again. But she is a kid that gets it done. She always gets the job done.”
Cianciolo, hitting .311, is the only of the three who decided to continue playing in at the next level.
She’ll suit up for Alma College next year.
“Her dream was to play in college, and for her to pursue that dream, chase it down and accomplish it is something to be very proud of,” Calnen said.
In typical fashion, the three have helped Troy to another solid spring.
The Colts were 16-3 at press time, 3-1 in the Oakland Activities Association Red Division, and a likely favorite to make another long playoff run.
For Calnen, the success of most seasons is determined by a run in June. But in speaking of Mittelbrun, Muller and Cianciolo, it goes beyond that.
“You always want to win the last game, but truthfully, whenever they walk off the field for the final time, they better do it with their heads held very high,” Calnen said. “They’ve had fantastic four-year careers, and regardless of how it ends, I will miss them immensely.”