Last season, after falling short of its goal of winning a Macomb Area Conference Gold Division championship, Madison Heights Lamphere’s softball team bounced back and won a district title.
And while Don Mullen, who coach’s the team alongside assistants Bob Barnauskas and Steve Essenmacher, would like to see his team come away from the season with back-to-back district titles, the goal of winning a league championship is one that has not escaped his attention.
In recent years, the team that stood in the way of Lamphere, and every other team in the division, has been Warren Woods Tower, as the Titans have won the last two consecutive MAC Gold titles (and two in the MAC Silver prior to that).
If Tower is going to win a fifth consecutive league championship, it is going to have to do so in the MAC Blue, as that is where the Titans will be playing this season.
Mullen is hoping his team can be the one to step into the top spot in the MAC Gold and capture what he thinks would be the program’s first league title in more than 10 years.
Mullen thinks his players would also like to be a part of making some fresh history for the program.
“It would mean a ton,” he said. “Not only the coaches, but obviously the kids. That’s something they shoot for anyway. I have a core of kids who are very competitive. That would be overwhelming and real neat to do. The kids set that up there as a bar to reach. We’ll see if we can do it.
“They know it’s been a while. That’s one of the things that motivates them, to try to get it.”
Though Lamphere won’t have Tower to contend with in league play, it won’t be easy to secure a title.
“We’re (going to) have our work cut out for us,” he said. “Grosse Pointe South is not bad this year, and Port Huron. There are two tough teams that are still in that division that we have to play. Even though Tower’s not in it, we’ve got to get past those bigger schools. Our girls look at it as kind of a challenge, and they look forward to it.”
Shannon Paavo, Katelyn Bennett, Paige Tyldesley, Grace Martin and Caitlin Gleason are Lamphere’s senior representatives, and Mullen is looking to them to lead the way.
“Caitlin Gleason and Shannon Paavo have had the most experience on varsity,” he said. “(It’s) their third year on varsity. Paige, this will be her second year. Those three, primarily, will have to take some leadership roles, and (because) of their experience, be impact players for us. There’s going to be a lot of teaching going on this year, so everyone’s going to have to carry their load and come through for us, especially at the plate.”
Felicia Vacante, Kelsey Wilkinson and Allison Schwerin are expected to be Lamphere’s primary pitchers, and Mullen thinks that the amount of run support they are given will be a key to how the season plays out for the Rams.
“I think we’ll be solid defensively, but hitting’s been a key kind of issue for us the last couple years,” he said. “Not that we haven’t been successful. We’ve been over .500 and done pretty well, but if you want to get further in the states, you have to really hit the ball. So we want to hit a little better this year, if we can.”
Lamphere is not exactly heading into the season thinking small. While he knows there is some business to be taken care of first, Mullen has his sights set even higher than a district championship.
“We want to get over the hump and win a regional,” he said. “These guys are always shooting for that. It’s definitely a goal that’s out there for us to try to achieve.”
Tyldesley concurs with her coach.
“(Win) districts, go to regionals and win regionals, possibly,” she said of the team’s goals.
Paavo has also given some thought to postseason goals.
“To make it past regionals, if possible,” she said.
Lamphere is scheduled to open its season at 4:30 p.m. April 9 in a road game against Royal Oak.