Utica Ford II softball huddles around the pitcher circle during a matchup against Macomb Dakota April 9 at Dakota High School.

Utica Ford II softball huddles around the pitcher circle during a matchup against Macomb Dakota April 9 at Dakota High School.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Falcons softball reloads, muscles up for upcoming season

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 12, 2024

 Utica Ford II right-handed pitcher senior Jade Kupsky pitches to a Macomb Dakota batter.

Utica Ford II right-handed pitcher senior Jade Kupsky pitches to a Macomb Dakota batter.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


STERLING HEIGHTS — Aside from the offseason preparation high school softball teams do together with indoor practices and conditioning, every player can go about their personal offseason training differently.

Some may see a hitting or pitching coach, while some might be playing another sport to help with their strength and conditioning.

Utica Ford II, on the other hand, its varsity softball program took a different approach to preparing for the season.

Competing for the coed high school powerlifting team, the Falcons, who were already flexing their muscles metaphorically last season, are preparing to be the strongest team physically in the Macomb Area Conference this year.

“You can tell we’re a physically stronger team, and when you’re physically stronger, I think, your confidence level rises,” Ford head coach Matthew Joseph said. “I think that’s what I’m seeing. I’m excited to see where that takes us.”

The Falcons were nothing short of dominant at the plate last year during their Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 state tournament run, scoring five runs or more in four of their five matchups, including a 20-run showing in the regional semifinals.

Now returning as regional champions for the first time in nine years and with Brooke Williams, Samantha Yantus, Jenna Walters, Jillian Walters, Gabby Mecca, Jade Kupsky, Addison Hill and Samantha Norrito all fresh off a powerlifting season, Ford will be an intimidating offense each game.

“I think doing powerlifting in the offseason really helped, because it improved our bats too,” Kuspky said. “Everyone is hitting what would’ve been singles into doubles and everything like that.”

A 29-12 season last year and nine returning players is only icing on the confidence cake for Ford as Kupsky and Jenna Walters headline a stout pitching rotation.

Kupsky has been a mainstay in the Falcons’ rotation, while Walters was a sophomore sensation in 2023.

Both have the ability to be the go-to arm on any given day as Joseph considers them to be the Falcons’ “1A” and “1B” pitchers in the rotation, but Ford will also receive innings contributions from junior Emily Leusby this season.

On the offensive side, Ford had to account for the loss of graduating seniors Eliana Karas, Jenna Nilson and senior Rylee Hesske, who paced the offensive effort.

Now, Joseph turns to his core four seniors — Hill, Kupsky, Mecca and Yantus — to continue to build off of the foundation the 2023 seniors layed.

“They’ve (the seniors) taken that role on, and it’s nice because they learned from some great seniors from last year, and they’re just carrying those traditions on,” Joseph said. “Those four have such a great work ethic. To me, that’s the most important. When your better players and your leaders are your hardest workers, it really makes my job a lot easier, because they just follow.”

Outside of the senior group, Williams is poised to take over the center field position after a strong spring showing, while junior Grace Polega and Norrito are both expected to be everyday players for the Falcons.

Polega excelled at the plate in the spring, while Norrito, who split time between varsity and junior varsity last year, will look to find her footing with a full season of varsity softball under her belt.

Ford will have their work cut out for them in a MAC Red conference that showed Joseph’s squad no favors last year, leaving the Falcons near the bottom with a 5-7 league record.

The Falcons play one of the more difficult schedules in the state with their MAC Red schedule, and both Algonac, who made the state quarterfinals, and Warren Regina, who Ford beat in the regional finals, on the schedule as well.

Currently 1-1 on the season with a loss against Macomb Dakota, a MAC Red rival, and a win against New Baltimore Anchor Bay, a MAC Red rival, Ford is looking to show that last year was anything but a flash in the pan.

“I think our mindset coming into this year was having the opportunity to show people that we’re no longer the underdogs,” Hill said. “We, obviously, had a great season last year, so we’re excited to build on that. Since we have so many returners and have been together for so long, we have a lot of trust in each other on and off the field. We’re just excited to prove who we are this year.”

With new pieces in place but an array of returning players, Kupsky said the senior Falcons want to end their high school career at Michigan State University, where the state semifinals and finals are played.

“We definitely learned that anybody can beat anybody,” Kupsky said. “That’s one of the quotes our coach always says. I think we’re really taking that in this year and we want to be back where we were and get further than we were really bad.”