Utica High softball coach Deonna Giacona talks with seniors Caylee Ebeling, left, and Ashley Lagodzinski April 18 during a game against Macomb L’Anse Creuse North on the road. The Chieftains beat the Crusaders 22-12.

Utica High softball coach Deonna Giacona talks with seniors Caylee Ebeling, left, and Ashley Lagodzinski April 18 during a game against Macomb L’Anse Creuse North on the road. The Chieftains beat the Crusaders 22-12.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Utica High softball working to build team chemistry

By: Jacob Herbert | Shelby - Utica News | Published April 22, 2019

UTICA — Utica High softball coach Deonna Giacona started the season behind the eight ball. Due to a wrinkle in the schedule, the Chieftains practiced for two weeks before having to take a whole week off with spring break.

The limited practice time they had was spent hunkering down on fielding and other prep work instead of building up team chemistry, which can be so crucial over the season.

Giacona said that once the chemistry comes together, the team has plenty of potential.

“We have a lot of talent on this team, probably the most we’ve had in a few years combined,” she said. “Once everybody kind of knows that we’re all doing this as one big team, then we’ll all be OK.”

Another issue the Chieftains have had to deal with in the quest to cohesiveness is the separation of freshmen from upperclassmen. Freshmen in Utica Community Schools do not attend classes in the same building as sophomores, juniors and seniors, so they never see their fellow teammates unless it’s a sports-related event.

In order to combat that detail, the Chieftains have implemented a team mentor program that pairs seniors with freshmen. Giacona said that program has helped to bridge the gap.

“We’re just making sure everybody is comfortable with each other, and they know they will have each other’s backs on and off the field,” the coach said.

Spearheading the initiative to implement their family-first team motto are senior captains Caitlyn Mauser, Caylee Ebeling and Lindsey Michol. All players have spent four years with the softball program and received nothing but praise from their coach.

“They all have leadership skills, so they’ve all stepped up big time,” Giacona said. “Every year I tell my seniors, ‘It’s your year, not my year. If you guys want to win, let’s make it happen,’ and that’s what has put them in control of the team.”

All three players will continue their softball careers, after high school with Mauser attending the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Ebeling at Hope College and Michol at Oakland Community College.

Giacona said the best part of Mauser’s game is her work ethic, and described the love she has for the sport and the team as “awesome.”

Michol and Ebeling were top two in hitting for the Chieftains last season, and Giacona described them as incredible kids who have given their all for four years.

“I don’t even know what it’s going to be like to not have them,” Giacona said. “They have been powerhouses since freshman year.”

On the field, Utica is working on stringing hits together. Hitting is contagious in softball, and it is paramount if the Chieftains hope to see success this season.

On the other hand, Giacona doesn’t want the team to be hard on itself when the hits aren’t coming. Everybody on the team has a job to do, and she wants her players to know that they don’t have to be the hero.

At press time, the Chieftains were 2-4 overall and 2-1 in the Macomb Area Conference White Division.

Right now, the only goal is to improve on last season. Finishing with a 9-13 record, Utica fell in the postseason to Utica Ford II in the opening round of a Division 1 district tournament.

“If we go out every day and we play the best that we can and we still come up short, that’s OK,” the coach said. “You just need to give that effort.”