He’ll never know for sure.
But Ligonier Valley head coach Mark Zimmerman can’t help but think that the Lady Rams were in for a special girls’ softball season last year.
Until the pandemic took it away.
Ligonier Valley returned most of its players from the 2019 team that went undefeated in capturing the Heritage Conference title, won 17 of 20 games and advanced to the semifinals of the District 6 Class 3A playoffs. Then, girls’ softball — and the rest of last year’s spring sports — were canceled because of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Now, it’s almost certain that the Lady Rams will be stepping up in competition with a return to the WPIAL after more than a half-century in District 6. And they’re also doing it having missed last season.
“The biggest thing is just that the underclassmen didn’t get much of a chance to do anything, whether it was on varsity or the JV level...or even a whole year of practice,” related Zimmerman, who’s in his 22nd season as coach. “They lost an entire year.
“It wasn’t like they just didn’t get to play. They didn’t get to do anything.”
That’s not all Ligonier Valley missed out on last season. What the Lady Rams were also going to do is go to Disney World for three “spring training” games, but that didn’t happen, either.
“You’re just missing that extra year of experience,” Zimmerman said. “It’s hard to make up for all of that, especially practice.
“We starting to see that as we have a couple scrimmages and play a few games. Things start popping up that you know you’re going to have to continue to work on.”
Just to give an idea of what Ligonier Valley was looking at last year, four of the six players who would’ve been seniors on the 2020 team still signed on to play in college despite not having that season. They are pitcher Jane Garver, a multi-year starer now at NCAA Division I Robert Morris University, along with Kaylee Colt (Westminster), Courtney McKlveen (Penn State-New Kensington) and Taylor Bojtos at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.
Ligonier Valley does have eight letter-winnners back from two years ago. However, three of the four returning starters are playing different positions than they did in 2019.
First and foremost on that list is junior pitcher Maddie Griffin. She takes over as the Lady Rams’ top pitcher after going 3-0 with a 0.60 earned run average and 37 strikeouts with 12 walks in more than 23 innings as a freshman.
“She’s going to be in the circle most of the time for us,” Zimmerman said of Griffin. “We’re going to use her a lot.
“We’re going to go as she goes. And she can do more than just pitch. She can run and field the ball very well.”
Ligonier Valley’s only player in the same spot as two seasons ago is senior second-baseman Bella Schueltz with a .429 average and one double. Senior Kailey Johnston has moved from outfield to first base, and sophomore Haley Boyd — who would’ve started at third base — is at shortstop.
Three of the Lady Rams’ other letter-winners are now starting as seniors in catcher Eden Krouse, third-baseman Jordan Hofecker and right-fielder Bella Vargulish with .250, one triple and nine runs batted in.
The only newcomers to the lineup are freshman left-fielder Cheyenne Piper and sophomore designated player Payton LaVale. Freshman Lyla Barr will be used as a courtesy runner and a backup in left field, and junior Kendall Domurot as a pinch-hitter while Johnston is the No. 2 pitcher.
“We have some girls who can hit the ball hard, but we’ll still play a lot of small-ball,” Zimmerman indicated. We’re going to try and get people on and move them up a little bit on the base-paths.
“We’re not opposed to that. We’re not afraid to play that way. Then when we get a few runs, we’ll maybe start swinging away a little more.”
And, again, Ligonier Valley is now in the WPIAL. But Zimmerman thinks the Lady Rams are up for it.
“We’re excited about it,” Zimmerman expressed. “For years, we thought we’d like to give it a try.
“We’re kind of at the end of both districts. We’re on the eastern end of the WPIAL and the western end of District 6.
“It’s going to be a good bit of travel no matter which way we go. But we always thought we related more to the teams in the WPIAL, especially Westmoreland County.
“We don’t really know what to expect. I don’t even know where some of these schools are at.
“But we’re kind of looking forward to seeing what we can do. We’re going to take them one at a time and see what happens.”
Ligonier Valley did drop down from Class 3A to 2A. The Lady Rams are in Section 2 with Jeannette, Apollo-Ridge, Serra Catholic, Brentwood, Steel Valley and Seton-LaSalle.
“We don’t know a whole lot about them,” Zimmerman conceded. “We never played those schools at all.
“It’s all new, it really is. But I’m sure at least some of those schools are going to have good teams.
“Regardless of what league we’re playing in, we can only control what we do. If we pitch and play well, we’ll live with the outcome. If you get beat, you get beat.
“That’s all you can ask. We just want to be well-prepared and go out and play well and pitch well, and see what happens.”
One thing hasn’t changed. The Lady Rams want to continue their playoff run that now stands at 11 straight years.
“We still want to get back to the playoffs and try to go as far as we can,” Zimmerman responded. “It’s going to be an interesting year.”