Source of offensive production will be early question mark for four-time defending regional champs
Many programs would deem winning 32 games, claiming a fourth-straight regional title, and taking third at state – as Reed did in 2016 – a successful season.
Reed is not like many programs.
After winning their first state title since 1998, the Raiders entered last year as the runaway favorites to win their second consecutive state championship. They returned eight starters and were ranked in the top five of multiple national preseason polls.
Two tough games in the state tournament at Hixson Park on Nevada’s campus eviscerated ideas of a repeat.
“At the time, I’m sure the kids took it hard. For me, it was devastating. You set goals, but you have to remind yourself only one team is going to walk away at the end of the season happy,” Reed coach Jon Wunder said. “When we step back and look at it in hindsight, it was obviously a success.”
As it is for every team across the 4A North, throughout the state, and the entire country, this is a new year with unique challenges. For Reed, the biggest preseason obstacle is mixing in youth.
It wasn’t a concern a season ago with so many returners, but now the Raiders must replace six seniors – all of whom were significant contributors. Shortstop Kenzi Goins (.362, 7 home runs, 31 RBIs) graduated and is now playing at Nevada.
Alysha Imperato (.419, 4 home runs, 11 doubles, 21 RBIs), Alexis Gonzalez (.433, 14 doubles), Ryia Grant (.337, 21 runs), Marriah Adame (.346), and Mackenzie Howren (.375, 29 RBIs) also moved on.
“Where we’re really going to have to fill in, and they know, is with our bats,” Wunder said. “We’re going to have to fill some pretty big holes. There were a lot of hits, a lot of RBIs that graduated. For me, that’s going to be the big part.”
While it is to be determined where much of the offensive production will come from, there is no doubt who will lead the team in the circle.
Nevada commit Julia Jensen is back for her senior season after compiling a 23-2 record with a 1.44 ERA last spring. She turned in a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio of 303:26.
At the plate, she was just as dominant. She batted .337 and led the team in home runs (11) and RBIs (34).
She’s not going to win a fifth-straight regional title by herself, though.
“There’s nobody that took that loss (at state) last year harder than her. I think she refocused. I think she’s going to come back determined to right the ship,” Wunder said. “What we’ve told her though is, ‘you can’t carry the weight of this team on your shoulders this year. We’re going to have to get help from others. So, don’t try to do it all both on the mound at the plate.’”
She’ll be throwing to one of the new faces on this year’s team. Senior catcher Rheanna Smith, who has de-committed from UTEP, will not be able to play defensively.
Smith blew out her knee the final practice before the regional tournament last year and had to have a second surgery after the first was unsuccessful. Wunder hopes she can join the lineup midway through the season in an offense-only capacity.
- 2016 Record: 32-5-1, 20-2 4A North
- Playoffs: 5-2, regional champs, 3rd at state
- Key Losses: Kenzi Goins, Alysha Imperato, Alexis Gonzalez, Mackenzie Howren, Ryia Grant,
- Key Returners: Julia Jensen, Jessica Sellers, Carla Hernandez, Rheanna Smith, Aliya Lange
Taking her spot behind the dish will be freshman Jilian Kygar. Jensen and Kygar spent the offseason working together.
“She (Kygar) has some big shoes to fill,” Wunder said. “Fortunately, we paired her up with Julia … so they know each other pretty well. Hey, if Julia’s not comfortable with her catcher, we’re in trouble. She worked hard all offseason.”
Jensen’s future teammate Nevada, outfielder Jessica Sellers, is also back for her senior season. She will once again be one of the key offensive cogs. Sellers hit .337 as a junior with 21 RBIs and 30 runs scored.
Reed, which is not showing up in any national preseason polls, starts the season this weekend with its annual trip to Sacramento, where it will play several tough California programs in the Schutt Pre-Season Tournament (previously named the Victory Preseason Tournament).
Regional play starts next Thursday afternoon with a home date against Damonte Ranch.
“This year is going to be a different type of fun,” Wunder said. “We certainly have high expectations, but we don’t have as much pressure, outside pressures, on us. So, if we lose a game in Sacramento, it’s not that big of a deal.”