The transition to a new coach is never as simple as the athletic director and principal introducing the new leader of the program to the players.
Especially when the previous coach was as well regarded as Melissa Wendell. So, James Bradford had a bit of a challenge in front of him when he took over the Mountain Pointe softball program.
Bradford is a full-bearded burly man who can be a bit imposing when first shaking his bear claw of a hand.
On the surface it might not seem like a good match with high school girls, but considering the way the Pride is playing something has clicked.
“He is funny and he keeps everyone on their toes,” sophomore catcher Hannah Hoban said. “If someone is down he brings them up. He clicked right away when he came in and everyone feels comfortable.”
It allows everyone to be themselves and play free and easy. Bradford, who coached mostly football and baseball previously, said the first month in which the Pride went 8-7 heading into this week’s action has gone well.
“We are playing pretty well and improved quite a bit since the beginning of the season,” he said. “We were able to measure where we were against some good programs. It’s always important to play teams who were in the playoffs and championship games like Red Mountain and Basha to see where you stand. It’s a great gauge and I’m excited about what we can do this year and in the future.”
The easy transition was helped when the team took fourth place in the Lion Country Classic to open the season to reiterate the hard work and philosophy Bradford instilled in the offseason and camp leading up to the year.
“It was the first time we placed in a tournament and a great way to start the season,” junior Tegan Wambold said. “We have kept winning and it has made it really loose and we are having fun. Everyone realized we can just have fun and not worry about anything.”
Of course a month doesn’t make the season as the Pride starts to dive into the regular season games, including a matchup at Desert Vista on Friday, to build its power rankings.
Mountain Pointe was in the playoff race toward the end of 2012, but fell outside of the 24-team field despite winning six of its last eight. It was about this time last year when the Pride was in the midst of losing 10 of 12.
The team relied on several freshmen last season who are using that experience to flourish thus far, including the battery of Hoban and Kristen McCann, who shared innings with Ciara Gonzalez last season.
They are the future and mixed well with older players like seniors Chandler Hillman and Brooke Burchfield, and junior Tegan Wambold.
“For any program to have success for a long period, there has to be both young and old players getting the experience,” Bradford said. “It bodes well for the program when young players get experience at that level.”
It’s leading to a confidence that maybe hasn’t been there considering Mountain Pointe hasn’t had a winning season for at least five years.
“We are going to have a chance to go really far this year,” McCann said. “We don’t want to just make it to state. We want to put on a good show.”
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