The annual progression of a sports team is usually due to the maturation process as the players get better as they get older.
The Horizon Honors softball team is an example of that this season as the 16-6 Eagles prepare for the Class 2A postseason. But this breakout season might not have happened if it weren't for the contributions of the freshman class as well.
"They've brought depth, youth and excitement," Horizon Honors coach Dina Samora said. "They came in ready to play and helped us to reach the next level."
After going 10-8 last season, including a playoff win, the Eagles enter the playoffs as the 10th seed and with a much easier route after having to play the top-seeded and eventual state runner-up Benson in the second round last season.
"We can take the next step," junior Shelby Sims said. "We got some experience in the playoffs last year and that's going to help even though we have some young players this season."
The contributing freshmen include Bailey Volden (.360, 2 HR), Maddi Rosebrugh (.483), Diana Carlson (.389) and Kalli Koehnemann (.385).
"They came in ready to play from the start," senior Ayla Anderson said. "We knew we were going to be good after getting some confidence last season, but when we realized how good they were it gave us an idea that we could be even better."
It has worked out well as the team enters Friday's game against No. 23 Winkleman Hayden at Rose Mofford Softball Complex winners of eight of its last nine games.
"We are playing pretty good, it has been kind of a progression of the season," said Samora, who is in her second season. "The older players have brought the young players along. We have made a lot of strides over the last couple of seasons."
It helps when the team has a collective batting average of .415 and has won several games by coming back in the late innings.
"We know someone is going to come through at some point and then it seems like we all start hitting," said Sims, who is hitting .492 with 18 extra-base hits, including six home runs. "We have faced some tough pitching and still put up some runs."
The two captains - Mikaela Downes and Anderson - are at the top of the list when it comes to offensive catalysts.
Anderson is hitting .478 with 27 runs, six doubles and three triples, while Downes has been unreal, hitting .703 (52 of 74) with 39 runs scored, 13 doubles, four triples and six home runs.
"They have been great," Samora said. "Anytime we need something to happen they are usually behind it. They can start a rally at any time."
The beneficiary of all of this support is junior starting pitcher Ashley Hughes, who is 15-5 on the year, and pitching with confidence as the postseason approaches.
"I just have to throw strikes because our defense is going to make plays and the offense is definitely going to score runs," she said. "This season has been great and if we keep playing like this we can do something special."
Sims said the team's makeup - only three seniors - bodes well for the future regardless of how far the Eagles make it this season.
"We are winning a lot of games and a lot of us are going to be back," she said. "Just like last year's experience is helping this year, we can be even better next year. We have a lot of talent and we can make a run at state."
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