By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Grafton – When 16-year Grafton High School varsity softball Head Coach John Gemme assembled his players for the 2012 season, he knew he had the makings of something special. He knew there was talent, dedication and a winning attitude, but not even he could forecast the incredible run of success that was about to unfold.
The team went on to compile an astounding three-year record of 72-7, capturing state Division 2 titles in 2012 (1-0 win over Abington) and 2013 (2-1 victory over Burlington) and advanced to the finals once more in 2014 (3-1 loss to Bellingham). Such success doesn’t happen by accident.
“You could be the best coach in the world but if you don’t have talent or a good feeder program, it doesn’t work,” explained Gemme. “We have girls that are being taught the right thing. By the time they get up to the high school level, while they don’t know everything about the game, they have a jump on things. You’re not starting at number two. On a scale of one to 10, you’re starting at seven. It makes my work a lot easier.”
He praised the Grafton Girls Softball Association.
“The youth program has brought them from a young age to playing in tournaments all over the state against good competition,” he said.
Senior Co-captain Meaghan Sawtelle said playing together for years also played a major part in the team’s success.
“We’ve been playing together since we were little,” she said. “We’ve all been together so long that we have a good connection with one another. We know how each other plays, what to say and how to motivate each other.”
“We do summer ball,” added fellow co-captain Amanda Voellings of the team’s dedication to the game. “Some of the girls play together and some don’t. There’s usually fall-ball associated with those summer teams, winter clinics, camps and other things to prep you for your high school season. It’s pretty much year-round.”
Winning was such a new phenomenon to the 2012 team, that most players had no idea how to celebrate. This kind of success had never been seen by team supporters.
“I don’t think it really sunk in when it happened,” Voellings said. “It showed in our celebrations after the games. We really had no clue what to do. I think it hits you afterwards. We were excited but it didn’t really hit an emotional high until that night or after.”
“The first year was very exciting never having been there before and we had some real tough games getting to that point,” Gemme said. “Kendal Roy (team pitcher) said it best last year in that we don’t go into every game expecting to win, but we don’t expect to lose.”
The second year, he said, was even more exciting.
“It was just overwhelming to have done it again,” Gemme said. “We lost some good bats from the year before and it just became so amazing. It seemed that no matter how the situation got, they just were very poised.”
The 2012 -2014 teams were led by Roy who pitched all but one game in her four-year Grafton career. A 2014 graduate, she has moved on to compete at Assumption College. Her accomplishments are lengthy, but players, coaches and supporters of the team know that one person alone does not win championships. Doing such requires a total team effort.
2015 brings much promise as three experienced and talented seniors take on the captain responsibilities. Sawtelle, Voellings and Makayla Ritzie will be counted on for leadership, each in their own way.
“I’m always pumped up listening to music, doing things to motivate them,” Ritzie said. “We give them inspirational speeches before the games. We dance, we get loose, we have fun. The freshmen coming in this year actually fit in very well with us. They learn how to shake off things and move on when they have to.”
“For us as seniors, it’s become almost an expectation that we go far in the playoffs, that we play as well as we can,” Voellings said. “Even without Kendal, we’re just as strong of a team. We have kind of a legacy to live up to.”
Coach Gemme likes what he sees so far across the roster, but is especially impressed with his pitching depth. Freshmen Jess Evans, Savannah Small and Shannon Mortimer have been sharp while junior Leah Allen is more than capable of taking the mound on any given day.
“I expect that they’re all going to work hard. I tell them that I’m always working to get better as a coach so I expect they’re going to show up every day and work to try and get better themselves,” Gemme said. “In the end, though, we want to look back at the whole experience and say that it was a lot of fun, that we had a good time playing softball.”