The Lions of winter give way to spring over the next couple of months as basketballs and singlets find a place on the shelf, replaced by aluminum bats, leather gloves, metal spikes and graphite rackets on the campus at Liberty Bell High School.
Student participation numbers, as a whole, seem to be down a bit, but enthusiasm rises as the snow melts away, and softball, baseball, tennis, boys’ soccer and track and field take center stage.
This week we preview baseball, softball and tennis. Look for previews of track and field and boys’ soccer next week.
Not lacking for players is Mountain Lion Baseball. With numbers in the 20s, there are enough boys for full varsity and JV teams. Playing a blend of young high schoolers and eighth-graders, the Lions showed a lack of age and experience in last year’s COVID-adjusted season, a good time for coach David Aspholm to get the younger players some valuable experience.
Defensively, Liberty Bell will be good, offensively they should be even better. Noah Holston and Damon Alumbaugh will share catching duties. Senior southpaw David Kominak leads a young set of enthusiastic arms that will need some time to settle into a stable rotation. The middle infield looks to be steady and solid with Lucien Paz looking to be the anchor at shortstop. The outfield will be young, but speedy and athletic with some good arms that will come up firing should any ground balls get through the infield.
At the plate Holston, Alumbaugh and the elder Paz will provide the power, with eighth-grader Remy Paz, senior Sawyer Crandall and others slapping the ball and legging out hits with decent speed. Small ball hit and run, speed on the base paths, and pushing extra bases will be on the agenda, for sure this year.
With a very successful summer Babe Ruth (U-14) season, only one win away from appearing at the Babe Ruth World Series, the youngsters look to be the heart of this group. A bunch of early-season road games, late-season extended home stands, and playing a number of 1A Caribou Trail teams could prove to be a late season advantage for the young Mountain Lions. Their home schedule begins on Saturday, April 9, with a double-header against traditional 1A power Cashmere, and they play eight of their final 12 games on their own turf.
Coach Dave Schulz returns for the 61st time as tennis coach at a Methow Valley High School, including coaching several years, maybe a decade (or so) at Twisp High School, back in the day.
But that’s a story for another day.
The overall numbers are down this year, EZ Kirk and Arellano providing the experience from last year. Junior Ellie Blank, who looked to be the leader of the team, is still recuperating after major reconstructive work on an anterior cruciate (knee) ligament, torn in a late summer tennis camp last year in the Seattle area. Blank has her sights set on both volleyball and tennis for her senior year and, on the advice of her care providers, will sit out this spring season.
New to the program is junior Isaiah Stoothoff, who looks to have some aptitude for tennis in early season workouts. Senior Sophia Newton is trying tennis for the first time, as well, and is a fairly quick study. “I wanted to learn how to play tennis and thought this was a good way to do that,” Newton said. Her feature sport has been soccer.
“I have a whole bunch of new players,” said the venerable Schulz. “We lost a bunch of seniors from the past two years, so I really have no idea, right now, who our No. 1 is going to be on Thursday,” referring to the Mountain Lions’ opening match at Tonasket this week.
Coach Chad Surface was beaming inside The Den on Monday. “Last year I didn’t know some days if we had enough for a full team. This year we have 19 girls on the team,” he said.
Indeed, the past couple of years have been a struggle for the understaffed Mountain Lion girls. This year, not only are the numbers way up, but there are some athletes that are new to the program, and appear to be ready to make an immediate contribution.
MJ Mihalic, a sophomore who landed at Liberty Bell after her freshman year in South Korea, introduced us to her abilities as a first year volleyball player last fall. Now, she is in a sport that she has played organizationally since her childhood days. Mom Kris Mihalic is assisting Surface and brings with her a wealth of experience from her youth, high school and college softball days. MJ displayed a blistering fastball in a recent pitching session and should provide dependable and upgraded service on the mound.
Having a solid second pitcher for an actual rotation has not been the case for Surface, but he thinks he has found that in freshman Bailey Thomson. She doesn’t appear to have the velocity of Mihalic, but she is steady and knows how to find the plate.
Others new to the program will look to provide more solid defense at most all positions, including senior Jadyn Mitchell. “I’ve normally been out riding my horse in the spring,” said the four-time all league basketball and volleyball player. “But I heard they needed bodies, so here I am.”
Freshmen Rio Lott and Cassidy Jones-Mowen are both athletic and show some competence at their observed positions. Jones-Mowen was catching Mihalic’s heat without letting anything get by her. Lott was drilling in the infield, and looked to have a fairly good glove at first base. Kiki Treise also donned the catcher’s gear and was solid gathering in Thomson’s stuff.
“I won’t have a really good idea of the defense, but we don’t play until April 23, so we have some time,.” Surface said. “We were hoping to get on the field today (Monday), but the rain …”
Good weather the rest of the week will give the young Lions some field time to figure that stuff out.