It won’t take long for new head coach Shawna Juarez to get an idea of how the Walla Walla Community College softball team stacks up against the best the league has to offer.
After opening with a four-game preseason crossover tournament this weekend, the Warriors face a formidable nonconference slate on March 6 and 7 featuring the Northwest Athletic Conference defending champs, Mount Hood, and NWAC runner-up, Clackamas.
“To me, it can go twofold, it is early, but I believe if you play the best, it’s going to show you where you need to be,” Juarez said. “I’m going to use that as an image and motivation. I want to see what our product can do against theirs.”
Juarez replaces interim coach Mark Michaud, who led the Warriors to a 19-25 overall record and a 14-14 mark in East Region play.
Walla Walla reached the playoffs after finishing fourth in the East, but was bumped after back-to-back losses.
Juarez comes to Walla Walla after one season at Edmonds Community College.
She helped the Tritons break a 100-game losing streak, as the team finished 9-17 overall with a 6-14 mark in North Region play.
“It was a good experience,” Juarez said. “It was a good first year (being) introduced to the college arena. I couldn’t have been more proud of the girls I had because we were one game away from the NWAC tournament. We played tough against some really good teams in that region. It was nice to see the improvements that were made along the way.”
Before Edmonds, Juarez spent two seasons playing softball and basketball at Wenatchee Valley.
After finishing her softball career at Northwest Nazarene University and stints as an assistant coach, Juarez coached one of the state’s premiere club teams, the Washington Explosion 18 Gold.
“The thing that has really helped me with my club team is the connections and the networking with other coaches,” she said. “Being able to meet so many coaches on these trips. And not just collegiate coaches, but other club team coaches. The connections I have with four-year colleges — it really helps and it’s going to benefit the girls I coach here.”
Juarez arrived at WWCC in August and went to work immediately.
Throughout the offseason, the Warriors have worked with Justin Speer, husband of WWCC volleyball coach Chelsie Speer and a strength and conditioning coach, and Juarez said the results are starting to show.
“He is phenomenal,” Juarez said of Speer. “He has done speed and agility, strength and conditioning and he’s amplified our power. From the fall when I saw them, I knew we had to get in the weight room and tone up some things, to now, these kids are crushing the ball.”
Walla Walla returns six sophomores and added one transfer this season.
“We do have some very talented sophomores coming back that do fill a lot of positions and will add a lot of strength,” Juarez said. “The thing that I’m very excited about is we do also have a lot of freshmen that can compete at this level and compete at this level well.
“The work ethic is there and the heart is there,” Juarez added. “It’s great to see what they put into what we’re doing. They’re all on board.”
Regardless, Juarez said the starting lineup for Saturday and Sunday is still up in the air.
“We’ve been talking as a coaching staff on what we’ve seen on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “As for a hard copy of a lineup right now, I’ve got to lose a couple more hours of sleep at night to decide that. It’s nice to have options.”
Sophomore Miranda Smith returns to the Warriors after earning second-team East Region honors as an outfielder. Smith batted .340 in 34 games last season.
Fellow sophomore Cheyenne Kessler leads a group of three players vying for the starting catching job along with freshmen Jacie McDaniels and Anna Williams.
Kessler batted .318 with eight home runs last year.
“Those three girls are so versatile,” Juarez said. “I switch them up between catcher, short and third.
“Anna is very athletic,” Juarez added. “That kid will not be refused. She doesn’t like to fail. She’s always finding ways to be successful.”
Juarez also has high hopes for McDaniels, who graduated from Walla Walla High last year.
“That girl, she is going to have a super bright future here,” Juarez said. “We’re going to get her pushed onto the four-year level. She’s got a lot of talent.”
On the mound, sophomores Bennett Baily, who transferred from Treasure Valley, and Jaime Moe will get the call.
“She is going to do a lot of our pitching and the kid crushes the ball,” Juarez said of Baily.
Moe started 23 games for the Warriors last season with an 11-16 record and a team-best 4.82 ERA.
“She pitched a lot last year,” Juarez said of Moe. “She’s a bulldog. She just gets the job done and does whatever it takes to help her team and has been so pivotal on the leadership aspect this year.”
Sophomore infielder Bri Christian, who batted .269 in 23 games last year, adds tremendous speed, Juarez said.
Fellow sophomore outfielder Sydney Schultz returns after batting .250 in 13 games last season.
“So much heart,” Juarez said of Schultz. “If I could have a whole team full of her — every single day she works hard, doesn’t matter how she’s feeling.”
Along with Juarez, assistant coach Kelsie Didion returns for her second campaign while fellow assistant Scott Aichele enters his first season.
Juarez also credited Andy Coleman for his work with the program.
“Kelsie’s been a huge asset to us this year,” Juarez said of the former WWCC player. “She brings her playing knowledge.
“(Scott) has a full-time job, but anytime he can be here, he’s here,” Juarez said. “When he is here, he is fully invested in these girls. He gives everything he has. He’s passionate about coaching. He wants them to learn.”
Juarez said her style is to lead with positivity. So far, the players have responded well, she said.
“I believe so much in the athletes I coach,” Juarez said. “I try to drive them to be the best athletes they can, but not only that, I want them to be great people.
“But I’m also very structured and disciplined,” she added. “I want things done at a certain tempo and I want it detailed and organized.”
Article by Alex Field of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin