Polson High School softball coach Larry Smith has coached over 30 years and can’t recall a spring packed with more inclement weather than the start of the 2018 softball season.
The Western Montana spring packed with unexpected snow, rain and unseasonably cold temperatures has created early-season adversity.
“This is the first time I recall coaching a whole week where our team practiced indoors,” Smith said. “It makes it a little tough to get better and it limits what you can work on when you practice indoors.”
True to form to a Larry Smith schedule, the Lady Pirates have already played some quality opponents playing against the defending MHSA Class A state champion Belgrade team, Libby and teams like Columbia Falls.
Smith stated he would prefer to practice outdoors but also said he felt the early-season setbacks his team faced will build character, a characteristic Smith’s team must possess if they going to be make a run at their first MHSA Class A title since 2012.
“Absolutely, the girls benefit from working through adversity,” Smith said. “Working through adversity makes you better. You get more comfortable (playing softball) in uncomfortable situations. I always tell my team that you worry about the things that you can control and the weather is nothing any of us have any control over so we have to (carry on) right with it.”
Thus far, the Polson Lady Pirates are demonstrating the necessary characteristics that Smith said is one of the key ingredients for a championship-caliber team: senior leadership.
“This spring break, the kids were out of school and everyone on the team made practice all week,” Smith said. “I never saw a bad attitude about (practicing) or grumbling about it. The girls were very upbeat and (I think) that is because of the leadership of the older girls that made practices fun for them all.”
Polson has two quality victories against top-rated Class A opponents including Butte Central and Libby, a team picked to win their conference, and one loss to defending champs Belgrade but that body of work isn’t enough for Smith to know completely what his team has.
The Pirates still have the rest of April that remains on their schedule that includes contests with MHSA heavyweights such as Frenchtown, Libby, Ronan, Mission-Arlee-Charlo and Columbia Falls.
“It’s very early to judge (how the season will go),” Smith said. “I am impressed with what our team has done early on and they don’t back down from any competition no matter what the caliber of opponent they are facing.”
Smith said there were several players on the team that have showcased noteworthy improvement since the beginning of the season. One of those players is starting pitcher Vanessa Kent, a transfer from last year’s Mission-Arlee-Charlo team, that has solidified one of the top pitching spots in the highly competitive Lady Pirates’ rotation.
“I guess you have to start right away with pitcher Vanessa Kent,” Smith said. “The additional work she and catcher Kaylanna Desjarlais have put in together really shows. (Kent and Desjarlais) are some of the first players on the field and the last ones to leave. They are putting in some after hours practices too. We’ve got some good catchers this year and we have two or three that hang in there and stay to work with the pitchers also.”
Smith, who continued to allude to the senior leadership his team demonstrated, stressed the importance of the symbiotic relationship between the pitcher and catcher.
“The relationship between the pitcher and the catcher is very important,” Smith stated. “You have to become one with the pitcher and really click both mentally and physically. The catcher has to realize what is and is not working and the pitcher has to have the confidence in the catcher’s ability to call a game. That is very key to a team’s success is how they get along.”
There are also some young Lady Pirates Smith said that are coming through the pipe line that have imitated the chemistry between Desiarlais and Kent.
“I can see a couple of pitcher and catcher combinations from both of our freshmen,” Smith said. “They are developing that kind of communication which each other and are really doing well.”
After defeating the Libby Lady Loggers 8-5 the previous Thursday at Polson High School, Smith said he felt his team was developing a confidence he hopes doesn’t get derailed by lack of playing time.
“The girls are anxious to get back at it after the Libby win and they are feeling pretty confident,” Smith said. “When you are playing that well, you want to turn around and keep that momentum going.”