Mar. 13—LEBANON — Robert Dowhen was all ready for the softball season to get started last year, so he could help re-establish the Lebanon softball program as one of the top teams in the area after a couple of down seasons.
While the Tigers didn't get a chance to show that work last season due to the COVID pandemic, that time off has just built the desire of Dowhen and his players to get back on the field and show people what they could do.
"The girls are determined and they want (the season opener on) March 22 to come yesterday," Dowhen said. "It's about finding balance right now and making sure the girls know there is a road to the season. We are focused on getting healthy practices in and vibing as a team. The girls are trying to find their team voice and direction right now. They have never played together as a group."
Like a lot of teams around the state, the Tigers are anxious to see what they have when they hit the field.
Dowhen estimates that about 75 percent of his team doesn't have varsity experience, and while there is definitely talent there, it may take a few games to get used to high school softball and his coaching style.
"We are a brand-new program with a new focus," Dowhen said. "We have a brand-new coaching staff and a new group of girls. They are very dedicated and teams are going to see a different Lebanon program."
Dowhen said that there are three main pillars that he wants the girls to focus on this season.
If the Tigers can abide by those, it can be a successful season.
"The No. 1 thing is we want to compete in every game against every opponent," Dowhen said. "The second is to hold ourselves to the highest standard. Opponents are going to scout and get information, but if we hold ourselves to the highest standard, then the wins and losses will work themselves out. The third thing is to represent the school the best way possible. When you are competing all the time and not having problems in the classroom and the community, then you will see the softball program is not just shining with its record, but the group itself."
Senior Josie Hollingsworth is the top statistical returner for the Tigers.
She hit .303 as a sophomore with two home runs, 17 RBIs and 11 runs scored.
Lexi Puckett hit .256 with 13 runs scored and 11 RBIs.
They will be some of the key leaders on the Tigers, but several others have also stepped up.
"We have an extremely talented captains group that I am really proud of," Dowhen said. "Josie Hollingsworth and Lexi Puckett are senior captains, junior Kylie Kadel is a captain, so two of our pitchers have stepped up. Sophomores Charli Albea and Kiana Richards are captains and we are really excited about that, and sophomore Abby Johnson too. I have a lot of confidence in all the girls."
When looking at the strengths of the team, the mindset and approach of the girls is something that has stood out to Dowhen.
"Determination is going to be one big strength of the program," Dowhen said. "We are going to use our youth as a strength as well. Whatever foundations we can put in place now, we can rely on in the future. We printed out and showed the girls all of the stats from 2019, and we aim to beat all of those stats — runs, steals, outs, pitching, all of them. We want to make sure that we are better than the last season they played, and if we do that, then the wins and losses will handle themselves."
The Tigers are scheduled to open up the season on March 22 against Sheridan.
Dowhen said that game will be a good measuring stick for the rest of the season.
"Sheridan is a good team, with a solid pitcher and solid hitters all around," Dowhen said. "It is going to be a good challenge for us. I want us to work on finding our voice and communicating. We want to focus on the basics. All our girls play travel softball, but they are all on different teams. Now we are merging them together with one common goal. I think at the end of the game, if we do all the things we have been practicing, I'll feel good about where we are at whether we win or lose."
Will Willems is the Sports Editor of the Lebanon Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @Will_Willems.