Hubbard to lean on young squad
HUBBARD — Replacing a talented, successful senior class is never easy, but it’s even harder when each of those seniors eventually goes on to compete at the collegiate level.
But that’s what Hubbard is faced with this season, as the Eagles look to build on last year’s 16-4 campaign and Division II district semifinal appearance.
As opposed to last year, this season’s version of the Eagles features no seniors. Hubbard will rely on five freshmen and 12 sophomores that will be led by one junior.
“We’re excited about having a young team,” said head coach Bill Amero. “We understand that with youth, comes bumps in the road and growing pains. Our coaching staff, we’ve talked about that and we kind of have a little bit of a game plan on how to handle those things when they happen and just get the girls to play with confidence.”
Despite their youth, Amero said that the Eagles have talent and plenty of experience. Hubbard returns six players that started and played most of last season and brings back a handful of others that received game experience last year, as well.
“I think the biggest challenge is not letting the young players get overwhelmed because they are going to be put into some difficult situations at a very young age,” Amero said. “There are freshmen that are 14 and 15 years old and the sophomores are a handful of 16-year-olds, but when you play other teams, their seniors are 17 and 18. So they’re certainly going to be playing up.
“I think the biggest challenge for us as coaches is just to kind of nurture them — be there to coach and counsel. Everything that we’re doing, we’re certainly doing for today, but we certainly want to develop something that we can build on for the future.”
Phoebe Rusnak is Hubbard’s lone junior. As a sophomore last year, she played every game for the Eagles, batting .451, and has been a starter ever since she was a freshman.
In the circle, Rusnak went 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in six appearances last year. When she’s not pitching, Amero said Rusnak is capable of playing anywhere in the infield.
“She’s pretty much the leader of the team,” Amero said. “She’s a very versatile player. She throws well and has a really good mixture of movement pitches.”
Amero is high on Hubbard’s pitching rotation, with Rusnak leading the way. Behind her are sophomore Kaylee Schultz and freshman Hailey Taylor. Neither have prior varsity experience, but Schultz pitched every one of Hubbard’s junior varsity games last season.
“I see a lot of maturity in (Schultz) from last year to this year,” Amero said. “She’s kind of grown into her own and she’s playing with a little bit more confidence. Her pitching has really improved and so has her hitting, so she’ll be in the lineup when she’s not pitching, probably at first base. …(Taylor) has a good variety of pitches and she throws the ball hard. She is probably going to rack up some innings for us and she will be put into some tough pressure situations and we just have to help her roll through it and handle them well.”
Elsewhere, the Eagles return sophomores Lauren Komorek (.406), Emalee Warren (.196), Alyssa Gregory (.333) and Jillian Palumbo (.275).
Komorek will start at shortstop and Warren returns at catcher, while Gregory and Palumbo both started in the outfield last season.
“(Komorek) is a very solid hitter and will probably be one of the best hitters on the team, her and (Rusnak),” Amero said. “(Warren) played a lot of innings last year as a freshman at third base and behind the plate. She’s developed quite a bit and I see a lot more confidence in her this year.”
With such a large sophomore class, Amero wants to use this season to help lay the foundation for the next couple years.
“They’re pretty much going to be leading the team for three years,” Amero said. “I’ve seen a lot of maturity from them and I think they’re up to the challenge. I think what excites me is the fact that we’re building for a future where we could have this lineup of girls for two full years, plus whatever new freshmen come into the program next year. I think as a coach, it’s kind of like a piece of clay — it’s our opportunity to mold them into a good team. That’s what excites me — just being able to coach them up and build a program to mold them into something and just see them grow and develop.”
The Eagles open the season Monday and Tuesday with a road-home series against Northeast-8 conference rival, Poland.