Ready to grow: Chalker is prepared to build on last season

Staff file photo / Brian Yauger Chalker sophomore Sam Strock flexes after scoring a run last year. Strock returns this season and will play a big role as the Wildcats look to follow up on a solid season that was marred with cancellations due to the weather.

The seeds were planted for the Chalker Wildcats last season, and this year they’re expecting flowers.

The still-young Chalker squad is aiming for growth this season. The Wildcats are hoping their promising 9-6 season in 2022 laid the groundwork for an even better 2023.

This year’s theme is growth.

“Our goal is to continue to grow as a team and get better as a team,” coach Rich Hudak said.

“We want to be one of the frontrunners in our league and the one of the best teams around the area in any division. We just want to compete at a high level, no matter wins and losses. We’re going to get some pretty good teams on schedules and some tougher games, so we’re looking for that to compete.

“We want to get better as a group and in the tournament so we go as far as we can by doing the little things that will help us achieve our goals.”

The Wildcats return plenty from last season including both of last year’s pitchers, Natalie Piecuch and Sam Strock. Freshman Tatum Hudak will be joining the rotation as well.

Each of them, when not in the circle, will be seen elsewhere on the field.

Gabriella Nieves had a breakout sophomore season last year and was the team’s leading hitter, boasting a .636 batting average, five home runs, 28 total hits and 31 RBIs.

Nieves is set to be one of the team’s stars this year.

“She’s one of the best centerfielders in the state,” Hudak said. “She’s an awesome fielder with a rocket of an arm.”

Other players to watch out for are senior Mia Russomanno, sophomore Kylee Iser and freshman Abby Grimm.

Hudak describes this group, not just good talent-wise, but good for each other.

He’s coached them in youth ball and now that they’re in high school, wants to see them thrive. They have the capabilities and the right attitude, it’s just a matter of making it happen.

“They’re a good group of girls for each other,” Hudak said. “They push each other. I’ve had a lot of these girls for a long time and I challenge them to push each other. They have such a great talent level, I never want them to settle. I want them to push each other and continue to grow and that helps. They’re willing to go out and work hard in the offseason. They’re playing teams in the offseason that are tough. They’re high, high-level teams, so that helps them become better players. They’re a hard-working group. They enjoy each other, they enjoy each other’s company, so that helps.

“That’s our identity. That’s us. We’re hard working. We might knock you down, but we’ll pick you back up. They don’t give up and that’s all I ask them.”

The schedule this year has no shortage of tough challenges on it. In addition to an already tough league schedule that features Mathews and two meetups with Bristol, the Wildcats also have a doubleheader with Poland on April 1,

“With those games on the schedule, that’s good for us,” Hudak said. “You had Poland reach out to us in the summer, they were looking for games, they wanted to play us and I was like, ‘That’s a compliment for us.’ We’re just a small school, you know, that doesn’t always happen.”

The Wildcats open their year up with a road game against Bloomfield on Monday.


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