You have to get up pretty early in the morning to keep pace with the Homewood-Flossmoor High School girls softball and boys baseball teams.
Early: at about 4 a.m.
As the regular season beckons for both teams, daily they alternate practices at 5 a.m. with traditional after-school times.
The practices, involving more than working on typical softball and baseball skills, include running, stretching and weight work.
Head coaches Larry Dawson of the softball squad and Todd Sippel of the baseball team both said their players are used to the early-in-the-day grind. It’s a competitive advantage that the indoor practices take place at the school’s state-of-the-art facilities.
After five years as an assistant, Dawson is in his first season as varsity softball coach. He previously coached in Chicago, including a stint at Robeson High School.
Dawson said his softball team is deploying two mantras this year, “Embrace the process” and “Commitment is not convenient.”
“Whether it’s at five in the morning or after school, embrace the process. Consider practice as another day to get better. Embrace it,” Dawson explained. “You got up early; you might as well get better.”
Early or after school, there’s a lot to embrace.
“My workouts are hard; they have to be committed to this. There’s sacrifices, some things they won’t be able to do because they’re practicing. But if they embrace the process, at the end of the season we will have some success,” Dawson added.
The Vikings’ softball schedule starts with a few games in late March, which always comes with the “weather permitting” disclosure.
Dawson believes he will have his first true assessment of the team when they journey to a milder climate for the Upper Cumberland Tournament in Tennessee from March 30 to April 2.
“We’ll play at least four games there and we’ll have a good idea where we’re at then,” he said.
The timing of the tournament is good because conference play begins upon their return to H-F in early April.
Dawson’s team will be up against the usual conference powerhouses in the SouthWest Suburban Conference. Lincoln-Way East, Sandburg, Lockport and Joliet West have strong programs.
“Hands down, this is a tough conference, very balanced,” Dawson said.
H-F’s pitching rotation may be a primary team strength thanks to the presence of sophomore Josie Wenckus and junior Lauren Davidson.
“With Josie it’s the movement of her pitches, with Lauren it’s the power,” Dawson observed. "Josie played on junior varsity last year as a freshman. She has a special gift, she’s talented and she works very hard. She is going to be phenomenal.”
As for Davidson, Lawson said, “She’s also talented and she is really competitive, really competitive.”
Elsewhere, senior Emily Montalvo at third base will play a big role.
“At bat, Emily has great patience and she has great power. Most of all, she’s a leader, a natural born leader,” Dawson stated.
The strong left side of the infield includes fourth-year veteran Mya Valadez, a shortstop Dawson characterized as an “offensive powerhouse.”
The H-F boys baseball team expects to benefit from experience gained the hard way last year.
Todd Sippel, in his 15th season as varsity coach and 18th year at H-F, said last year’s 12-18 record was the worst of his tenure. “We had lost 12 seniors; we were young and inexperienced,” he explained.
That means this year’s roster has more experience and Sippel says there’s a lot of talent.
He says he has four promising pitchers, including returning seniors August Schlaffer and Carter Schultz.
Sippel said Schlaffer has “as good of stuff as anybody. (He) throws in the upper 80s and is developing a good breaking ball. When he masters his control, he will be tough.”
Schultz is transitioning from reliever to starter and fashions an “excellent curve ball.”
Junior pitcher Tylon Ross is new to H-F and has committed to Purdue University.
A fourth strong pitcher is junior Kyle Salley.
“Kyle was primarily a centerfielder last year but will pitch more this year,” Sippel said. “He’s hit the weights, he’s grown, he has hit 88 on his fastball and has a devastating slider. Being a lefty on top of it, he’s drawn attention from NCAA Division I scouts.”
Salley will still see action in centerfield when not pitching.
“He’s a great lefty hitter,” Sippel observed. “He can also bunt and has great speed, he’s a force offensively.”
“We’re strong up the middle with Kyle in center and our second base combination,” Sippel stated.
The second baseman is senior Nicholas McAlister.
“He’s an excellent contact hitter, plays great in the field, and is fast. He’s one of the three fastest players I’ve ever had,” Sippel said.
Shortstop Justin Correll adds solid defense.
The power will be supplied by junior right fielder Zaid Walker, who has committed to Michigan State University.
“Zaid has great power to all fields, I am looking for big things from him,” Sippel said.
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