Mehlville High School girls seek to battle their way to upper ranks of conference

Panthers are poised to make some huge strides this year.

Mehlville High softball head coach Kristin Wheatley is pleased with the way her 2011 squad is shaping up so far this season. Bill Milligan photo

Mehlville High softball head coach Kristin Wheatley is pleased with the way her 2011 squad is shaping up so far this season. Bill Milligan photo

By ROBERT CHALUPNY

The Mehlville Senior High School softball team is looking to battle its way back into the upper ranks of the Suburban West Conference after last year’s 7-18 season.

Panthers second-year head coach Kristin Wheatley is well aware that she will face many challenges to get her 2011 squad where she wants it to be, but she was pleasantly surprised with the way her players turned out before the start of the season.

“Unfortunately, we lost five really good players that we could rotate anywhere. They were not stellar at just one spot; they could go where ever we needed,” Wheatley said. “So I was a little worried coming into this year, but with the new girls who have come up from the middle school and the girls that have even done more work over the summer, we have a lot more options than I thought we were going to have. So I am excited that that is going to happen.”

On the practice field, there’s battle over who will fill some of the starting roles vacated by last season’s very valuable graduating seniors.

“There is competition to be in the lineup. They are competing against themselves,” Wheatley said.

With nine returning varsity players, including five juniors and seniors, Wheatley will lean on her veterans to carry the team to a .500 season or better.

“I am shooting for .500 for sure. I definitely think we can make huge strides to get there,” she said.

Making some of those strides will be senior catcher Whitney Banjai, senior pitcher Michelle Boyer, who will share some time at the mound with junior Amanda Lerbs, center fielder Jenna Parrott and junior shortstop Kayla Hezel.

Wheatley looks to last year as a learning experience and a tool to help make her squad better.

“There are definitely games that we should have won and we didn’t. Sometimes it was mental errors or we just didn’t get that hit,” she said. “So we know we have nowhere to go but up. That is what our goal is going to be: Making those games closer and pulling out ahead in those games instead and just putting up a fight and playing a good game every time we go out there.”

The team appears to be off to a strong start, according to the head coach.

“They’ve really taken the criticism we’ve given them over the past five days and are really stepping up to the plate,” Wheatley said during a preseason interview. “Our communication has been a strength and they’ve all been relatively positive with each other. They are going to come together. I’m going to say 80 percent of our team has the mental game down.”

Aside from making the routine plays and getting the timely hits, which plagued the Panthers last season, she said the plan is to “execute, get everything done, play small ball and chip away one at a time.”