RICHARD SAYER/Meadville Tribune
Like every year, players have come and gone. New champions have been crowned and long-time droughts ended.
Then there is the Conneaut merger where three arch rivals have come together.
In short, the 2012-13 school year, so far, has been all about change. And this softball season is certainly no different.
Not only will players originally hailing from Linesville, Conneaut Lake and Conneaut Valley prepare to suit up in new colors and take new positions together on the same team, they will do so under the direction of one of the area’s four new head coaches.
Former Cambridge Springs standout Stephanie Baer has taken the reigns as the head coach at Conneaut. At Union City, former longtime assistant coach Frank Snyder is at the helm.
Meadville hired recreation softball star and former Mercyhurst Prep and Girard head coach Jim Moats to coach its softball team. And at Maplewood, another former standout Hannah Parker will make the calls.
Up for a challenge
Baer isn’t too many years removed from playing high school softball herself, but when the opportunity came to coach the Conneaut Eagles, she had to give it a shot.
“I have always wanted to coach,” Baer said. “I didn’t expect my first head coaching job to be a high school head coach, I figured maybe Little League or travel ball. But the opportunity came and I just couldn’t pass it up.”
Baer inherits a team that hasn’t played a single inning of softball together. Ever. But Baer has never really backed down from a challenge.
Local softball fans probably remember Baer from her playing days at Cambridge Springs where she earned three Meadville Tribune Softball Player of the Year honors in her four-year career as the Blue Devils’ ace.
She finished her career with a 71-13 record. She also set the school record for career strikeouts with 792 in 567 innings of work. She threw 35 shutouts and ended with a career ERA of .76. And of the 7,496 pitches she threw, 5,494 of them (73.3 percent) were strikes.
She led the Devils to back-to-back District 10 titles and a state quarterfinal and semifinal appearance.
“This has been a lot more than I expected,” Baer said, “dealing with the school for buses, uniforms, equipment and that sort of stuff. But as far as working with the girls it is pretty much what I expected. They are working really hard.”
Baer brought her dad, Steve, with her to Conneaut. Steve was an assistant for several years at Cambridge Springs. He is working with the outfield. Lane Baker is also on staff and works with the hitters. That gives the youngest Baer to teach what she knows best … pitching.
Parker times two
The Maplewood softball program has included a member of the Mark Parker family for quite some time. All three of his daughters — Hannah, Addie and Emma — have played for the Lady Tigers. And Mark has roamed the sidelines as an assistant coach nearly every single one of those years.
When Emma graduated last year, it looked like the end of the Parkers’ involvement with the program. Not a chance.
Not only is Mark back as an assistant, Hannah, who was an assistant as well the past few years, has climbed the ladder and has assumed the duties as head coach.
Like Baer, Parker had a number of successful seasons at Maplewood as a player. Her resumé also includes membership on the Tri-Boro/Mid-East Senior League softball team that played in the 2006 World Series.
Hannah takes over for Kelley Onderko, who resigned after three years as the head coach.
Moats isn’t from the area. He hails from Corry. But softball enthusiasts in Crawford County, particularly Meadville, know Moats.
Moats has played quite a bit of softball in this neck of the woods over the years. Most of those innings are in modified leagues where he has helped his teams win three national championships and six state titles.
“I play a lot of softball,” Moats said.
Moats has also given quite a bit back to the game over the years. Moats has an extensive coaching background.
He spent three years as the head softball coach at Girard and another three years as the head coach at Mercyhurst Prep. He has also had stints as an assistant at Corry (three years), Union City (five years) and Strong Vincent and was a volunteer assistant coach at Mercyhurst University for five seasons.
He now adds Meadville to that list.
“I like coaching,” Moats said. “I saw the opening came up, it’s a good softball program … I had to give it a shot.”
Turning a page
Union City’s scorebook will find a different set of hands this season. That book set comfortably in the hands of Snyder for the last 11 or so seasons.
This year, though, Snyder will be standing in the third base coaching box as the head coach of the Lady Bears.
Of the four new coaches, Snyder may have the toughest task of them all, replacing a coach, Jerry VanZandt, who spent 19 seasons — alongside Mike Schrecengost — turning Union City into one of the most successful softball teams in the area.
VanZandt amassed a record of 254 wins and just 97 losses throughout his career and guided Union City to two District 10 titles, three region/conference titles and a state playoff victory. Of course, Snyder was there to see it all.
“I definitely learned a lot from both of them,” Snyder said. “Without them, this would not have been possible.”
Snyder has made some changes, though.
“The transition process was a little rough at first,” Snyder said. “The kids didn’t adapt real well to a couple of the changes we made initially. But it all seems to be coming together.”
The biggest challenge for all four of these new head coaches has been something none of them can control … actually getting out on a field and playing.
“We’re all very excited to get going,” Baer said. “I’m nervous, of course, but excited.”
Snyder, too, has some butterflies.
“It’s been good so far,” he said. “But I’m sure it will be different in game situations when I’m making the calls from the third base box.”