SPARTA — A large, strong senior class can be vital when it comes to making a long run in the tournament. Those seniors show the underclassmen what to do when the going gets tough and keeps them focused on the ultimate goal.
The Highland softball team has that strong senior leadership that has lifted them to new heights — it’s just not a very large group.
Center fielder Krista Chapman is the lone senior on a squad dominated by sophomores, but she’s helped push the Scots into new territory — the regional tournament. The Scots won their first district title in softball on Saturday and will now face Casstown Miami East in the Division III Regional tournament Thursday at Wright State University at 5 p.m.
“We’re very excited. This is a cool experience. This is a huge honor to play with these girls and be the first team in history at Highland to make it to regionals,” Chapman said.
“It’s been a team effort (getting to regionals), but Krista is definitely one of the main leaders. She’s very close to the younger girls and that helps,” said Highland coach Enid Claxon.
Chapman enjoys the role of senior leader, even if she’s the only one.
“It’s cool being the senior leader. When I was a freshman and a sophomore, I looked up to the seniors. Now, I try to help them out; be the best example I can be both in and out of softball,” Chapman said. “It’s been difficult at times, not have the people to share the experience with since I’m the only one in my last year of playing. But, it’s been a benefit to be part of this team.”
Chapman has been one of the major spark plugs offensively for the Scots all season, but has really picked it up in tournament play. She hit .326 in the regular season, but is 6-for-11 (.545) in three games of the tournament. She also has three extra base hits, scored four times and has driven in four runs.
She’s also played a solid centerfield, something she hopes to continue playing next year at Otterbein College. Chapman returned to centerfield this year after sitting out her junior year due to an ACL injury. She had played center on the varsity team as a freshman, then moved to catcher her sophomore year before getting hurt.
“I really enjoy center field. I caught in summer ball and they are different types of positions. You have to do a lot of talking, but I enjoy the leadership part of that. Those are two key communication positions. You have to talk to the girls and tell them what’s coming from both angles,” Chapman said.
It’s been a bit of a transition for Chapman this year, as not only is she coming off a major injury, she’s playing for a new coach. It’s Claxon’s first year as head coach after Chapman played for three years for Shelly Hornsby.
The Scots have also had an up-and-down season, winning 10 in a row early, then losing 5 of 6 later before winning their final three games of the regular season. Chapman has pulled on her experience to help guide the Scots through the roller coaster ride.
“I try to be mentally positive. Softball is such a mental game. If you make mistakes early, you can kill yourself if you don’t recuperate,” Chapman said. “When I was young, I was bad at that. The seniors I had then definitely showed me that I have to keep going. You have to be determined to keep playing.
“The chemistry on this team is huge. We get along great, which is huge, especially for girl athletes. We play strong even when we’re down. This team does a real good job of keeping themselves, as well as others, up.”
That ability to rebound from the down times has helped the Scots rally from deficits in both district tournament games and Chapman feels it will help them again in regionals. The fact they are also too young to notice, or just don’t seem to care, what school is on the jersey of their opponent.
“They don’t have that fear of the names. They just go out and play. That’s carried over into the tournament. It’s not cocky, it’s a confident, carefree attitude,” Chapman said.
The senior has been playing softball since she was 6 years old and wants to continue to play after high school. She’s looking forward to Thursday’s game and a chance to play in a major college stadium.
“I’ve played softball since I was a little girl. I’ve known since I was 10 I wanted to play in college,” Chapman said. “I just want to play ball. Just keep me playing and I’ll be happy.
“I’m so excited (about playing at Wright State). I was just watching the NCAA tournament with my dad (Galen) and thought it would be so cool to play in stadiums like that. I think the adrenaline rush will be huge. That’ll be a huge experience, especially for the younger girls.”