As the school year draws closer, many area teams are heading back to the field and preparing for the upcoming season. As his team is indoors working on weight training and conditioning, West Union slow pitch softball coach Andy Kirk is taking on a necessary, but not-so glamorous job.
“This is the part no one gets to see,” Kirk laughed as he watered the newly laid sod he placed himself on the Eagles’ field. “Not many people know that I handle the maintenance for the field. I need to catch up and get the field ready for us to play on in another week.”
Another week, July 23 to be exact, the Eagles, along with all of the other area schools will officially begin practicing for the 2008-09 season. After his daily obligation to the field at West Union, Kirk talked about this year’s team, and he has a lot to brag about.
The Eagles finished last season 25-16, a game away from a state championship before falling to Bogue Chitto in the third and final game of the series. West Union boasts a lot of returning starters for this season.
“We only lost two seniors, and we had eight players, freshmen and sophomores who played, so we’re returning a lot,” Kirk said.
Kirk will be relying his all-state players, Stephanie Hall, Kimberly Jumper and Rachel Baker to lead the Eagles.
“I’m looking to Stephanie for leadership as a senior, along with Kimberly, who is one of our main hitters,” Kirk said. “Rachel will be our pitcher again, as she pitched 40 of our 41 games last season.”
Kirk mentioned some pitching depth with the junior varsity squad, but stressed the difference between pitching in fast and slow pitch softball.
“We can throw the same girl every game, it’s not a big deal. In slow pitch, you have to work on getting an arch in your throw, that’s the key,” Kirk said as he discussed how Baker would take the mound again this season.
Though the state runner-ups have a lot to look forward to, there are still some areas that Kirk and his assistant, Lisa Bogue are working on.
“We need to be more consistent,” Kirk said. “We started the season, I think, 10 and two, and next thing we know we’re 12 and 12.”
Inconsistency kept with the Eagles, as their series throughout the playoffs came down to deciding third games. West Union pulled through, but could not finish the deal in the championship.
“A lot of our inconsistency came from our youth,” Kirk explained. “Now that they’ve been there and they know what it takes, it won’t be any easier, but they know what they have to do.”
Not being easy is an understatement, as Union County will once again be the center of attention with talent ranging at every school. That talent will be showcased early on, as West Union will host a preseason tournament on August 2. All of the county schools, minus New Albany will be in attendance, as well as Ripley, Potts Camp and Hickory Flat.
“It’s very competitive around here, and everyone will get to see that early on,” Kirk said. “It’s unfortunate that New Albany won’t be here, but it will still be a great weekend. “
Watching his team work toward what they hope to be another successful season, Kirk is modest and knows it will be a tough challenge to repeat what the Eagles accomplished last season.
“Every team in the county is improving and returning a lot, so it will be an exciting season.”