A new direction: South Tahoe softball looks to build foundation with Owens | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A new direction: South Tahoe softball looks to build foundation with Owens

Anthony Gentile
agentile@tahoedailytribune.com
Vikings head coach Eric Owens addresses the team during practice. Owens was hired as coach in February, and brings more than two decades of experience to the program.
Anthony Gentile / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

2015 STHS Softball Regular Season Schedule

Div. I-A Northern League

March 13 at Elko, 3 p.m.

March 14 at Elko, 11 a.m. (DH)

March 20 at Sparks, 3 p.m.

March 21 at Sparks, 11 a.m. (DH)

March 27 vs. Truckee, 3 p.m.

March 28 vs. Truckee, 11 a.m. (DH)

March 31 vs. Dayton, 3 p.m.

April 3 at Lowry, 3 p.m.

April 4 at Lowry, 11 a.m. (DH)

April 10 at Fernley, 3 p.m.

April 11 at Fernley, 11 a.m. (DH)

April 14 vs. Dayton, 3 p.m.

April 24 vs. Spring Creek, 6 p.m. (at STMS)

April 25 vs. Spring Creek, 11 a.m. (DH)

April 28 vs. Dayton, 3 p.m.

May 1 vs. Fallon, 3 p.m.

May 2 vs. Fallon, 11 a.m. (DH)

Home games in bold

Eric Owens has a passion for the sport of softball. For a South Tahoe program that has been in flux over the past few seasons, that’s definitely a good thing.

“It’s a passion of mine and I’ve been doing it for a long time,” Owens said.

Owens was recently hired as head coach of the Vikings, and is the program’s third different head coach in three seasons. He has been coaching softball for the past 25 years at the high school, community college and club levels — and is counting on that experience to spark a turnaround for South Tahoe in 2015 while bringing much-needed stability.

“In the last couple years, you’ve seen coaches come in and out — I believe you really have to build a foundation,” Owens said. “There’s a young core here, and I’d like to be a part of that — I’d like to make an impact to where I’ll be here for the next couple years and more.”

“We are going to surprise some people.”Bailey BarcellosVikings junior shortstop

The Vikings’ new coach grew up playing baseball, and was pursuing a future in the big leagues as 18-year-old trying out for the New York Mets when it hit him. A flying softball knocked Owens in the head during a tryout in Chico, Calif. — and a few months later he made the shift to a different diamond, beginning his coaching career as an assistant to his uncle.

Most recently, Owens spent 2012 across the lake at North Tahoe High. He had been away from the game for a two seasons while coaching his two sons in baseball — but when the opportunity with the Vikings arose, the instructional assistant at STHS jumped at the chance.

“I love being outdoors by the mountains and living in the community itself,” Owens said. “You see the tradition here with sports, and to be a part of that is a great deal.”

Owens takes over for Shawna Mayo, who led South Tahoe to a 10-18 record and sixth-place finish in Div. I-A Northern League last year — Steve Kolesnik coached the team for three seasons before that. The Vikings began practicing with Owens on Feb. 24.

“As long as they can look at the season and see that they had fun and really enjoyed the season — that’s the first brick in building a foundation,” Owens said.

With a new coach, South Tahoe enters its 2015 campaign with a young group that includes only three upperclassmen with varsity experience — seniors Haley Crowson and Nina Barnhart along with junior Bailey Barcellos. Sophomores Drue Chapman and Kendra Conard are the only other returners from last year’s varsity team.

“We have a good core and we can definitely help each other to become the team we want to be — we’re young, so we have the potential to be better next year,” Barcellos said.

As seniors, Crowson and Barnhart are expected to take leadership roles this season. Crowson was a team captain last year, and relishes the opportunity to lead the Vikings again while primarily starting at catcher.

“It’s awesome because I feel more like a captain — I love helping people and I love having that knowledge when other players come to me,” Crowson said. “Everybody is improving at a fast rate, and it’s really nice to see.”

In her third season on varsity, Barcellos will start at shortstop for the Vikings this season. Chapman will move to second base after playing left field as a freshman, and Conard will serve as the team’s primary starting pitcher for the second straight season.

“It’s a new season with new players and I think it’s going to be good — it’s a new start with a new coach,” Conard said. “The girls all really nice and I think it’s going to be a good group.”

Of the nine varsity newcomers, Owens said junior Sativa Chambers, sophomore Sam Kallas and sophomore Jade Smith have impressed in preseason practices. Rebekah Miller, Brooke Erdody, Zoe Greco and Cassie Flynn round out the team’s sophomore contingent — freshmen players include Harmony McBride and Amaiya Millspaugh.

“I’m really excited about everything I’m seeing from all the girls,” Owens said. “It’s like a great cake — no matter where you slice it, it’s a great piece.”

The Vikings enter the season focused on fundamentals as their building block — every practice starts with a “four corners” fielding drill where players make throws from base to base. Errant throws and missed catches result in push-ups or sit-ups as punishment — and that drill begins highly structured practices.

“I like how he’s pointing out everything that we’re doing wrong and correcting it — he’s making us have punishments for missed throws and catches,” Conard said. “He’s organized and we know what we’re going to do at practices and for games — he’s really prepared and he knows what he’s doing.”

As South Tahoe’s players adjust to their new coach throughout the season, the team expects to see continued growth. Despite its inexperience, Barnhart said the Vikings are loaded with diverse talent.

“We have girls that can hit, girls that can catch, girls that can throw — and then we have girls that can do all of it,” Barnhart said. “Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and they work on their strengths and weaknesses.”

South Tahoe hasn’t had a winning season since 2011, a stretch it will look to end this year. Chapman said the key to the Vikings’ success is building a cohesive unit.

“We need to have lots of great chemistry and interact well with each other,” Chapman said. “We can be very good if we work hard, work well in practice together, communicate and talk on the field.”

The Vikings don’t have any nonleague contests this season, and start by jumping into Div. I-A Northern League play with a three-game series at Elko beginning Friday. South Tahoe’s first home series is scheduled for March 27-28 against Truckee.

“We are going to surprise some people,” Barcellos said. “We have the potential to be a great team, and with the help of coach Owens and each other we’re going to reach that potential.”