Johnson sees promise in flexible Viking nine |

Johnson sees promise in flexible Viking nine

You can sense the excitement in coach Jan Johnson’s voice when he talks about South Tahoe High’s 1999 softball team.

A dedicated group of eight sophomores, two seniors, a junior and a freshman appears to be the secret recipe for one of the more pleasantly coach-able teams Johnson can remember leading.

“This group is a little bit unique. In fact, in softball in this town, they’re a lot unique. These are the kind of kids that say, ‘Let’s go play before the snow (comes) in,'” said Johnson, who hopes to improve on last season’s last-place finish. “They just love to play, they’ve got great attitudes and I don’t ever remember any (softball) group at this school that’s done more to work on their games. It’s just a great group to be around.”

The Vikings will look to pick up some wins in Northern Nevada’s hyper-competitive Division II, a league which averages about seven players sent each year to NCAA Division I softball programs. Typically, Galena, Carson and Reed are the league juggernauts, but Johnson hopes this year’s squad can bump elbows with the league’s elite.

“They’re a real coachable group and they’re really looking to learn. With these tough games, when we have to play the Galenas, the Carsons and the Reeds, it’s going to help them a lot. They always take something positive out of everything and I couldn’t be happier with that attitude.”

“Our league is both a blessing and a curse at the same time,” Johnson said. “I think you could take this league almost anywhere and the (teams) would be successful. You know you’re going to have to play quality teams every game.”

A relatively young but talented pitching staff may be the key to the Vikings’ season. Junior Melissa Johnson is arguably the team’s ace, featuring a full complement of pitches (riseball, dropball, fastball, change-up) and a fastball that routinely hovers around 60 mph. Heather Roderick, Corinne Edwards and Vanessa Porter round out the staff and all have excellent upsides as players, Johnson said.

“I think our pitching is going to be stronger this year,” he said. “We have more pitchers to work with and I’m sure that it’ll be stronger than last year. These pitchers are much more advanced than what we’ve had in the past.”

Calling the shots for the relatively green pitching staff will be catcher Megan Humphreys, a four-year varsity player for the Vikes. Humphreys was the team’s best hitter last season (.322) and also led the team in runs batted in. Humphreys, who played every inning last season, will be expected to provide leadership for the young STHS team, Johnson said.

“She’s a very strong player. We’re looking forward to having a really good year from her,” Johnson said. “She’s a very intelligent hitter, she’s tough as nails behind the plate and she worked real hard in the off-season.”

At the hot corner will be senior Kathryn Baer, who will likely play softball next year for Lewis & Clark College near Portland, Ore.

“She has established herself within this league as an excellent player,” Johnson said. “She’s got a great glove, great hands, which you need at a tough, dangerous position.”

Jill Barna will field action at first base, with Johnson at short and Stephanie Terry and Kim Stovall at second base. The outfield will feature a relatively young crop of players, as freshman Kendra Terry and sophomores Nikki Kovalcheck and Tammy Cowen will patrol the outfield grass.

The Vikings started the season in South Florida, touring the area as an informal club team. The team won three of its games during its East Coast jaunt and gained some rare preseason field experience. South Tahoe will begin the season Friday and Saturday at the Norm McKenzie Tournament in Las Plumas, Calif., and may play as many as five games.

Johnson thinks his team will benefit from the top-heavy early schedule.

“We’ve rarely had the opportunity to play this much before our first league game,” said Johnson, who will begin league play March 16 at Douglas. “We usually go right in and they have us scheduled with three or four of the toughest teams in the league. We go right from the gym into the pressure cooker. So this is going to be a big advantage for us going into this season.”

Johnson knows he has a young team on his hands, but he can’t seem to say enough about the character of this team.

“They’re a real coachable group and they’re really looking to learn. With these tough games, when we have to play the Galenas, the Carsons and the Reeds, it’s going to help them a lot. They always take something positive out of everything and I couldn’t be happier with that attitude.”

Coach: Jan Johnson

1998 Record: 3-27 (last place Division II)

Seniors: 2

Key Losses: 2B/P Amy Johnson, C Sabrina Manning

Key Returning Players:

– C Megan Humphreys (1998 all-Division II honorable mention, .322 BA, 1998 team RBI leader)

– 3B Kathryn Baer (.275 BA, led 1998 team in extra-base hits)

– SS/P Melissa Johnson (.316 BA, team’s lead-off hitter, excellent speed; command of four pitches)

Probable Starting Lineup: C Megan Humphreys, 1B Jill Barna, 2B Stephanie Terry/Kim Stovall, SS Melissa Johnson, 3B Kathryn Baer, OF Tammy Cowen, OF Nikki Kovalchek, OF Kendra Terry

Pitching Staff: Melissa Johnson, Corinne Edwards, Vanessa Porter, Heather Roderick

He Said It: “I know we can put up the results. We need to play with confidence and I think the wins will take care of themselves if we do that.” – Jan Johnson

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