Strength in stability: South Tahoe softball aims for postseason in second year under Owens |

Strength in stability: South Tahoe softball aims for postseason in second year under Owens

Anthony Gentile
South Tahoe junior Kendra Conard enters the season as the Vikings’ ace and biggest bat. The South Dakota State commit and STHS team captain aims to build on a breakout sophomore season in 2016.
Anthony Gentile / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

2016 Vikings Regular Season Schedule

March 11 at Sacramento, 4 p.m.

*March 18 at Fallon, 3 p.m.

*March 19 at Fallon, 11 a.m. (DH)

*March 25 vs. Elko, 3 p.m.

*March 26 vs. Elko, 11 a.m. (DH)

March 29 at Damonte Ranch

*April 1 vs. Sparks, 3 p.m.

*April 2 vs. Sparks, 11 a.m. (DH)

*April 5 at Dayton, 3 p.m.

*April 8 at Truckee, 3 p.m.

*April 9 at Truckee, 11 a.m. (DH)

*April 15 vs. Lowry, 6 p.m. (at STMS)

*April 16 vs. Lowry, 11 a.m. (DH)

*April 19 at Dayton, 3 p.m.

*April 22 vs. Fernley, 3 p.m.

*April 23 vs. Fernley, 11 a.m. (DH)

*May 3 at Dayton, 3 p.m.

*May 6 at Spring Creek, 3 p.m.

*May 7 at Spring Creek, 11 a.m. (DH)

May 9 vs. Whittell, 3 p.m.

Home games in bold

*Div. I-A Northern League contest

The South Tahoe softball team enters the 2016 season bolstered by something it hasn’t had in recent years — stability at the top. And in the second year under the direction of head coach Eric Owens, the Vikings are counting on that consistency to take big strides forward.

“Last year was a learning experience for both the players and coaches, and now being back together it’s more of an action and refinement year,” Vikings senior Bailey Barcellos said. “Having a solid background is beyond incredible — we’re comfortable with the coaches, and they’re comfortable with us.”

In Owens’ first season, the Vikings went 9-16 overall and finished tied for sixth in Div. I-A Northern League. Under the new six-team playoff format, the Vikings would have qualified for the playoffs with that mark — and that’s where they want to take things this season.

“We want to get a lot of wins out of the way, so we can win as much as we can and get into playoffs, take it to state and get a banner hung up,” Vikings junior Kendra Conard said. “I think it’s going to be a great season.”

“This is our year. We’re going to take it as far as we can.”Bailey BarcellosVikings senior

Last year, South Tahoe had a little more than two weeks after Owens was hired to prepare for the upcoming season. Entering this year, the Vikings have had the benefit of a full offseason with a coach — including a conditioning program.

“Last year everything was thrown in quickly, I didn’t know the players, and we didn’t have a direction,” Owens said. “We’re adding new talent and energy, and we’re excited to see how it all shapes up.”

Barcellos and Conard are South Tahoe’s captains, and both bring talent, experience and leadership to the club. Barcellos is a four-year varsity starter, and has hit over .300 in each of the last three seasons — including a .397 mark with 13 RBIs last year.

“The main core that I’ve been playing with throughout my years has been waiting for this time, and this is our year,” Barcellos said. “We’re going to take it as far as we can.”

Conard is one of the main reasons South Tahoe enters the season with high expectations. The junior who committed to South Dakota State last October is the Vikings’ ace in the circle, their biggest bat — and is coming off a breakout season.

“She’s done a lot of offseason work, gotten a lot stronger and has more control of her pitches,” Owens said. “We’re looking for a big season from her, and the others to contribute and move the line.”

As a sophomore, Conard started 24 games for South Tahoe and finished with 227 strikeouts in 139 innings pitched. At the plate, she hit .746 with nine home runs and 56 RBIs — all team-highs.

“Kendra gives us an opportunity to compete every time,” Owens said. “She is the one player that can take over the game, and she has to learn that this year.”

Conard spent the offseason focused on developing three pitches — the drop ball, rise ball and change-up. The standout wants to take her decade of experience playing at a high level and share it with the rest of a relatively inexperienced South Tahoe team.

“They have a lot of talent and I’ve been excited to show them more than what they know,” Conard said. “I’ve learned a lot and I want to teach them.”

Senior Nora Anderson adds leadership to South Tahoe despite not playing last season. Anderson was declared ineligible just prior to the start of the 2015 campaign, and her return provides a boost to the team at the plate and in the field.

“Having her around to help Bailey and Kendra lead and help the young kids is huge,” Owens said. “We really wanted her to play and it was a dagger right into us when we found out she couldn’t.”

With Conard in the circle, Barcellos (second base) and Anderson (shortstop) in the middle, and juniors Brooke Erdody (first base) and Sativa Chambers (third base) at the corners, South Tahoe has an infield full of experience entering the season. Juniors Drue Chapman and Samantha Kallas also played varsity last season, and will step into bigger roles this year.

“The difference between this year and last year is that we have more returners and experience to go along with it,” Barcellos said. “That’s what sets us apart from last year.”

South Tahoe’s varsity newcomers include junior Carina Giardina and freshmen Sydney McCarthy, Hailey Naccarato, Maggie Sirolli and Teagan Williamson. Those players will all factor into the Vikings’ plans this season, bringing versatility to the team.

“It’s puzzle pieces — I’m throwing them on the floor and seeing what’s going to fit,” Owens said. “It’s a matter of getting these freshmen to mix in with the girls from last year.”

The Vikings opened the season Friday, March 11, at Sacramento (Calif.). That was South Tahoe’s lone tune-up prior to league play, which begins on the road with a three-game series at defending Div. I-A State champion Fallon starting Friday, March 18. The team makes its home debut with a three-game set against Elko March 25-26.

“It’s the last time to make a statement and win,” Barcellos said. “That’s all I can ever think about. It’s the most important thing — winning, going to playoffs and beyond.”

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