Melissa Miller has been the girls fastpitch coach at Peninsula High School since 2005 and head coach since the 2009-10 season.
This year, to the surprise of many, the team made it all the way to the state finals –– thanks to several seniors who have been on the team since their freshman year.
“Four of my girls –– Aspen Ison, Kristin Jensen, Brittany Surratt and Tyler Stolz –– have been with us since I started and now they’re graduating,” Miller said.
It’s been a wild ride for the team the past three years, Miller recalled. “It’s been a crazy time. It’s been a constant battle between us and Enumclaw and Bonney Lake for first, second and third place. Last year we were first in league and second in district. The year before we were second in league and first in district. This year we’re third in our league, but our ultimate goal is always to get to state.”
Miller said the team, especially the seniors, really wanted to get to state. “District isn’t good enough any more.”
One of the memorable things about this year’s team has been the way the seniors have taken the younger girls under their wings, Miller said.
“It’s been an amazing bonding experience between them. We have four freshmen on the team this year and the seniors have really been showing the younger girls the ropes and cheering them on when they get a chance to play. And the younger ones have gone out of their way to make their senior time special,” she said.
Even though the Hawks ended the season in third place in the league, they went to the state championships, where they won their first game with a decisive 13-0 score.
“Then we lost to University Place and then to Shorecrest,” Miller said. “But I was really proud of the team because we weren’t expected to go that far. Everybody played as a team. We were the underdog and we had a lot of good things that our team did, considering this is just our third year together.”
“We worked really well together,” said senior Kristin Jensen, 18. “We really tried to make everything work in our favor. Some of the younger girls were our biggest assets. And our coach really likes baseball –– which is important. She wants what we want and we want what she wants,” Jensen said.
Senior Brittany Surratt agreed. “This year the team has been the closest we’ve ever been, even though we lost one of our key players at the beginning of the year. We knew we were going to be a good team and that we’d go far, and we really came together. And our coach gave it her all at all times. We never gave up and next year we’re gonna be even better.”
“We definitely had a good, bonded team,” added senior Aspen Ison, 18. “I think our heart took us as far as we got. We tied our record at state, but we actually placed higher this year, which is pretty amazing. We have one of the best talented teams and we really like each other.”
To Ison, the game is “90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. You have to be mentally tough and you have to really know your team and be willing to better yourself. It’s awesome how good this year’s team was,” she said.
From Miller’s point of view, the future looks bright for the Peninsula girls. “We’re losing some key players, but we have some good new players developing. This is my 23rd year coaching softball but even without me, these girls would do their bonding.
“They’re like a family and I probably treat all these girls like they’re my own kids –– especially the seniors. I’ve watched them change and grow from timid little freshmen to strong young women who know how to speak their minds,” Miller said.
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