Even though conference season has just begun for the Knox Prairie Fire baseball and softball teams, these athletes have been hard at work for weeks preparing for their match-up. The Fire chose to travel and compete for their spring break instead of vacationing like most students.
For senior baseball player Paul Sanders, the best part of the trip was the fact that they got to play ball in the warm weather. Sanders states that his favorite part was “when we first got down there. Obviously with the cold weather here, it was nice getting down there with the warm weather, the tropical feeling, and just knowing we had a full week of baseball ahead of us.”
Senior softball player Emily Stevenson agrees with Sanders in that it was nice to play their sport in the sun. Stevenson enjoyed “get[ting] to play eight games where it’s warm, and experience a field instead of playing inside anymore because playing inside is tough.”
Once back from the trip, playing on a field as opposed to inside is something that the players think can help them as they go into their conference season. Freshman softball player Casey Hipp explained how the Florida trip was beneficial to her.
“Those were my first outdoor collegiate games and I got a sense for how it is and what needs to be done,” Hipp said. As a whole, she also claims that the team learned what they needed to work on.
“We need to be able to bond together, play well and work hard. We need to communicate better.”
Sophomore Kobe Shutter spoke very positively about the newfound bond within the baseball team. He says that the team “had a lot of fun on the trip and were able to bond. I think that was the biggest part, being able to bond and play the game we love in warm weather obviously instead of playing here. Being able to work together as a team down there and figure out who we are as a team to prepare for conference.” Shutter believes that this Florida trip is very important for conference preparation.
“The most important part for us is being able to compete in conference games and our Florida trip is a really big part of that.” Shutter said.
As for this season, Shutter thinks the team has a great chance to succeed especially with what they learned in Florida. “We learned that we are capable of being a really good team because we’ve got a lot of speed. We can run the bases really well. We’ve got really good pitching depth and we are solid defensively, but we can be better overall in those areas. There is always room for improvement but I think we can go out and compete every day and hopefully win a conference tournament. We haven’t won a conference tournament in 10 years and I think this is the team that can do it.”
As for their games in Florida, sophomore Niamh Pemberton of the softball team states that the girls “played eight games. We won three and lost five.”
Pemberton also points out the growth of the team from previous years, stating that the Florida trip helped the team because “we’ve already got a couple wins under our belt, which is a lot better than we were doing last year. Our team morale is looking good at the moment, which is always a good thing.”
The baseball team’s record decreased from last year, going 2-4 in Florida last spring. Senior Larry Murray states, “we played seven games and won two.” Shutter also spoke about the junior varsity team.
“We played two JV games so everybody got to see some action. We had a lot of close games and we played really good teams,” Shutter said. Murray commented that his favorite baseball moment “was the very last game we played where we won in a pretty commanding way. It was a good way to sum up the trip, with a win.” This gives them a good feeling going into conference matches.
Sanders’ favorite game moment of this trip was the team’s first win. “It wasn’t our first win of the season, but our first win down there because the team we played has played with and beaten one of the best teams in the country. It was a good feeling because we realized we were struggling coming in but now know that this team can be really good.”
Of course, all their time was not consumed with just games. The softball team participated in many tourist activities together.
“We got to go to the beach, we got to go to the outlet malls, we got to go to a fancy team dinner. I also went on an airboat ride with my mom which was fun,” Stevenson said. Her favorite part of the trip other than the games was “definitely the airboat ride. The guy that gave the tour was pretty cool. He let us drive the airboat. It was fun to go through the Everglades because that is a part of Florida that you don’t usually get to see.”
The baseball team, meanwhile, got the Disney experience. “The whole team went there at the end of the trip to shop and see the whole Disney World aspect of Orlando,” Sanders said. They also did get some downtime that was not filled with sights or games. For Sanders, his favorite part other than the baseball games was “hanging out with the guys and then going swimming and relaxing after the games.” Murray had a similar answer of enjoying “being in the sun and getting to be in the pool with the guys and playing sand volleyball, which is less competitive than baseball.”
Pemberton had an extra special trip. “My family was one of the families that came down to join us, so getting to spend time with my family was my favorite part. My best friend got to meet my crazy little sister so that was fun. I got to spend a lot of time with a lot of people I care about at the same time. That was nice,” she said. Pemberton then got to play in front of family with her friends.
Both teams agreed they have a heightened sense of team closeness and look forward to the regular and conference season. The bonding they experienced was crucial for their play on the field. Hipp asserts that “we have a lot of stuff we need to work on, but each day we are going to get better and hopefully keep winning.”