Carson City’s WNC boasts more depth in 2015
Opening the softball season with just one returning starter might cause concern for the Western Nevada College Wildcats.
However, if the results of their fall season are any indicator, the Wildcats could actually be on the cusp of their best season ever. The Wildcats put together a nine-game winning streak to end the fall scrimmage season, showcasing an expanded recruiting class featuring power, defense and pitching promise.
“If the fall is any indication of how the spring will be, it’s going to be epic,” said WNC Head Coach Leah Wentworth. “Across the board, I think I have a really competitive group of girls. They show their competitive spirit in just about everything that we do. Everyone is pushing each other and themselves to do their very best or to beat the player next to them.
“I think we should be a contender this year, and I know the girls feel the same way.”
Wentworth said the team’s feistiness has been consistent, even in intrasquad games.
Wentworth credited assistant coach Bethany Henry-Herman for putting together the program’s largest recruiting class ever. The Wildcats signed 24 players and reached outside the region to improve their program and provide depth for the demanding 50-plus-game season schedule.
“We are extremely excited about the upcoming season,” said Henry-Herman. “We feel that we were fortunate enough to recruit some of the best athletes from Southern and Northern Nevada, California and Utah. We have uncovered some ‘diamonds in the rough’ and believe that many of our athletes should be at the next level.”
Returning infielder Katilyn Covione developed into one of the Scenic West Athletic Conference’s top players by season’s end in 2014, hitting .692 with four homers in the Region 18 Tournament.
“She voiced that she never hit with as much power as she possessed last year,” Wentworth said. “It’ll continue for her. She’s our ‘Steady Eddie.’ I know if the ball is hit to her, she’s going to field the ball cleanly, make a good throw and get us an out, and when she’s up at the plate,
“I have the utmost confidence in her bat that she will do something to make it happen.”
Covione’s hitting surge propelled the Wildcats into becoming one of the final four teams standing in the 2014 tournament, giving the program its best postseason showing to date.
“She’s an incredibly hard worker; she puts her nose down every day and does the work, and doesn’t let a lot of things affect her mental side of the game,” Wentworth said. “She has no quit in her and a lot of heart, so she’s been so much fun to coach.”
Sophomore Nicole Lesniak pitched for College of Southern Nevada last season, then transferred to WNC.
One area the Wildcats concentrated on solidifying in the offseason was in the pitching circle. Covione and Carlee Beck shouldered the pitching load a season ago, and when Beck experienced a midseason injury, that left the Wildcats shorthanded and less competitive during the weekly back-to-back doubleheaders.
As a result, the Wildcats canvassed the West for more pitching talent and brought in seven arms to complement Covione.
“They all have things they do really well, and in the past we haven’t always had pitchers who complemented each other very well,” Wentworth said. “This year, we have a good mix of speed, we have some girls who are really good junk ball pitchers, and some others who throw the down ball really well or the rise ball really well or have a really good changeup.
“This will help us to continue to change out our pitchers and keep the hitters off-balance and keep them guessing, which is generally really hard to do in our conference when we play the same team eight times before we see them in regionals.”
The Wildcats also cultivated local players who will make contributions to the program.
Kaitlyn Jimmy of Carson High is among the pitching prospects, and Kelsie Callahan of Fernley High gives the offense some pop with her bat. Infielder Britni Greninger of Reed High School and outfielder Bailey Henderson of Fernley are also vying for playing time.
To provide more experience for the young club, the Wildcats brought in five transfers from rival College of Southern Nevada.
Twins Nicole and Lauren Lesniak give the Wildcats an experienced pitching-catching combination.
“A twin connection is a unique bond,” Wentorth said. “To have them as a pitcher and catcher, it works well because they know each other so well, they feed off of that, they are able to give each other feedback and apply it to their game.”
Nicole won seven of 12 decisions and notched a 3.39 ERA for the Coyotes last season.
Meanwhile, Lauren provided consistency at the plate, hitting .333 in 44 games while homering twice and knocking in 23 runs.
Sophomore infielder Hannah Russo and sophomore outfielder Pamela Sakuma participated in a combined 47 games for the Coyotes in 2014, while Gabriella Canibeyaz redshirted.
Jimmy and Nicole Lesniak will be in the mix to pitch for the Wildcats, along with Sadee Sorensen (Centerfield, Utah), Kristina George (Hooper, Utah), Dakota Robinson (Newcastle, Utah) and Chelsea Lloyd (Pioche, Nev.).
In addition to Covione and the Lesniak twins, Wentworth said she has been impressed by the consistent play of freshman shortstop Makaylee Jaussi, freshman pitcher and outfielder Robinson, and freshman outfielder Melanie Mecham.
Jaussi hit better than .500 during the fall season and won over her coaches with her speed and instincts.
Robinson demonstrated versatility to her coaches whether she was inserted into the circle or in the outfield. “On the mound, she has some good movement and good speed that kind of gets the hitters flustered, but she’s also a strong outfielder. Her arm is so accurate. Just about every single time she makes a perfect throw to the bag or the cutoff,” Wentworth said.