Each and every game begins the same.
Before every game that the Juanita softball team plays, the goal list is read.
Pick each other up. Talk it up. Never leave a runner on third. Always lay down the bunt. Win KingCo.
Go to state.
The last is the ultimate goal, but without the ones that come before it, it is nothing. That list, written by coach Kristian Dahl and his team before the season, is just another reminder to keep the eyes on the prize.
“We keep those goals in the back of our minds all the time,” said senior third baseman Jennifer Welch. “It keeps us focused on winning.”
And winning is what the Rebels (13-1) have done so far this year, losing only once since dropping from 4A to 3A.
But don’t think the classification change means that Juanita can’t run with the big dogs. The Rebels kicked off the season by going 5-1 against 4A competition in non-league play, losing only to Inglemoor 2-1 on March 24.
“That was great motivation, just a great boost for the season, knowing we could compete against the 4A’s still,” said Dahl, in his second year as Juanita’s head coach. “We knew the girls were very talented and we are going to compete. They’ve come out and proven that.”
The Rebels run has been made possible by strong performances in all three facets of the game: big hitting, tough defense and dominant pitching.
Brooke Rychard is hitting over .500 with 14 RBIs while Kellie Shinstrom has knocked in 12 runs. The offense has come consistently as well; the Rebels have scored five or more runs in 12 of their 14 games.
“It really helps to have an offense that can be sparked at any time,” Dahl said. “We’ve hit the ball when we’ve needed to hit the ball.”
But the biggest factor in Juanita’s success has been the play of pitcher Kylie Sparks. The junior is 12-1 this season, has struck out 96 batters and walked only nine batters.
Sparks is averaging over strikeouts per game and has allowed more than two runs only once all season.
“She’s been very dominant this year, very on her game,” Dahl said. “It’s very rare for her to have a bad game. She just mentally has it as a pitcher.”
“When I go out and they score five goals for me, it makes my job way easier,” Sparks added.
Behind Sparks, the Rebels have been consistently ranked among the top-5 3A teams this season and are leading the KingCo Conference with a 7-0 mark. But don’t tell that to Dahl, who prefers the Rebels roll under the radar.
“I don’t want the target on our backs,” he said. “We want to be the underdog and come in and show teams what we can do.”
The girls do say one thing: follow the rules laid out by the team goals, and all will go well.
“As long as we play to our abilities, we’ll be able to crush every team we go on the field with,” Welch said.