The Chautauqua Lake baseball and softball teams will have plenty of new faces this season.
This spring marks the first season on the diamond since the merger of Chautauqua Lake and Ripley, and both Chautauqua Lake softball coach Sue Teets and baseball coach Mike Cummings are ecstatic with what they have seen so far.
Before the merger, Ripley softball had a solid program under the guidance of Mike Torrance, while Chautauqua Lake had always been a competitive program under Teets.
Both the Chautauqua Lake varsity baseball and softball teams should benefit after the school merged with Ripley prior to the 2014 school year.
Put the two teams together, and the Lady Thunderbirds seemingly are favorites to be near the top of the division this year.
"The Ripley girls have been a great addition," Teets said. "It has stepped up our practices, where girls really have to work harder for their spots. Ripley had a tremendous team and Mike had done a great job with them. I think it's going to put us up there near the top with the division we are in. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be, but I don't want to put the cart before the horse. "For the first time in Teets tenure at Chautauqua Lake, the team will be heading to Myrtle Beach during spring break, and in Teets' mind, this is the perfect year to do it.
"We are emphasizing one team and one mind," she said. "It was a little difficult when (Ripley players) were used to their signals and their plays. We have talked and worked out different things and merged philosophies. We are going to be living together next week in Myrtle Beach. It's a very good year to go down there. The biggest thing I'm looking to see is team bonding. It's not Ripley kids or Chautauqua Lake kids. It's one team."
One of the biggest challenges came early on as 67 players tried out for three teams - varsity, jayvee and modified. While making the cuts, Teets consulted with Torrance and assistant coaches to make sure favoritism was not a factor.
"I made sure we had representation from Ripley," Teets said. "Mike and I sat down and discussed all the moves. We think quite a bit alike."
Another benefit for the team, is the fact that Ripley has arguably one of the finer maintained softball fields in the area. With all the snow Mayville gets during the winter, Chautauqua Lake's field was not in the shape Ripley's field was in, allowing the team to move practices to Ripley. However, traveling and scheduling practices has been a chore for Teets.
For Cummings and the baseball program, they are enjoying the level of competition in practice every day.
"It's almost a throwback to 30 years ago when you had to fight for every spot," Cummings said. "We are enjoying this and it has rejuvenated everybody. We may have a different lineup every day. That's what's thrilling for me."
With a bigger roster, Cummings noted he will be "earning his paycheck" this year with different lineups he may have to use, as well as in-game substitutions.
"Coaches are talking every day about combinations we can use," he said. "We may need a fast team to steal more bases against some teams or have a better defensive team. It makes it more fun to coach. We are going to have defensive specialists and have guys who can lay bunts down and steal. We have guys who can pitch in different scenarios and we didn't have that luxury last year. In the past, we extended a pitcher who probably didn't have much left in the tank. We have far more options in all phases and it makes it fun. (The Ripley players) have added a lot of talented depth to our roster. It's a welcomed challenge as a coach."
Cummings is also leaning on Ken Rowe, who coached Ripley last season, for insight on the new players.
"He has a keen eye for detail," Cummings said of Rowe. "That helps when we have 20 kids and we are trying to divide them up into work groups. He has a keen eye to recognize what they are doing right and correct the wrong. He is a stickler for doing little things the right away. He is very detail oriented."
Cummings added, "It's been great. We look for many more fun seasons like this to come."