It has been quite an unpredictable season for the Chaparral women’s softball team.
After yet another one of their games was postponed due to rain, the team sits in the hallway of the OCC building having a post-workout discussion.
Sitting casually amongst the team is head coach Ryan Connell.
Just standing in that hallway for a few minutes will give one the perfect picture of Connell as a coach.
His demeanor is laid-back and friendly as he chats and jokes with his players.
One can tell that the players respond well to Connell’s relaxed persona and it is certainly working on the field.
“Our goal is to do what COD softball does which is to go out and pretty much dominate games,” Connell said.
The Lady Chaps are 22-13 on the season and are ranked fourth in the most recent National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) poll.
Despite a recent slip-up against tough conference opponent Rock Valley, the Chaps were one of the hottest teams in the country with a 12-game winning streak.
Now with the season coming to a close and the regional tournament fast approaching, Connell and the Chaps plan on continuing to take care of business.
“I’m really proud of the girls the way they’re keeping it together this year with all the adversity they’re having to face,” Connell said.
The adversity Connell referred to was the numerous games cancelled because of poor weather conditions and having to work out in the fitness lab instead of practicing on off days.
These kinds of challenges could rattle a team, but their play has not seemed to be too affected by it. It probably also helps having a coach who keeps a cool head.
As far as his coaching philosophy on the field is concerned, Connell likes to have his players steal bases. A LOT.
“We get on base and put a lot of pressure on the defense by having our girls moving as much as possible,” Connell explained.
To put it into perspective, the Lady Chaps are second in the nation amongst Division III NJCAA teams in stealing bases with 115.
They only trail Gloucester Community College by one for the league lead and Gloucester has played 18 more games than the Chaps have.
A couple of the players who have not only accounted for the Chaps’ success but who, in Connell’s eyes, have demonstrated team leadership are shortstop/ pitcher Karen Caithamer and outfielder/ pitcher Katy Durr.
“Karen’s unstoppable… she’s the catalyst on the team,” Connell said. “Katy’s an outfielder who’s helping out with pitching and she leads the team with a 9-2 record.”
“People are stepping up and doing things that we need to do to make sure we’re still winning.”
After winning one out of two against South Suburban on Wednesday, yet another game that was scheduled to be at home but moved to the road due to field conditions, Connell is just one win away from 200.
However, the coach is not one to get a big head about the landmark victory.
“It’s cool, 200 wins in six years is pretty good. We have such great players here at COD that it makes it so easy to coach,” Connell said.
“But I’m more worried about the product on the field.”
The regional tournament will be held at Madison Community College May 2-3.
The Lady Chaps will be the second seed with Rock Valley moving up to the first seed after beating the Chaps three times in one day last Monday.
One can bet that Connell will have his team prepared if they meet again in the tournament.
“Rock Valley is a very good team, they’re really strong and we’d have to play very well to beat them,” Connell said.
If the Lady Chaps were to be crowned regional champions, they will move onto the D-III National tournament, something the Chaps have done 16 of the last 17 years.
“We’ve had an excellent run of very good coaches that are just putting it all out there,” Connell said.
“It’s been one heck of a program, there isn’t another junior college program that has been that consistent throughout.”