Lady Cavs young but athletic and savvy

Published 9:03 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lakeland High School junior Stasha Waterfield, pictured preparing to throw on defense, is starting this season at shortstop for a young Lady Cavaliers squad.

Lakeland High School junior Stasha Waterfield, pictured preparing to throw on defense, is starting this season at shortstop for a young Lady Cavaliers squad.

The Lakeland High School softball team has good reason to be optimistic about its prospects this season, and a big season-opening loss should do little to rattle those hopes, when put in context.

The Lady Cavaliers lost on the road, 12-0, to defending Group 5A state champion Great Bridge High School on March 17.

“It was rough,” Lakeland coach Cara Byrd said.

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She noted she has eight freshmen on the roster this season, and some of them were battling a little bit of nerves during the game.

“You could see it all over their face,” she said.

Byrd said the Lady Cavs did not do too badly on defense, but the Lady Wildcats are just a really good offensive team.

They scored six runs on Lakeland junior pitcher Tori Abel and scored six runs on the freshman Byrd put in to replace her.

But despite a difficult start, Abel is expected to be a significant factor for the Lady Cavaliers this season as a leader, a pitcher, a batter and a third baseman.

“She’s been doing a lot of offseason stuff with pitching, and so she’s going to see a lot more time at the mound this year,” Byrd said.

In addition to freshman Sara Matthews, Abel will be helping fill the void left by junior Katie Peelen, who transferred to Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.

Due to graduation, Lakeland has also lost five other players: Sarah Bowyer, Megan Mansfield, Summer Parker, Breann Pendleton and Megan Smith.

They helped the Lady Cavs go 10-9 overall last season. That year ended for Lakeland in the conference semifinals with a 2-1 loss to King’s Fork High School.

Joining eight freshmen this year are four sophomores and two juniors.

While her team is extremely young, Byrd said she has a lot of athletic girls, and seven players on her team play year around, “which is the most that I’ve ever had.”

“This year, I have more girls that softball is their No. 1 sport,” Byrd said. “They’re very competitive. They want to be good.”

It is all a combination that adds up to heightened expectations for Byrd.

“I think that we’re going to be competitive,” she said. “I think that we’re going to surprise some people.”

Junior Stasha Waterfield, a key player on Lakeland’s field hockey team, is playing shortstop to start the season.

“She’s going to take more of a leadership role, because it doesn’t matter what she plays, she wants to be good,” Byrd said.

Byrd expects five freshmen to be key contributors, including Brittney Strickland, who might emerge as the team’s regular centerfielder. The coach said Strickland is quick and a solid defender.

Alex Kinsey is an outfielder, but can also play in the infield, and she is “the most versatile batter I’ve ever seen,” Byrd said.

Basketball star Makayla Dickens plays catcher, and Byrd said, “She’s just pure athleticism.”

Maya Feldt serves as the team’s second baseman and its leadoff batter.

“Who I think is going to be the biggest surprise is Sara Matthews,” Byrd said, noting the pitcher is very mature and has a nasty changeup.

The coach said her young players need to build their confidence to be successful this year.

“I just think they’ve got to get that taste of victory,” she said, later adding, “We will definitely be a top team in the next two or three years.”

Lakeland (0-1) hosted Oscar Smith High School on Tuesday, visits Indian River High School today and hosts Nansemond River High School on Friday.