VIENNA - You could say things came at the Mathews Mustangs softball team a little too fast and too soon last season.
Young in varsity experience in some areas, the Mustangs rode a hot tournament performance all the way to the Division IV state championship game. That's where the road ended with a 5-2 loss to Convoy Crestview.
The loss was undoubtedly difficult to take, but it didn't leave devastating effects. There was too much on the plate for the future to worry about what happened in the past.
Tribune Chronicle file photo / R. Michael Semple
Mathews’ Maddie Williams, left, and Cheyenne Eggens walk off the field after last season’s state semifinal victory. The Mustangs are poised to make another run at a state final.
"It makes us hungry," coach Jim Nicula said. "We didn't expect to go that far. Everything after the regional was gravy. The semifinal win (over Covington) was awesome. We wanted to win the final, but we were not expecting it because of how new it was for everyone. We're anxious to compete and get back to state this year."
Among the inexperienced players last season was then-freshman pitcher Cheyenne Eggens, whose powerful style led the Mustangs to district and regional crowns. Eggens won't be a normal sophomore starter with the experience she gained in 2012.
"She takes everything in stride," Nicula said. "Most of our girls do. Our team is loose. We don't feel the pressure.
"Cheyenne Eggens has pitched quite a few years now. She's played in travel leagues in the past. Whether it's playing for a state crown or a league championship, we try to treat them all the same."
Eggens should feel a sense of comfort knowing that in most games she will receive good offensive support.
Senior center-fielder Tabby Granelly will be the offensive catalyst from the lead-off spot. Last season she batted close to .450, scored 29 runs and led the team with 23 stolen bases. Granelly also had a team-leading nine triples.
Senior third baseman Jacki Rhine is being counted on to supply power. Last season she batted .310 with 29 RBI.
Senior shortstop Jessica Marsico had six home runs and drove in a team-leading 31 runs with a .350 batting average. Senior catcher Hollie Shreves hit .300, but her primary value is as a mentor to Eggens behind the plate.
"Having caught big games, last year she helped to bring Cheyenne along defensively," Nicula said.
The Mustangs will gear up for the tournaments by playing up in levels during the regular season. Outside of the Northeastern Athletic Conference, Mathews will participate in the Wendy's Classic in Ashland. Included in its bracket will be defending Division I state champion North Canton Hoover, defending Division II state champion LaGrange Keystone and one of the better teams from Wisconsin.
In addition, the Mustangs have committed to playing in the Previs Memorial, an event hosted by LaGrange. Division I and Division II schools will participate.
"Without a doubt by tournament time we'll be battled tested," Nicula said.
The Mustangs haven't completely forgotten the loss in the state title game last season.
"Our motto for the year is unfinished business," Nicula said. "Our number one goal is to win the NAC title. Our second goal is absolutely to get back to state. The kids have worked hard in the offseason. This was probably the best offseason we've ever had."
They say hard work pays off. The Mustangs will find out about that by early June.