Flashes look forward

Future is bright for 3-time state champs

Tribune Chronicle / Brian Yauger Champion sophomore slugger Cassidy Shaffer (9) is greeted at home plate by her teammates after one of her two home runs in the Division III state championship game Saturday in Akron.

CLICK HERE to view a SLIDESHOW of Saturday’s big win

Fresh off the heels of their third straight Division III softball state title, it’s hard not to look at Champion’s roster and wonder if they could be in the same exact position this time next year.

Returning both starting pitchers, Allison Smith and Sophie Howell, and losing only three starters, it’s not crazy to think that the Golden Flashes could return to Akron’s Firestone Stadium and possibly win their fourth straight state title and 10th overall.

Champion coach Cheryl Weaver, for good reason, isn’t worried about that yet; she is just focusing on celebrating with her team.

“Right now we’re going to just worry about having fun,” Weaver said after the Flashes’ 5-0 win against Cardington-Lincoln Saturday in the title game. “I want these girls to enjoy this as much as possible. You don’t want to look too far ahead.

“We’re going to be losing some key players. We have in the past, but girls seem to always step up to the plate and do it. I don’t want to say too much; I’m not one to say we’re going to be there, but we’re going to do our best and put the best team we can together again.”

Smith and Howell will be two of the juniors returning from a Champion squad that held its opponents scoreless throughout the entire tournament and had a total of 22 shutouts during the season.

In addition to the two junior pitchers, the Flashes will also retain two junior outfielders. Left fielder Savannah Dodrill and center fielder Abbi Grace both played key roles during the tournament run and will return to the team.

The strong junior class will be tough to lose after next year, but Weaver is excited to have one more year with them.

“They’re just tremendous,” Weaver said. “When you look at Allison and Sophie, the pitchers on the mound. You got Abbi Grace, and Savannah (Dodrill). There’s just so many of them. That’s going to be a big loss when we lose them, but we have one more year, so we’ll take advantage of them.”

It’s not just the juniors that have Champion in such good shape. Their sophomore class is quite strong as well. Emma Gumont, Brooklynn Whitt and tournament star Cassidy Shaffer all will be returning.

Shaffer hit five home runs in the last four games, including two in the state title game.

“She’s a monster,” Weaver said after their 10-0 victory over South Range in the regional semifinals. “She’s a tall, skinny girl, and the way she could hit that ball over there is great.”

Before the season Weaver said that this past season’s schedule was the toughest in Champion’s history. Don’t expect that to change heading into next year.

“I’m sure a lot of those schools, Louisville, Lake, North Canton Hoover, LaGrange Keystone, those schools want to play us. They like to face our pitchers and I love our girls playing them because that puts pressure on them, so that when we come to something like this, we can handle it.”

The players appreciate the tough schedule, at least when they don’t have to wake up early.

“Coach Weaver, if you look at our schedule, does a great job, if we’re not traveling an hour and a half to play some Division I team where we have to get up at 6 a.m., anyway,” Smith said with a laugh. “We had a doubleheader with Lake and Louisville, which are two crazy teams and take a lot of focus for back-to-back games.”

That toughness translates into a good reason why the Flashes have succeeded the way they have. The players know it too.

“I would say she puts us in situations to fail, or situations that we should fail most of the time, but hard work and practice pays off,” Smith said. “In the end, that’s why we’re in this room talking about our third straight championship.”

The ink has yet to dry after Champion rewrote the history books, tying the all-time state record with their ninth state title. But with the season over, it’s on to next year when the Golden Flashes will shoot for their fourth consecutive title.