The expectations haven’t changed for the St. Joseph-Ogden High School softball team.
Even with a new coach for the 2019 season.
Larry Sparks replaces Randy Wolken, the state’s all-time winningest coach with 1,044 victories and the only coach the Spartans have ever had since the program started in 1980. Wolken retired shortly after the 2018 season ended.
But Sparks understands what he is getting into as the Spartans start the 2019 season on Monday with a 4:30 p.m. game versus Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley.
“I feel very lucky to be given the opportunity to head coach of such a storied program such as St. Joseph Ogden softball,” Sparks said. “I have a tremendous staff and a really great group of young ladies. Coach Wolken developed a culture that rivals no other program. Our girls live to wear the Spartan uniform.”
Junior shortstop Bailey Dowling leads the way for SJO. The Alabama commit is coming off a 2018 season that saw her bat .657 with 21 home runs and 68 RBI. But Dowling has
Add in senior pitcher Ashtyn Cromwell (21 wins in 2018), senior second baseman Savannah Smith (.292 average in 2018) and senior outfielder Katie Poulter (.301 average, 18 stolen bases in 2018), and the Spartans’ cupboard is far from empty.
Fellow senior pitcher Hannah Lewis, junior pitcher Zoey Witruk, sophomore third baseman Kaylee Ward, sophomore outfielder/infielder Audry Short and first baseman/outfielder Lauren Trankina give SJO needed depth, too.
“The strengths of this team
The Spartans are set to take part in tournaments in Rantoul (March 30), Mattoon (April 12), Clinton (April 20) and Galesburg (May 10-11) along with balancing a challenging nonconference schedule that includes quality teams like GCMS, Normal West (March 21), Maroa-Forsyth (April 1), Villa Grove (April 2), Mt. Zion (April 17) and Casey-Westfield (April 26), among others.
“Our schedule has to be one of the toughest in this area, if not the state,” Sparks said. “The Illini Prairie Conference is a really solid softball conference. Teams like Pontiac, Bloomington Central Catholic, Olympia, Unity
SJO won its fourth consecutive Class 2A sectional championship last
“SJO softball is a culture that goes way beyond this season’s squad,” Sparks said. “It’s our job to continue the winning ways established by the 39 teams before us. Our girls work hard year-round preparing to be successful, and I’m grateful to be coaching a program that expects to be in East Peoria every year at the end of May.”