Phenix trying to rekindle success this season
The Lawrence Phenix softball team is attempting to rise out of the ashes of a difficult summer campaign.
The Phenix, coached by Eric Epperson and Cardinal coach Cara Kimberlin, boasts three Eudorans on its roster -- Kelsey Epperson, Alissa Hamilton and Kayla Moyer.
The trio has helped qualify the Phenix for a pair of ASA 'B' National tourneys, both in Lawrence.
Overall, the squad's record has suffered. The Phenix operated in the 16-and-under class a year ago, but this summer the girls have graduated to the 18-and-under division.
"It's weird going from last year, being at the top and winning tournaments," Kelsey Epperson said. "Now we're in the 18-and-under, and it's another level."
The line between winning and losing is much finer at this level.
"It's amazing making the jump between 16-and-under to 18-and-under," Eric Epperson said. "All the 18-year-old teams are so much better; especially in the 'A' division.
"We can't make mistakes. When we make mistakes and errors, we pay for it. That's been the main difference all year.
"We're playing pretty well, but one bad inning is all it takes at that level."
The divisional jump attracts not only errors but also learning experiences.
"Summer ball is all about seeing different levels of competition, competing against a lot of players at the next level and players that are going to play college ball," Kelsey Epperson said. "What you want to do is just compete against them and get ideas of how you can get better and see what you need to work on to prepare for high school next year."
The growing pains have been evident this year.
"The year hasn't gone so great according to the win-loss record," Kelsey Epperson said. "But it's good to get out there and see good competition and just to be playing."
Head coach Eric Epperson is focusing more on individual growth than win-loss records.
"At some point you have to take the win-loss thing out of it when you're playing at higher levels," he said. "You have to look at the improvement of the kids.
"Sure, wins and losses are important, but to what point, I'm not sure. I worry more about them understanding the game and consistency."
Focusing on the win-loss record would be frustrating anyway -- close games have been unkind to the Phenix.
"We've lost about 10 one-run games," Eric Epperson said. "That's tough, but at least we're competing. That's all I can ask for from the girls anyway."
Losing is something that you just never get used to.
"You have to get through the disappointment as a team," Kelsey Epperson said. "You can't get frustrated and blow it off. It's hard to get through losing four games in a row. Nobody likes losing.
"It's just about mentally being prepared. That's been the problem this year. Physically, we're fine. We just need to try to stay positive."
Beginning with the catcher.
"(Alissa) Hamilton had a pretty good second-half," Eric Epperson said. "She started out a little slow but she's really starting to come around.
"She's really starting to hit everything really hard, and that's important being an RBI-driver. And defensively she's a lot better than last year."
The Phenix center fielder has lent her iconic styling to the cause.
"(Kayla) Moyer's still slapping the ball," Eric Epperson said. "She just drops the ball down and goes.
"It's a little tougher at this level because the defenses are better. She has to work on specifically placing the ball better. When she does, she's pretty awesome.
"She's had a pretty good year so far."
And a familiar and consistent hand lands at third base -- Kelsey Epperson.
"She's pretty steady," Eric Epperson said. "Defensively she's really good; as solid as you can get.
"Everybody's been a little hot and cold hitting, but she's had a pretty good year."
It's going to take one of those hot streaks to survive and flourish in the upcoming schedule -- including the Phenix's battle this weekend in Basehor this weekend at an A-ball qualifier.
"We've faced some of the best teams I've seen," Eric Epperson said. "We played at a big tourney in Bonner Springs with a really high level of softball. There were about 60 coaches there and I think every Big XII coach.
"That put a lot of pressure on our girls, and they didn't play the way they're capable of playing.
"But they're getting exposure. That's important to me. Playing at smaller schools, if you don't play 'A' ball you won't be seen.
"In softball you basically have to recruit yourself. That's why we've taken our lumps in A ball -- for girls who want to play in college."