By Josh Brown
TROY — Veteran softball coach Dan Cain enjoyed success during his first stint with the Troy Trojans.
Now he is returning this season to take over a young Trojan team that has been on the upswing under departed coach Megan Campbell in recent years, going 17-11 last year — the team’s best season since a .500 record in 2011 — and finishing as the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division runner-up behind Greenville.
“We had two winning seasons when I was here last, and I feel comfortable at Troy,” Cain said. “I like playing a Division I schedule. I was hoping to get the opportunity to come back sometime.
“They called me when the job opened up and I went through the process, so it worked out well. We won the (Metro Buckeye Conference) league title with Troy Christian last year, which was good, and now I’m looking forward to spending some time at Troy. Megan has done a good job the last couple seasons, and we’re just looking to continue what she started.”
And one thing Cain likes about being back at Troy, one of the team’s bigger strengths, is going to be the versatility nearly every player on the deep roster has.
“This year, we’re going to have plenty of options,” he said. “We want to get a set lineup instead of flipping people back and forth, get kids used to playing with each other. But if someone is struggling or gets hurt, we can switch things around.
“So far, they’ve made it tough on me to figure out who we’ll keep on varsity — and that’s a good problem to have. I’ll take that problem. We’ve got a bunch of girls that will end up on JV that deserve to play varsity softball, so all of our varsity kids will have kids nipping at their heels. That competition will make them all better.”
Once those roles are solidified, though, the key to the Trojans’ ongoing success will be accepting them.
“The big thing is going to be how everyone accepts their roles,” Cain said. “We need everyone buying in to what we’re doing. It’s something we talk about every day in practice. We have a lot of versatility, but once everyone has a role, they have to buy in to them and buy in to what we’re trying to do. If that happens, we’ll have a successful season. If it doesn’t, then we’ll struggle.”
Leading the way will be a pair of pitchers that got experience last season in senior Natalie Henson and sophomore Camryn Moeller.
Henson went 3-2 in eight games pitched last year with a 1.30 ERA — tops on the team and fourth in the GWOC North Division. Moeller, meanwhile, was 6-2 in 13 games and had a 1.64 ERA — fifth in the North. Junior Lauren Rutan and senior Hannah Wright will add depth to the staff.
“Natalie could be one of the better pitchers in the GWOC North,” Cain said. “She’s definitely capable of it. And Camryn pitched more than Natalie did last year. She’s probably the best athlete on the team. She runs well, she hits well, she defends well and she has a strong arm.
“The fact that Natalie and Camryn both threw last year and got their feet wet on the mound helps us. Nat throws a little harder and Cam has some nice movement, so they’ll be a good complement to each other. And Lauren Rutan and Hannah Wright both have a lot of junk, too, so we’ve got a good combination and versatility on the mound, too. They’re going to throw strikes, and we’re going to play defense behind them.”
The Trojans also have options at catcher with three solid players in sophomore Kearston Riley and seniors Melanie Henson and Taylor Stookey.
“Kearston has a strong arm and quick release, and she also plays good outfield and hits the ball well,” Cain said. “Taylor has a strong arm and hits well, too, and Melanie has caught in the past, too. She’s been hitting the ball better in practice so far and played pretty well in practice.”
The defense begins with a pair of youngsters up the middle in sophomore Savannah Nelson and freshman second baseman Josie Rohlfs. Nelson led the Trojans in RBIs with 21 and hit a pair of homers, tied with Natalie Henson for the team lead there. Nelson played short last year but could also move to third if needed.
“Savannah and Natalie will both be three-four or four-five, in the middle of the order,” Cain said. “They both have pop and can hit the ball well. Savannah has versatility and can play short or third or in the outfield. And Josie is going to step into her sister Rainey’s spot at second. She brings a lot of speed and another left-handed bat to the lineup. She probably drag bunts better than anyone on the team right now.”
From there, roles still have yet to be clearly defined. Rutan can play short and pitch, Wright can play anywhere on the field, junior Madison Potts can play first or third, junior Sara Goodwin can play second or the outfield and senior Brooke Beeler can play first. Senior Lanie Poling will play center and likely be the leadoff hitter.
“I knew a lot of the kids from travel ball. We lost seven or eight good players off last year’s team here,” Cain said. “We have a lot of seniors that will be first-year varsity players. But we had a strong JV team last year, and those kids got good experience there that they can bring with them this year.”
And though last year’s unbeaten GWOC North champion Greenville lost key components to graduation, as well, the Trojans know dethroning the Green Wave will be a big test — but not an impossible one.
“Greenville is probably favored to win the league just because of experience and the fact that they always do well,” Cain said. “But I think we’ll have a shot to be right there. Last year, Troy gave Greenville everything it could handle even with Ally Russell there, took them to extra innings. We may have lost seven starters, but I think we’ll be fine.
“Piqua has struggled a bit with pitching lately but has hitting. They hit and run aggressively. Butler is young, and same with Sidney. It’s going to be a competitive league this year. But I like the way the GWOC is set up, getting to play everyone twice.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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