Ottumwa -- When Lindsay Diehl was an All-American softball player at Indian Hills, she likely didn't dream that one day she would be preparing a team for its season opener as the head coach at her alma mater. But that is exactly what Diehl is doing this week as the new coach gets ready to take the Warriors on the road for 13 games in nine days in Texas to start a new era of IHCC softball.
"Being back at Indian Hills for my first season has added excitement for sure," admits Diehl, who was a two-year starter for the Warriors and a key player on back-to-back national tournament teams. "This is where I fell in love with the game, started developing a passion for coaching and made some of my favorite memories on the field. Talking to the girls about what it means to wear the Indian Hills jersey, the pride that comes with it and the tradition of those who have worn it before them has been fun. I have watched them take ownership and develop pride in what they do every day at practice."
The Warriors have four players back from last year's squad which went 46-12 and won the program's fourth straight conference regular-season and post-season championships. The returners include three players who hit right around .400 in 2018: Jaylie Reints (.409), Helaina Johnson (.407) and Alexis Westercamp (.396), along with Vanessa Bakley, who batted .291 while playing in and starting all 58 games as a freshman. Johnson led the team with her .522 on-base percentage. Reints hit nine homers, Johnson slugged six, and Bakley and Westercamp slammed four and three, respectively. The quartet combined for 106 RBIs.
"We have some offensive power mixed with some speed that, I think, will be able to put some runs on the board and put some pressure on our opponents," Diehl says. "We also have some pitchers that have been working hard to grow and develop so that we have a pitching staff ready to share the job. Mentally, we have been working hard on developing routines and playing in the moment. We have also been emphasizing handling the ups and downs of the game as well as the season."
The first-year head coach, who will be assisted by Kylie Bengtson, says the Warriors, she feels, have really grown defensively in the offseason and are gaining confidence in their decision-making. Diehl stresses that the players need to continue to be "constant students of the game" to learn from every game they play. "These girls have really bought in and they want to learn as much as they can to gain an edge and make adjustments," Diehl says. "We lack a lot of depth so staying healthy is going to be a big key for us this spring."
Diehl says everyone, coaches and players alike, is anxious to head south, where they will open the season with games against Weatherford (Tex.) College and Cowley County (Kans.) College in the Coyote Chillout on Feb. 8. "This group has really come together and they get along on and off the field," she says. "With 13 games down there we will get the opportunity right away to see what we have learned in the offseason and what we need to do to get better. We look forward to a tough schedule because that's the only way to figure out where you are and what you need to work on."
Diehl offers a prediction, before the first pitch is thrown, that the spring season is going to be fun. "I am really proud of these ladies and the growth I have seen since the first practice last fall. They have bought in and trust each other, themselves and the coaching staff. They really do work hard and have gained pride in playing for Indian Hills."
The Warriors are slated to play 31 games before getting a chance to take the field on their home diamond. The home-opener will be Mar. 20 against NIACC at R.L. Hellyer Field.