File photo by Rick Nation
When Lisa Dreher last did a post-game interview as a high school head softball coach, it was in May 2009. She had just led a young Bryant Lady Hornets team to a surprise (to some) berth in the Class 7A State championship game. It was tough enough that for the third time in her six-year tenure at Bryant, the Lady Hornets had made it to the finals only to be denied.
But Dreher could see, with an extremely talented group of freshman that had helped so much that season, there would probably be a few more opportunities for the team to get there and succeed in the years ahead.
But, even before that 2009 season began, she knew she wouldn’t be the one coaching them in 2010, which made that close loss in the finals even more heartbreaking. She knew it would be her last chance to win one.
Two days after the game, Dreher turned in her resignation. To read that 2009 interview, go here.
It obviously wasn’t due to lack of success. The Lady Hornets were 124-54-1 over her six years with two trips to the State semifinals to go with the three championship bids.
She continued to work in the Bryant School District as a special ed teacher but never really thought she’d get a chance at coaching softball again, let alone the Lady Hornets.
“That was a very sad time for me,” Dreher acknowledged. “I was just unsure whether I could ever have it back.”
But today, the 2016 Bryant softball team will make their debut and it’ll be Lisa Dreher that will be making out the line-up card at a preseason benefit game at the Lady Hornets’ Yard against the Sylvan Hills Lady Bears.
Former head coach Debbie Clark, who led that great group of players to three State championships in a row, resigned after the 2015 season. That opened the door for Dreher’s return under more amenable circumstances. She interviewed with athletic director Mike Lee and was rehired.
She’s glad to be back.
“I am,” Dreher acknowledged. “It was just a really good time in my life to get back into it. I think it just all fell into place.
“I was kind of nervous,” she admitted, “because I haven’t been around it for six years and I didn’t know what had changed, not only with the girls but just with softball. Honestly, there’s not as much different as I anticipated.
“One big difference is the amount of girls who want to go on and play college, which is encouraging,” the coach related. “Nearly any girl that really wants to go play in college has a chance now. It used to be just your superior athletes.”
As with any new coach, everybody on the team got a fresh look even through there were some returning players with experience including senior catcher Julie Ward, who has signed to play at Henderson State in 2017 and senior infielder Shayla McKissock who signed to play at Mississippi College. Senior Miranda Mayfield saw a lot of action last season as did Mallory Theel and Macey Jaramillo, who are juniors, sophomore outfielders Maddie Stephens and Regan Ryan along with pitcher Raven Loveless, who was the starting pitcher for the team most of 2015.
Loveless and senior Anna Turpin will be joining the team after the Lady Hornets basketball team’s season concludes. Kerrigan Allen, a senior that has signed to continue her career at Arkansas State University, will share pitching duties with junior Shelby Stuckey to start the season. Dreher indicated Allen will get the starting nod today.
Ward will be back behind the plate, a starting spot she’s starred at since her freshman year.
“She’s a good leader, very vocal on the field,” Dreher said. “She’s got an extremely good arm and is just strong overall back there. She still has room to grow but she’s only getting better.
“She hits the ball extremely hard,” the coach added. “I look to her to be one of the stronger power hitters.
“Our infield seems to be very flexible,” Dreher related. “They’re good athletes. And I can probably move the four infielders around to each position and they could play fine there. We’ve toyed with nearly all of the combinations. I think we’ve got the combination that works for everybody and that will work as we get going with the games.”
McKissock, who has been a starting second baseman for two years, has been moved to third, a quick-reaction position.
“Third has been good for her,” Dreher said. “Ideally, she would be a middle infielder player or, actually, outfield would be her very best place but her feet are so quick. She has come a long way since the fall as far as her reaction to things and the way she handles things when they don’t go right. She’s really stepped it up. She’s the picture-perfect senior.”
At short, Dreher will start sophomore Sara Evans. Junior Macey Jaramillo will be at second.
“Sarah’s done a good job at shortstop,” she said. “I haven’t seen Raven much yet but Sarah may be our best athlete all around. She has very quick feet and a good glove. I would like to see her a little more vocal on the infield and she’s doing better all the time with that but her physical ability is just out of this world.”
Evans was such a good athlete that she played football for the Hornets in junior high as well as her summer softball before joining the Lady Hornets as a freshman last spring.
Dreher projects her as the No. 3 hitter in the Bryant line-up as well. “She’s got a great swing,” the coach mentioned.
“Macey, I’m looking at second just because of her range and her ability to go back on balls,” the coach continued. “She will always hit the ball and she runs well. She has some slow-pitch background, which is great because those girls have to be good defensive players. You can tell, right off the bat, she breaks exactly to where she needs to go.”
At first, Dreher liked Theel, who played a lot of shortstop last year.
“She’s a good athlete and has good hands,” the coach said. “She just has to get used to being at first. When she does, she’ll do very well. She’ll hit the ball hard too.”
The outfielders are sophomore Regan Keesee in right, Ryan in center with Stephens and freshmen Allie Bowers and Meagan Chism are competing.
Chism just joined the team after the freshman basketball team completed its season last week. “I’ve only seen her on defense one time,” Dreher said. “But she looked good.
“I just need somebody that’s going to be aggressive over there and not let the ball it at their feet,” the coach added. “I’m all about going for it and backing each other up. This is such a small field, if it’s in play, you’ve got to go for it.
“Honestly, all the outfielders can and will improve with time,” she noted.
The team also includes sophomores Keeley Allen, Gabby Bonvillain, Callie Bradley, Daphne Overbey and Brooklyn Trammell along with freshmen Alexis Helton and Hennessae Shavers.
“Offensively, we’re very solid,” Dreher summarized. “I think that is our strength. Defense is where we need to make some improvements. And that could be due to people playing new positions, a new coach. I have different expectations, I think.
“Physical errors are going to happen,” she continued. “But we have to be ready mentally when we have opportunities. That’s probably been our biggest downfall defensively. In time, we’ll be there.”
When the season concludes, the Lady Hornets will host the Class 7A State Tournament. Dreher mentioned that, initially, Cabot was going to host the tourney.
“It just kind of fell into place,” she explained. “Cabot had a bid in but it depended on whether or not their new facility was ready. They weren’t going to have it done in time so we got it.
“We’re going to need a lot of help getting everything ready. But I think, just having the games here at home, I’ve never hosted State but it has to be an advantage.”
And just maybe, there’ll be a return to the State finals, a triumphant one.
For the full Lady Hornets’ schedule for 2016, go here.