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Up, up and away for TA softball

  • Thetford varsity softball head coach Michelle Morgan, center, gives her players a pep talk before a game against Peoples Academy High School at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Thetford won, 12-4. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Thetford varsity softball head coach Michelle Morgan, center, gives advice to Makayla Stanley (6) before she bats during a game against Peoples Academy High School at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Thetford won, 12-4. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • Thetford’s Madi Mousley catches a pass as Peoples’ Tiffany Parker slides into third base during a game at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Thetford won, 12-4. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Thetford’s Makayla Stanley pitches during a game against Peoples Academy High School at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Thetford won, 12-4. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/29/2022 10:01:33 PM
Modified: 4/29/2022 10:00:06 PM

THETFORD — Michelle Morgan’s Thetford Academy softball team didn’t think too highly of itself when the 2022 season began.

The Panthers finished 4-11 last year, losing in the first round of the VPA Division III playoffs to eventual runner-up BFA-Fairfax. Thetford’s last winning season and deep playoff run came back in 2015, when the Panthers went 12-6 and reached the semifinals.

But this year’s group, featuring nine freshmen and a first-year head coach in Morgan, has surprised itself with a 3-0 start, including impressive wins over projected title-contenders Windsor and White River Valley.

“Coming into this year, these girls were kind of down on themselves because they didn’t have a good year last year,” Morgan said. “I have seen some great hits, some great plays; they just come together as a team. It’s really nice to see.

“There’s so much growth to continue to have, but to see how young they are and how well they’re performing is just awesome. Very positive and upbeat group.”

Morgan played high school softball in Canaan, Vt., on the border with both Canada and New Hampshire. Having her father as her coach inspired Morgan to want to go into coaching herself, and she coached her son and daughter through Little League baseball and softball. Morgan’s daughter Eiea, now a freshman with the Panthers, encouraged her to pursue the open position this year.

Eiea Morgan is the only member of the team who attends Rivendell Academy, part of a member-sharing agreement between the schools that began last year, as Rivendell does not have enough softball players to field its own team. So the new head coach took over Thetford not knowing any of the players besides her daughter.

“I really feel like it’s important to get to know them and have them feel comfortable with me as a person,” Morgan said. “I’m an open book, and they know they can come to me with any concerns. The biggest learning curve was just getting to know them, but now we’re rolling with it, and I know them well and feel comfortable around the team.”

The Panthers have an interesting mix of youth and experience — seven of the nine freshmen were on the roster last season as eighth graders. Thetford’s lone senior, Krystal McKinney, came off the bench in Tuesday’s 12-4 win over Peoples. Six of the Panthers’ nine starters were freshmen, including pitcher Makayla Stanley, who struck out seven batters in a complete-game win.

Juniors Madi Mousley and Taylor West are Thetford’s two captains, even though neither was on the team last year. Mousley, who is playing softball for the first time since sixth grade, paced the offense against the Wolves from the leadoff spot, hitting a single and a triple in her first two at-bats before being intentionally walked her next two times up.

“(Morgan) is very enthusiastic about the game and is big on conditioning,” Mousley said. “It’s a great group of girls, and I’m so excited for the rest of the season.”

The Osgood twins, freshmen Ashlyn and Rebecca, also had strong games, with Rebecca going 2-for-4 with a triple and a single and Ashlyn hitting a three-run double to help break the game open in the fourth inning.

Thetford athletic director Blendon Salls echoed Mousley’s comments about Morgan’s enthusiasm and positivity.

“There’s a lot of youth — some would say inexperience, but I look at it as energy,” Salls said. “There are a lot of kids who want to learn, and they’re excited to go to practice every day.”

The Panthers’ defining stretch will likely come on May 12 and 14, when they play at defending Division II state champion Lyndon and then host defending Division III champion Oxbow two days later. But under Morgan and assistant coach Deb Sanders, Thetford’s confidence is growing by the day.

“I love this group,” Morgan said. “Deb and I have found our stride and we’re working well together, and it’s been really nice. I just want to keep going from game to game and keep the girls as positive as can be. It takes a lot of reinforcement because they’re so young, but I think they’re getting there.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.


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