West Franklin softball players learn game from coaching alum

Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald

The Ottawa University softball coaches are all about growing the game.

OU assistant coach Sam Mendez vision of having mini-camps for high school teams is starting to come to fruition.

Ottawa University assistant softball coach Sam Mendez shows the West Franklin players proper positioning for a cutoff throw.

“The first thing I told Jay [Kahnt] was I wanted to gain [better] relationships with [area] schools,” Mendez said. “We started off in my first year going to different high schools. Give back to them.”

Ottawa University assistant softball coach Sam Mendez gives a little tidbit to the middle infielders on how to complete a double play.

It was a natural fit for her to offer a chance to West Franklin, her alma mater, to come to the OU field and conduct a mini-clinic.

She welcomed the Falcons this past Thursday and put them through the paces.

Ottawa University assistant softball coach Sam Mendez positions the glove on how to better catch the ball in some instances.

“ It was awesome,” Mendez, who begins her fourth year on the OU staff, said. “We do get a lot of talent, but we also love that diamond in the rough, small-town kid. It was good seeing the West Franklin girls out here.

“They are my alma mater. They continue to grow [their program]. I know how it is being a small town kid and not knowing the recruiting process. It is me giving back and giving them information. More than 90 percent of them said they wanted to go to a school for a sport.”

West Franklin softball coach Kayla Jehle said her team received valuable information.

“It is all about learning the game, growing the game and teaching the game,” Jehle said. “OU is right in our back yard. It has been a great day.

It was very active. We had lots of reps.”

Senior outfielder  Allison Swank said the Falcons soaked up the information the OU coaches gave them.

“We are going to grow as a team from this camp,” Swank said. “It was good information. It is going to help us in the future. I learned a lot.”

The coaches broke down the fundamentals of the game on the field and talked to them at the end about mental preparation and the college recruiting process.

“The mental side is 90 percent of things,” Swank said. ‘As a team, I know sometimes, it takes 10 minutes to get out of a bad [situation]. If we can get out of that quicker, we can come back faster.”

Jehle said the love of the game is beginning to grow at West Franklin and this event will help cement that.

“At West Franklin, we are getting the love of the game,” Jehle said. “You could see it out there. We have some freshman and they stepped right in.

“A lot of these girls started together at age 10. The camaraderie, that  is why we won [this past season]. It was not necessarily the skill.”

For Mendez, it was an awesome feeling of seeing all the Falcons on the field.

“It was like home,” she said. “Being able to bring my high school home to here, giving them that experience, was amazing. I have known a lot of them. I have seen these kids grow. Swank I have seen since she was a little girl. I love seeing them grow and getting to this stage.”

Mendez said all she wanted to do was give them tips to grow as a player, person and team.

“I want those girls to be successful,” she said. “We want you to succeed off and on the softball field. Whatever you do, how you represent yourself, it can be used anywhere.

“Getting in front of a college coach was an eye opener for them. Knowing they can do it. They don’t need to be a super star in order to get better.”

Jehle said having Mendez working with the Falcons was a blessing and something they can grow from.

“They get to hear it from other high level coaches,” Jehle said. “When you have one of the OU coaches that graduated from West Franklin and was a great athlete at West Franklin, that takes it to another level. The girls totally respect that and look at Sam in that way.

‘Everyone knows the Shaffers around here. For Sam to be here and do that, it puts another level on this camp.”

Swank said it the little things that she will take away from the camp.   

“I learned a lot from [Mendez],” Swank said. “She has been through the ins and outs. Learned new stuff that I did not know.

“I was always taught to catch the ball with two hands. [Jay] said there are some situations you want to catch the ball with one hand. Your arm length can go farther than with two hands. Pointing your body where you want to go and thinking ahead.”

Mendez said little things such as body position can go a long way in making a play or not.

“Sometimes they think a simple shuffle is a crazy play,” she said. “It is them learning how to control their body. It was amazing seeing them. They got surprised the first 45 minutes we did not hit a ball. That is what we tell them we preach muscle memory.”

West Franklin had its best season ever winning 14 games and was the league runner-up this past spring. Mendez said she could see a growth in the way the Falcons approached the game now.

“This year, they found that passion for softball,” Mendez said. “ I love it. The work-ethic, attitude and character are huge.”

Mendez saw a lot of improvement throughout the camp.

“I got hyped a couple of times when Chloe [Ecord],the shortstop, did something we just worked on,” Mendez said. “If they can learn just one thing at a camp or at a showcase they [attend], then we are doing our job.

“It is another vocal point. When you can coach a kid and they are willing to make the adjustments, that is all you can ask for. If you can go 100 percent and make a mistake, I am ok with that. Then you know what that 100 percent is and we can work with that. It was awesome of them feeding in, taking it all in and trying to make the adjustment.”

Mendez told the Falcons that failing is part of the game.

“They have to be OK to fail,” she said. “It is how you bounce back. If you go 0-3 and win, that is a good day. Can you learn from it? We preach you are going to fail, but can you make it into a learning moment and learn from that, it is not failing. It is learning and continuing to grow.”