To the casual observer, the Amherst softball team is an overnight sensation that won its first district championship in 17 years and rode that momentum all the way to the state tournament.
Those closest to the program know it’s been a success story three years in the making.
Comets seniors Ashley Cogdell, Madyson Harris and Ashlee Dahman had just finished their freshman seasons when Lacey Reichert took over as Amherst coach and infused a renewed passion and sense of purpose into the program and put in place a plan to get the Comets on the path to postseason success.
On Friday at 5:30 p.m., those three seniors, along with Reichert, will see just what all that hard work was for when the Comets (25-5) take the field against defending state champion Ashville Teays Valley (24-6) in the Division I state semifinals at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
“These three seniors have changed Amherst softball forever,” Reichert said. “They are selfless, all they want to do is win. If they aren’t like that we’re not playing softball right now.”
Dahman, a University of Connecticut recruit and the Comets’ center fielder, still remembers the first team meeting after Reichert was named coach.
“She said, ‘Give me two years and I’ll take this team far,’” Dahman said. “Coach Reichert played here so she knew what it meant to put on the uniform. She came in with fresh eyes and turned the program around.”
The first change the players noticed was how the practices got tougher and place more of an emphasis on conditioning.
“Coach Reichert pushes us harder than any other coach I’ve ever had,” said Harris, who plays right field. “We see how that has benefited us so we really appreciate it.”
Over the past three years the Comets have a 64-18 record. This year they won the Southwestern Conference title for the first time since 2012.
“It was an adjustment, coach Reichert had a different style,” said Cogdell, the starting third baseman and the owner of a .407 batting average. “She expected great things from us and she pushed us and demanded a lot from us as well. It’s paid off and now that I’m a senior this has been like a dream season to be going to the Final Four.”
While the seniors give their coach much of the credit for the team’s success, Reichert deflected the credit back on the players who bought into her system and helped make her vision for the program a reality.
“I can’t say I did much,” Reichert said. “The credit goes to the seniors. They were the ones who believed we could do it and got everyone to follow their lead.”
Dahman said that when she was a freshman she wouldn’t have believed she would be finishing her high school career in the state tournament but by the beginning of this year she knew it was possible.
“Back when we started open gyms this winter and I saw the heart and the desire that everybody was bringing to the team,” Dahman said.
“Seeing how hard we’ve been working in practice this year and how that’s been paying off in games, I’m really not the least bit surprised we’ve been able to get this far.”
Reichert admits she expects a lot from her players.
“We put them through the ringer and tell them if you want to be really good, if you want to be the best, this is what you have to do,” Reichert said. “I’m not soft on them and these girls have rose to the occasion. I always knew the talent was there, after three years all of the pieces finally fell together.”
As excited as the Comets are to make state, they recognize they’re not just playing for themselves and their teammates but for the entire Amherst community.
“It’s not about the number on your back,” Harris said. “We play for the name on our chest.”
And the community has responded to the Comets’ winning ways. A bus full of Amherst students made the trip to Clyde for the regional semifinal game against Anthony Wayne and the players received countless cheers and well-wishes when they took part in the Amherst Memorial Day Parade.
“People I don’t even know have been coming up to me and saying, ‘Congratulations, we’re really proud of you,’” Cogdell said. “It’s a great feeling to have so many people cheering for us.”
Reichert is confident this year’s senior class has laid a foundation for the success to continue.
“You don’t want to get here once, you want to get here consistently,” Reichert said. “We have great talent coming back next year and what we’ve accomplished has done wonders for the youth program. The goal is to be in the conversation with schools like Elyria and Keystone who go to state on a regular basis, and it all started with these seniors.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
No. 5 Amherst (25-5) vs. No. 4 Teays Valley (22-6)
WHAT: Division I state softball semifinal
WHEN: Friday, 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Firestone Stadium, Akron
AT STAKE: A berth in Saturday’s state final at 7 p.m. against the winner of the Mason-Walsh Jesuit semifinal.