Program building continues into summer for Esposito

J. Patrick Eaken

When the Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Softball Team was voted on by 10 area coaches and three media members, the majority of first teamers went to Eastwood, Clay and Gibsonburg — all league champions and regional qualifiers.
        There were also talented players from Lake, Woodmore, Oak Harbor, and Genoa. Waite had two second team selections voted in.
        However, Cardinal Stritch did not get a single player on the All-Press first or second team, even though the Cardinals did share a Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship with Toledo Christian. The Cardinals were 9-14 overall and both teams finished 6-2 in the league.
        Stritch coach Tony Esposito says his team met the goals set when he took over two-plus years ago.
        “I want to emphasize the three-year situation we had and we are on track to do that, and we kind of exceeded a little more than I thought this year,” Esposito said. “That’s good for all of us. We have only two graduating seniors right now and I have seven or eight eighth graders right now. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.”
        “I tell them, ‘This is our beginning. This is exactly where we wanted to be. Hopefully this can become a tradition. This is where we want to take this program back to, and there will be a sign in the gym that we are the TAAC champion, and we hope to have a little ceremony when they put that up, too. So I’m going to tell them this is the beginning of a run here.”
        It was Stritch’s first league softball title since 2012. Esposito came to Stritch with a long history of coaching at the school. He was junior varsity softball coach for six years from 2010-15 and assistant JV baseball coach for two years in 2016-17 before being asked to coach softball.
        However, being just his second year at the helm, he’d like to see the program get back to where it once was.  Cardinal Stritch has a long history of successful softball teams prior to 2014 with 11 TAAC championships.
        The problem facing Esposito now is keeping it going.
        “We’ll invite some eighth graders who are incoming freshman to come in and try to work with our seventh and eighth grade team and our fifth and sixth grade team just to get the program started. I know there are other schools that do that and I think they are very successful. Our negativity is we don’t have a JV team — we have high school players and I know when we played a (program) that had a JV team we’re going to hopefully hang with them,” Esposito said.
        He tried to get some summer activity started with other TAAC programs, but the schools are small and traditionally don’t have junior varsity teams, huge roster numbers, or a lot of girls playing travel softball.
        Esposito believes the lack of JV teams is one of the reasons Gibsonburg left the TAAC.
        “The first (issue is) that with only 12 players finishing the season we are extremely limited on summer participation,” Esposito said. “This is due to many factors including players having employment, many of which their employers put on hold during the regular season, summer camps, family vacations, and other fall sports activities such as soccer begin their summer sessions and workouts..
        “At the TAAC year-end coaches meeting, I talked with the other coaches with the same issues and tried to set up one TAAC team to play other schools, however, participation was also limited. So, I have not been able to get too many days of summer ball completed. But, I was expecting this problem until numbers improve, which, with the momentum created this year, I hope to have more interest on 2020.
     “I have been working with our middle school players on fundamentals at practices to help them prepare for next season. There are currently eight eighth graders playing which would be a plus-six when if you count the two seniors graduating this year as far as numbers go. However February 21 is a long way off — the start of next season.”
        Esposito says the enrollment challenges facing Stritch and other TAAC schools cause another problem — finding girls who want to play softball.       
        “That means coaches need to be very flexible to allow students to participate in different school activities at once, including sports. I never was a believer in a one-sport athlete, as they will be burnt out if they only play one sport their entire high school career,” Esposito said.
        “Athletes need to be athletes and play different sports to keep the mind fresh and utilize different muscles in the body. The amazing, and concerning fact about our season (Feb 22-May 16) is that we only had the entire team able to participate eight times for practices and games.
        “The reasons are many, but patience, as a coach in a small school environment, is at a premium. With the new found excitement and spirit, I hope the attitude towards softball by players, parents, and other school coaches will begin to change and have softball move higher on the list of importance.”
        The Ohio High School Athletic Association allows him to spend limited time with his players in the offseason, and he does take advantage.
        “I always offer the girls instruction during the offseason (four players at a time rule) and do get some to stay active. However I am limited,” Esposito said.
        “I always survey my players at the start of the season to see who is interested in playing in college, for contacts and preparation, and have had only two say yes. One was signed by Owens (Community College). So the competitive factor is a little below the norm.
        “So we press on and do what we can. I am very proud of what the ladies have accomplished and feel we are still on a three-year plan I outlined when I first took the position. I am fully supportive of the idea that they are student-athletes and not athletic-students. School and grades come first.
        “I also would like them to have a wonderful high school experience to remember and not one filled with 12 months of softball practices and games. After all, they are just kids and this is just a sport to have fun at.” 


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