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Penn-Trafford softball has blend of experience, talent

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Penn-Trafford's Nicole Smith delivers a pitch during their WPIAL Class AAAA first-round softball playoff game Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Gateway High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Penn-Trafford's Ashleigh Yanniruberto looks for a double play after making the out against Plum's Sam Billstone during their WPIAL Class AAAA first-round softball playoff game Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Gateway High School.

It didn't take long for Penn-Trafford softball players to figure out new head coach Monica Cox. That's a good thing, because Cox isn't the type of person to waste time.

“I'm extremely structured,” said Cox. “Everything is fast-paced in our practices. There's no standing, there's no breaks. We're moving, we're moving, we're moving.”

Cox led Mt. Pleasant to a 11-10 record and the first round of the Class AAA playoffs last season. When she arrived at Penn-Trafford, she was struck by the difference moving up a classification to AAAA was.

“It's a big jump from Triple-A,” she said. “You come here and you're like, doubled at each position. You're backup is almost as good as your starter. Last year, I was struggling to put a team together. This year, it caused me to lay my head down knowing that kids that could start over at Mt. Pleasant are going to be on the bench.”

The Warriors aren't a team that needs to be rebuilt under the new coach.

They finished 13-6 overall and 8-4 in Section 1 before bowing out in the quarterfinal round of the WPIAL playoffs to eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Canon-McMillan.

Penn-Trafford is a blend of old and new. There are three senior letter winners to go along with two freshman standouts in the starting lineup. The seniors are first baseman Cassie Szmyd, shortstop Ashleigh Yanniruberto and catcher Jess Zavolta, who led the Warriors with a .475 batting average last year.

The freshmen are center fielder Sarah Koscho and second baseman Meghan Marasti, a soon-to-be Division I prospect, according to Cox.

“She's a Hoover,” said Cox, comparing Mirasti's defensive prowess to a vacuum. “You're not getting it past her, it's just not happening. And her bat is just as smooth.”

Junior Nicole Smith will be the starting pitcher for a team trying to navigate a stacked section that includes Hempfield, Latrobe and Norwin. Four of the past seven WPIAL titles were won by teams from Section 1.

“We do have, I believe the hardest section,” Szmyd said. “It's a good thing because it pushes us to be better. You have to be on 100 percent during a section game.”

The blistering practice sessions will give the Warriors stamina and a mental edge, she added. Those are perfect ingredients for a run down the home stretch of the season.

“The section title is our goal,” Szmyd said. “We definitely have the talent and the potential.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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