side of the Youngstown Ursuline softball team. After two straight
seasons of falling in a regional championship game, the Lady Irish are
determined to break the glass ceiling and move on to the state
As Ursuline looks to make the next progression towards a possible state title, the past disappointments are driving the team to make the next progression.
“I almost feel as if it’s a building block,” said Irish head coach Michael Kernan. “The failures at those points carry over to the next year to help the team build the foundation of the success of the program.”
“The confidence of being their last year, having the experience is definitely a big plus. They won a district final game; they played in a regional final game. They want to take it to the next step. The irls can feel it and want to get to the next level.
This year’s Irish team features two senior leaders, in catcher Nikka Bonamase and first basemen Jessica Yarb. Each one is eager to go out on top.
“This past year it was terrible that we didn’t make it, but this year it just drives me a hundred times more because it’s something I want,” said Bonamase. “It’s my senior year, my last year, and I want the title here for Ursuline High School and I want to leave that legacy that we’ll be state champions.”
“With all new kids I feel we’re gelling really well and we know we have high expectations,” said Yarb. “We want to get there this year and get past regionals for once. That’s everyone’s focus in my opinion. We all know we want to get to state.”
Six starters return for this year’s Irish team, including the two senior leaders in Bonamase and Yarb. Also returning is sophomore pitcher Casey Lower, who according to Coach Kernan could be as good as any girl who has previously come through the Ursuline program. Between the veteran catcher Bonamase, and the young gun on the mound in Lower, the battery on this year’s Irish team looks to power up the win total for Ursuline.
“Our battery will be strong,” declared Coach Kernan. “Senior catcher Nikka Bonamase is probably one of the finest catchers in the area, just a pure athlete. She’s got a great arm and swings the bat well too.”
“Our sophomore pitcher, we’ve had some very good quality pitchers here in the Ursuline program, but she’s probably one of the best pitchers I’ve seen here. If our team can pick up off the confidence and experience of our pitcher and catcher, I think our young team is going be able to grow with that.”
After pitching Ursuline to within one game of a trip to Ashland as a freshman, Lower is ready to use the seasoning she received last year to lead to better things this upcoming season.
“I was definitely a little nervous as a freshmen and I wasn’t sure what to expect,” admitted Lower. “Now I definitely am a lot more comfortable as a sophomore. Making it that far and then losing last year, definitely makes you want it more.”
Although plenty of experience returns for Coach Kernan and the Irish, four starters from last year’s Elite Eight team have moved on from the Ursuline program, creating a few holes around the diamond. Off season practice has been filled with healthy competition from young players looking to fill up those wholes and make a difference on the team.
“I call it a luxury when I need to only play nine or ten kids and I have 12 or 13 kids who I feel can play and do a good job,” said Coach Kernan. “Seeing how hard these girls are working and the nature of competition can only make the girls better and our team better.”
Although some positions remain up-for-grabs, most players are ready to get out and hit the field, providing the snow is removed first.
“I feel we’re doing great right now,” claimed Bonamase. “I’m ready to go, the team’s ready to go. We’re doing really well, practices are going great. Everyone is ready to go play anywhere they can to help the team.”
One curveball that recently got thrown into the mix for Ursuline, and all other schools in the Steel Valley Conference, was the news that conference will soon be dissolving. To both coaches and players alike, it gives extra emphasis to the last few conference title races.
“For a school like Ursuline … to stand up and fight for the last couple (Steel Valley Conference) titles remaining, there’s a lot that that title is going to stand for and will have a lot of pride,” said Kernan. “I consider it a sense of pride to bring home the last couple championships laying out there.”
Weather permitting, the Lady Irish will begin their season next week. If the team can come together during the course of the season, the way they have been during the off season, the girls from Ursuline may finally break on through and make the trip to state.
“I’m really impressed with everyone’s communication,” said Yarb. “Everyone is gelling together, we have great chemistry. I think we’re just ready for our season.”