Helena embarks on road back to state tournament under new coach Mark Sanders

Published 8:54 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

After making their way to the state tournament in 2023, the Helena Huskies have their eyes set on Oxford once again. However, this time they will have a new coach leading the charge, but he is someone very familiar to Helena softball.

The Huskies will be led by former Helena Middle School coach Mark Sanders, and he and the players are excited for the road ahead.

“We are filled with an immense amount of excitement about our team and the upcoming season,” Sanders said. “First and foremost, we are thrilled for our players and the opportunities that lie ahead for them, particularly our seniors.”

While Sanders coached many of Helena’s current varsity players throughout his successful 23-year middle school career, moving to the varsity team has brought many changes for him but he has received support from many coaches, administrators and parents at Helena High School.

“It is definitely a significant change,” Sanders said. “What has made this transition doable is the support that we have and the skill, expertise, and experience of our coaches.”

Sanders’ goals are to help the Huskies grow closer as a team, work hard to accomplish their goals and go as far they can.

“On a daily basis, we ask our girls to love each other unconditionally, work harder than our competition, and have more fun than our opponents,” Sanders said. “Secondly, our priorities are to win our area championship, play championship-caliber softball at Regionals, and represent our school and community in the State Tournament in May.”

Luckily for Helena, seven seniors have returned for 2024, and they have unfinished business after going 18-3 with Sanders in their eighth-grade season in 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic prevented them from winning Helena Middle School’s fifth straight championship.

“Just having the chance to embark on another journey with them is beyond words and a dream come true,” Sanders said.

Between those years of experience playing at Helena and their skill on the field, Sanders believes this group and the rest of his team are in a position to succeed this season.

“I believe that our talent and experience are two of the greatest strengths of our program,” Sanders said. “We have incredibly skilled players who have gained significant softball experience.”

Those players include Presley Lively, who won Shelby County Hitter of the Year in 2023 with a .535 average off 76 hits, along with fellow seniors Carli Darden, Harley Morrison, Emma Olive, Cammi Pugh, Molly Rollan and Hannah Steele. Hayden Traywick will also return to the pitching staff after a 10-win freshman season with Henley Traywick behind the plate and in right field.

Sanders is helping to fine-tune his players’ fundamentals to help them reach their potential this year.

“One area that we are currently focusing on is our fundamentals,” Sanders said. “It is important for us to continue improving in this aspect. Our players are gradually becoming more sound in their fundamentals each day thanks to our exceptional coaches and their unwavering commitment to excellence.”

The Huskies will once again face a difficult area with Pelham and Briarwood Christian, and they will take on Thompson, Hoover, Chelsea and Mountain Brook outside of area play to help prepare them for what they hope is another deep run through the playoffs.

While Helena’s talent has led to high expectations on the field, Sanders hopes that throughout the season, his players grow as leaders and as people.

“We are actively working off the field to instill strong character, leadership skills, and assist the girls in developing a comprehensive plan for personal and professional growth both on and off the field,” Sanders said.