WENDELL — Melissa Bell once coached softball to a group of unfamiliar seventh-grade girls at Zebulon Middle School.
Now, as head coach of the East Wake High School team, Bell knows some of those same girls through and through.
For the past five springs, they’ve called Bell their coach. They are now members of her 2014 senior class. Along the way, Bell has gotten to know them so well she claims she can predict what she’ll get from each of them. She said knowing her seniors to that extent gives her confidence.
“It’s great to know your players on the field and off the field,” Bell said.
Among the seniors are Caitlin Brown, Lauren Lynch, Aubrey McLeod and Madison Bell, the coach’s daughter. The fifth senior is Jasmine McAbee, who didn’t play on that seventh-grade squad from yesteryear, but still holds a special bond with the coach. Bell remembers holding McAbee when she was a week-old infant nearly 18 years ago at a Zebulon Middle School softball game.
Bell now asks a tall order of her trusty senior class: To improve upon last season’s 16-6 overall record. Although that campaign was the Warriors’ most successful under Bell’s guidance, five of East Wake’s six losses in 2013 came against Greater Neuse River 4A Conference opponents, leaving some room for improvement in league play. East Wake finished fourth last year, behind Garner (11-2), West Johnston (11-3) and Clayton (11-3).
“That’s the goal,” Bell said. “Every year we want to be better than we were last year. Even though we lost a good amount of seniors from last year (five), we’re still going to be alright.”
Bell said the pressure mounts yearly, but her method proves effective. Last year’s 16 wins were five more than East Wake claimed in 2012. East Wake was a nine-win team in 2011 in Bell’s first year.
Bell owes a lot of the Warrior’s rising success to a roster ripe with talent. The head coach is still shaping her starting lineup, and not due to a lack of solid softball players.
“I’m still deciding where everyone needs to be,” Bell said. “I feel like I have a good problem of not knowing exactly who should be on the field because they’re all good enough to start.”
Bolstering Bell’s familiar contingent of seniors are one junior and a large sophomore class. Two sophomores – Haley Glover and Annabeth Watkins – started on the varsity squad last season and were leading hitters as freshmen. Both are expected to be big at the plate again this spring.
Glover and Watkins both played well in East Wake’s second game of the season. After knocking off Smithfield-Selma, 10-0, in a warm-up of a season opener on Thursday, the Warriors clashed with Wake Forest on Friday. The game was called at a 5-5 tie as daylight ran out after nine innings.
“This team has a lot of heart,” Bell said, drawing conclusions from the marathon with Wake Forest. “They are a team that will never give up.”