WENATCHEE — Earlier in the year, Wenatchee Valley College softball coach Shelly Pfulgrath unexpectedly lost a close family member. She was forced to miss some time with the team, and even when she was with the squad, she understandably struggled at times with her emotions.
Obviously, WVC’s players sympathized for their coach, and felt her pain. But the team didn’t allow Pflugrath’s situation to overwhelm it — the Knights finished the season with a 39-4 record, an eighth straight Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges East Region championship and a No. 2 seed to the NWAACC Tournament, which begins Friday in Portland. (They’ll begin tourney play with a contest against Grays Harbor at 9:30 a.m.)
Sometimes, teams go through adversity that doesn’t show up on the scoreboard or win-loss column.
It’s a good thing, then, that this class of sophomores is the toughest group of players that Pflugrath has ever coached — mentally tough as well as physically tough.
“I’m proud of them,” Pflugrath said. “(When I was away from the team), the sophomores took charge. As a coach, I want to teach them to be confident and be leaders. I was going through the hardest thing in my life, and (the program) didn’t miss a beat; (the players) took ownership of it. The biggest compliment I can give them is that you’d never know that I was distracted and heartbroken and absent at times.”
The group of sophomores has achieved phenomenal success during the past two seasons — they’ve been part of teams that have combined for a 79-11 overall record, spent all but four weeks ranked No. 1 in the NWAACC coaches poll and didn’t lose a single home game.
But the leadership they’ve displayed this year might end up going down as their most important contribution to the program.
“After all of the things that (Pflugrath) has done for us, we wanted to help out as much as we possibly could,” said sophomore catcher Riliey Cullip. “No coach could’ve done what she did. She went beyond the expected. We just felt as though it was our turn to step up and help the team the best way we could.”
All nine of the team’s sophomores will move on to four-year colleges next year, with four of them continuing their softball careers. Six sophomores earned spots on the NWAACC East all-academic team.
Many of them have achieved special things off the field as well — for example, Pflugrath likes to talk about how reserve first baseman Maddie Jones has been mentoring an English-as-second-language student at the college, volunteering her time to help the student in class and with homework. “She does it out of the goodness of her heart,” Pflugrath said.
And then there’s reserve infielder Ramsie Burrington. Pflugrath brought her to WVC two years ago as a highly-touted shortstop from Montana. Soon after her arrival on campus, however, Burrington began dealing with medical ailments that have kept her mostly sidelined during the past two seasons.
She has refused to quit, however. In fact, she’s one of the Knights’ hardest workers. Burrington is actively involved on campus as well as a member of the Associated Students of Wenatchee Valley College senate.
“She’s got a special ability to see beyond herself,” Pflugrath said. “It’s been a physical struggle for her as an athlete for two years, and she’s done it without complaint. The bottom line is that she just wants to be on the field with her team.”
The sophomores have developed a bond that they know won’t be easily replicated at their next school. That’s one reason why they’d love nothing better than to win the NWAACC Tournament this weekend — to go out on top together.
They also know that they’d be giving Pflugrath her first NWAACC championship. But no matter what happens this weekend, the sophomores have already given Pflugrath memories that she’ll take with her for the rest of her life.
“I think this program makes you (bond together),” said sophomore pitcher Hailey Bator. “We’re all together all the time. We’re living together and doing the same things together. We’re a family. We have high expectations (for the NWAACC Tournament). We just have to play like we can.”