Crescenta Valley softball leads local contingent looking to move up

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Crescenta Valley High's Hannah Cookson, left, and Whitney Craig will be key players for the Falcons in 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer / February 28, 2013)

Judging by the lofty standards and tradition of the Crescenta Valley High softball team, last season was a bit of a letdown for the Falcons.

In comparison to the rest of the local squads, though, the Falcons had far and away the largest success due to the simple fact that they qualified for the playoffs while the likes of Glendale, Hoover, Flintridge Prep and Holy Family were all on the outside of the postseason looking in.

“I think we have the potential to be every bit as good as we were last year, or even better,” said Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Samford, who was promoted from interim coach after he took over the program last season in the aftermath of the tragic passing of Dan Berry, the longtime Falcons coach and architect of the program. “I think the question is gonna be motivation and just getting it done on the field. I think focus is gonna be the issue.”

Crescenta Valley went 11-3 in the Pacific League a year ago, tying for second and getting bounced in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs.

In all, the Falcons boast seven returning starters, led by junior center fielder Hannah Cookson, an All-Area first-team selection and player-of-the-year candidate. She’ll hit third with her sister, Hailey, a sophomore shortstop, hitting in front of her. Other returners include Whitney Craig (junior outfielder), Brady Sanford (senior outfielder), Taylor Hill (junior third baseman) and junior pitchers Olivia Thayer and Chloe Fairbrother.

The Falcons had the talent to challenge for the league crown last season with wins over Burbank and Burroughs, but untimely a loss to Glendale loomed large.

Many are predicting Burroughs, the reigning champion, and Burbank to be the favorites, but Samford believes if his team reaches its potential it will be right in the hunt.

“Much like last year, I’d like to think by the end of the year, we’ll have some say in what’s going on,” said Samford, whose team has opened the season with a disappointing 0-3 start and will look for its first win on Saturday against Nordhoff in the Lincoln Tournament.

Glendale was also off to an 0-3 start heading into its game Thursday against Alhambra, but there’s reason for promise as Coach Christine Paknik is excited about four potential starting freshmen, led by Alex Howard and Jordan Lousararian, who will be the team’s starting pitchers. However, Lousararian and one other starter are injured in the early going.

“Right now, we have two injured starters, so that’s kind of a damper,” Paknik said. “It’s just a matter of us all coming together.”

The Nitros also have key returners in junior shortstop Rachel Bartamian, senior first baseman Alia Vavala and senior center fielder Meghan Spencer. Consequently, Spencer has been an assistant coach for the likes of Howard and Lousararian, as the latter were prominent players in the success of the Foothill All-Stars Little League softball team in past summers, culminating with last summer’s CV-Foothill combined squad’s phenomenal success.

“All my freshmen are strong,” said Paknik, who didn’t put an exact goal on the season, instead simply looking toward improvement after finishing fifth in the Pacific League. “Get more [wins] this year — keep it simple.”

Led by senior shortstop Kaitlyn Williams, who will play at Louisiana Tech, Hoover is looking to move up from a sixth-place finish in the Pacific League.

“I’m looking for big things from her on the field and off,” said Tornadoes Coach Rich Henning of his multiple-time All-Pacific League and All-Area honoree. “I wish I had 10 girls like her.”

Henning is also expecting big contributions from senior pitcher Breana Aguilera and sophomores Jessica Rivera, a third baseman, and Karina Moreno, a center fielder.

More than anything, though, Henning believes the Tornadoes have the talent to move up in the standings as long as they play up to their capabilities, which is more of a mental factor than a physical one.

“Just like all the teams, we’re looking to make the playoffs. ... I think fundamentally we’re looking pretty good. We’re senior-heavy this year,” said Henning, who has nine seniors on his 12-player roster. “It’s always a mental thing. I think if we show up to play from the neck up, we’ll be fine.”

After opening the season Saturday at home against Louisville, Hoover hosts Holy Family on Thursday before traveling to face Flintridge Prep on March 12 in its last nonleague game before opening league.

Flintridge Prep is coming off a trying season in which the inexperienced Rebels finished a spot out of last in the Prep League. For Coach Julie Mejia, the rebuilding is still very much in progress.

“It’s gonna be rough. We have a lot of new kids, but the kids are young and raw,” said Mejia, who has seven returners and five freshmen making up her 12-player roster. “We’ll be young, but we look to grow and improve with every game.”

Senior shortstop Ashley Kim will hit third in the Rebels’ lineup, with junior pitcher Drew Montgomery, senior outfielder Jenna Galper and senior utility Marisa Wang looking to be Prep’s core players.

Prep will do its best to battle through a Prep League that saw Pasadena Poly and Rio Hondo Prep share the league crown a season ago.

“League will be interesting, I think it will be competitive,” Mejia said. “We’ll compete in league, do some good things and hopefully we can surprise some people.”

Holy Family, under coach Greg Ziomek, took a one-season hiatus from the playoffs last year, as it finished in a tie for third in the Horizon League.

With all-league first-teamer pick Ginnes Paladini returning at catcher, the Gaels are looking, like the rest of the locals, to return to the postseason.