When Becky Ellison retired from coaching at Northwood Academy after capturing the ultimate prize — a SCISA AAA state softball championship in 2012 — she truly thought her coaching days were over.
However, for some, coaching is in their blood, and for Ellison, the hiatus from the sport lasted only two years.
Ellison spent nine years as the softball coach at Northwood, leading the program to a state runner-up trophy in 2009 before winning her only state title three years later.
Her decision to return to the dugout at Northwood could not have come at a better time for a program that was on the brink of extinction after only two years. Ellison chooses not to address some of the problems that led to Northwood not even fielding a varsity team last spring. She chooses instead to focus on what is happening in 2015.
Northwood did have a junior varsity team last spring, but numbers had dipped to dangerously low levels. Numbers are back up this spring with 23 total players forming a varsity and junior varsity team. Success is again on the horizon for the proud program.
“It’s exciting to be back and we have a great group of girls,” said Ellison, whose husband has joined the coaching staff this season as well. “This group loves the game with a passion. They love to work hard and enjoy the learning process. I could not ask for a better group in terms of their attitude and we’re growing together every day. I am very encouraged by what I’m seeing, not only on this team but also on the junior varsity team. We have a chance to get back to where we once were and that’s exciting for me.”
Coming into the 2015 season, Ellison estimated there were five players returning from last year’s junior varsity program. The coach was able to “shake the bushes” and convince some athletes in other sports to join the softball program.
One such player was junior Katelyn Powell, a spunky second baseman and all-state point guard in basketball. Powell is the only member of the program that played on the state championship team — as an eighth-grade starting catcher. She did not play softball last season but is back this spring with a vengeance. Powell is hitting .711 this spring, including a nine-for-11 plate performance in the Colleton Prep Invitational tournament earlier this spring.
“She’s a sparkplug, a bulldog,” said Ellison of Powell, who helped Northwood win the AAA state title in basketball this season. “She plays the game hard, just like she does in basketball. She loves competing and she has been a huge lift for us this season.”
The lone starting senior this season is Macy Coulter, who played softball as a youngster but had been playing soccer until this spring. Coulter is starting at shortstop while also getting work at first base.
Ellison is using two pitchers — junior Abby Kennedy and sophomore Hannah Markham — this spring. The two are sharing time equally in the circle and also play on the infield.
Two key underclassmen are sophomore catcher Hayden Simmons and third baseman Mason Brown, a promising eighth-grader.
Northwood has experienced solid success through the first half of the season. The Chargers are 4-1 in the regular season and 9-7 overall when including two tournaments. The schedule, however, gets tougher down the stretch.
“We might not win many games here at the end, but we set the schedule up to hopefully gain some confidence early, which I think we did,” said the coach. “Win or lose, we want to really try to get better here at the end of the year. We will play tougher teams and, hopefully, that helps us prepare for the state tournament. With so many young players, just gaining experience is so important right now.”