Connie Jolley returns for her second stint as Tigard's coach

by: DAN BROOD - KOROK KRUSH -- Tigard High School sophomore Kalyna Korok, shown here in an early-season game, could be a standout for the Tigers in the infield and at the plate. TIGARD — The Tigard High School softball looks to have quite a mix going for it.

The Tigers have some key returnees, some talented newcomers, some players returning to the program after an absence and also a new coach — of sorts.

That all has added up to plenty of optimism and enthusiasm for the Tigers as the 2014 season is underway.

“This is a fresh start for the team and coaches,” said Tigard coach Connie Jolley, who is beginning her second stint as the Tigers’ head coach. “We are looking forward to getting to know the players and what they can bring to our program. We have some strong returning players and a nice mix of newcomers as well.”

Tigard returns a group of young players from last year’s squad that finished in sixth place in the Pacific Conference standings at 4-10 while going 6-19 on the season.

Among those returnees is sophomore catcher Ramsey Hare, who earned first-team all-conference honors last year as a freshman.

The Tigers also have strong returning talent in the infield, in junior second baseman Kayla Saldana, who was a first-team all-conference pick a year ago, speedy sophomore shortstop Dena Emmons, who was a second-team selection last year, and sophomore third baseman Kalyna Korok, who was an honorable mention pick last year.

“Emmons, Saldana, Korok and Hare all provide solid leadership in our infield,” Jolley said. “They played a lot last year and their experience is helping us right now.”

Tigard also returns junior first baseman/outfielder Emilee Heyden, who also was an honorable mention pick last year.

The Tigers look to have three capable pitchers in senior returnee Liz Vanderburg, junior returnee Lexi Kelly, who was a first-team all-conference pick as a utility player last year, and freshman Kaitlyn Nunn.

Tigard has a pair of returnees, of sorts, in senior Lexi Carter and junior Alexa Hansen. Carter and Hansen both played for the Tigers in 2012, but didn’t play last year. Hansen will play in the outfield while Carter has already seen time at both shortstop and in center field.

Carter and Hansen didn’t waste any time getting back into the swing of things, as they each hit a home run in the Tigers’ first game of the season.

Newcomers to the Tigard varsity roster include junior outfielder Camille Riggs, senior utility player Jo Ann Grassman, senior outfielder Amanda Heinle and senior utility player Charlee McGuire.

“We are excited about our entire team,” Jolley said. “I feel like we have a chance to be improved on offense and defense. Some girls have come back to softball this year and they are really going to give us a boost as well.

“A strength is definitely experience and athleticism in the infield. We have a strong, young group there. We are lacking that experience in the outfield right now, but our kids are working hard every day to improve.”

As for the Pacific Conference this season, Jolley isn’t sure what to expect in her return to the coaching ranks.

“That is hard to say,” she said about the conference. “It has been a while since I have been in this league. As always, it depends on how well we can pitch and defend. I think we will be able to score some runs, so I am hoping we can compete in a league that has had some powerful teams in the past.”

Tigard fell 6-3 to Sherwood in a non-league game played April 2 at Sherwood High School. The Tigers bounced back strong from that setback by scoring a 5-3 win over Oregon City in a non-league game played Friday at Tigard High School.

On Monday, Tigard won 5-4 against Wilsonville in a non-league game played at Wilsonville High School. The win gives Tigard a record of 6-3.

Tigard was scheduled to face McKay in a non-league game on Wednesday. Results of that game weren’t available when The Times went to press.

The Tigers will be back in action today (Thursday) when they play at Milwaukie in a non-league game starting at 5 p.m.

Tigard will open its Pacific Conference schedule Monday when it travels to McMInnville for a 5 p.m. contest.

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