Bradey King
ASU Student Journalist

Casteel softball is senior strong

April 8, 2019 by Bradey King, Arizona State University

This group of seniors say they are like sisters. (Left to Right): Kaia Langaker, Brinkley Jensen, Odalis Jackson, Tatumn Ellis, Hope Hanson and Lael Swank. (Photo courtesy of Casteel Athletics)

Casteel High School is nearing the end of its fourth year in existence, which means the Colts softball team will have their first-ever graduating class.

The 2019 seniors are a special group of six who have battled through the ups and downs of being the oldest players on the field since Day One.

“This senior class is unique is because they’ve kind of been thrown in as leaders,” head coach Jordan Blakesley said. “They came in their freshman year without leaders, so they became leaders their freshman year.”

The seniors say being “thrown into” these leadership roles was a struggle, but ultimately made them stronger.

“We are all the same age and we’re teenage girls so there was a lot of like nobody wanting to listen to each other because we didn’t have anybody to really look up to,” said senior first baseman Kaia Langaker. “But my favorite thing is just how real we can be with each other. If you have drama off the field, it doesn’t get brought on the field and we can sit down and have a real chat.”

The girls admit that it can be difficult to navigate being a leader without seeming “bossy,” the seniors have taken the approach of leading by example through their success, work ethic, humility and kindness.

“I feel like it helps for the underclassman to see that we’re trying to lead by example the best that we can,” said senior shortstop Lael Swank. “We just remember who we are and show our teammates how to be respectful and kind and treat everyone the same.”

With this approach, “seniority” isn’t a factor for Casteel.

“It’s not really a thing on our team because we’re all pretty equal skillwise and that’s kind of how we view each other, not really by who’s younger and who’s older,” said junior second baseman Lauren Sauter. “But they (seniors) still really set the example for us younger kids.”

Senior team captain Odalis Jackson enjoys being a role model for her teammates but says that they have just as much of a voice as she does.

“Just because we’re the first, doesn’t mean that we have to set everything in stone,” Jackson said. “They (underclassmen) always know that they can start traditions and they’re always bringing new ideas, so it’s really cool because we know that Casteel will be left with some good girls next year.”

Several players transferred to Casteel for the softball program and mainly the chance to play ball with their friends. And a lot of these friendships go back even further than freshman year.

“I’ve actually known most of them from club since I was 12,” Sauter said. “So, I’ve really grown up with them (seniors) and have always been able to look up to them.”

The seniors collectively agreed that their close bond and goofy personalities is the thing they’ll miss most when they graduate. They also believe it helps them play better on the field.

“If we’re down in a game, we definitely know how to pick each other up,” said senior Brinkley Jensen. “That’s what’s good about having time on and off the field together.”

The Colts are having a solid year so far with a 6-0 record in the 5A San Tan League and the squad has goals to go far in playoffs.

“I think what we’ll leave behind is what we do before the game, the goal circle,” said senior Tatumn Ellis. “We tell each other what our goal for the game is and what we’re going to do for each other.”

A common goal among several players is making it to the next level. Of the six seniors that will graduate in May three of them are continuing on with college softball scholarships. Lael Swank is committed to Corban University, Odalis Jackson is committed to Colorado State University-Pueblo and Kaia Langaker will play at the University of North Dakota next year.

Knowing what it takes to get there allows these three to offer advice to the younger Colts.

“Melia (Hecht), one of the underclassmen, was asking me a lot of questions about the recruiting process, like how I got in contact with them and everything,” Langaker said. “She’s really excited about college in the future now, too, so it’s exciting seeing that.”

Regardless if they decide to play softball after high school or not, being the first senior class ever is an honor that they don’t take for granted.

“It means setting an example and a bar for years to follow,” said senior Hope Hanson. “The example is to work for your position and outwork the other team.”

Coach Blakesley says the six seniors are a family and have made the Casteel community proud.

“It’s really cool thinking that 20 years from now we’re still gonna be the first group of softball girls ever,” Langaker smiled.