If it seems like the Gaither softball team is more aggressive on the bases and in the field, it's because during the last two months, the Cowboys have been diligently working on their speed and conditioning ... with the help of a former Gaither athlete.
Lydell Ross, the former Gaither running back who went on to play for Ohio State, offered his services to the program as the strength and conditioning coach.
Gaither coach Al Alcala said when Ross applied for a position with the Tampa Fire Department, where he'll be officially hired in July, he asked Alcala, who works in administration for the department, if he needed any help with the softball team.
Alcala gleefully accepted and said Ross made an immediate impact on the team.
"I see the difference in the way they run already," Alcala said. "He puts a lot of time into it. The girls are being more aggressive on the bases. He's teaching them how to run. He's teaching them the mechanics."
Making teenagers run might be troublesome for some coaches, but Alcala said Ross found a way.
"Nobody loves to run, but the way he does it, it's fun," he said. "He makes it competitive, he times them and he's not as tough as I am. He's more laid back."
Unfortunately, senior pitcher Morgan Grove, the reigning Tribune Hillsborough County Softball Player of the Year, won't be able to benefit from training just yet. Alcala said Grove reaggravated a hip injury against Alonso last week and is day-to-day.
"I don't want to pitch her if there is something truly wrong," he said. "We're being very cautious with her. It's when she plants her leg on the mound."
Alcala said Grove has been a designated hitter since the injury.
WOLVES EYE FINAL FOUR: It has been almost a year since Newsome made its surprising run to the state final four, and Coach Jessie Kowal said the players are eager to repeat the success.
"They have to want it," she said. "It still kind of happened in a whirlwind. The girls are like, 'Yeah, we really did go.'"
The Wolves (6-4) graduated one senior from last year's team, and Kowal is depending on five seniors to take charge.
"We have a lot of freshmen," she said. "We're carrying a full house this season with 19 players. Mentally, we can do it as a team, but the freshmen, I'm not quite sure yet. They're still trying to figure it out."
Kowal said it's going to take lots of teamwork, dedication and heart to make it back to the state tournament. Like last season, she is expecting her team to peak late.
"What you do in the season all comes down to district," she said. "That's when it matters."
Kowal also said seniors AJ Jones and Courtney St. Amant have signed with Hillsborough Community College.
RAIDER COMMITS: Plant City senior center fielder Kayce Hart has committed to Brevard Community College and will sign her letter-of-intent next week, Coach Heidi Kouveras said.