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Determined Lee Softball Win Games Early On

Lancers are set to host Patriot rival South County on Friday.

The Lee High Lancers, under new softball head coach Suzy Willemssen, have gotten a nice taste of winning over the first part of the spring season. The Lancers won scrimmage games over both Fairfax and George Mason high schools in early March and, going into this week, held a 2-1 regular season record.

Lee opened the regular season with a football-like 24-10 win at Falls Church on March 17. Following a 12-day layoff, with one game postponed because of poor weather during that stretch, the Lancers opened up their Patriot District schedule with a 16-6 win over home team T.C. Williams on March 29. In their following game at West Potomac last Friday, April 1, the Lancers lost their first game of the spring, 12-2.

"The two wins were awesome," said Willemssen, of the regular season victories over Falls Church and T.C. Williams. "The girls are really working hard and have a marvelous, teachable spirit. We have a nice core of returning players."

Lee won a handful of games last year under former coach Joan Simmons Tadlock, who had the Lancers moving in the right direction over the past two seasons. Willemssen, who last year was head coach at Episcopal High, a private boarding school in Alexandria, and was head coach at Chantilly High School the four years before that, has used the early 2011 season to fine the right position fit for her players.

Two key returning players to the team’s line-up are seniors Ashley Robinson and Sarah Wilber. Robinson was the team’s pitcher last year but has been moved to the shortstop position this season. Wilber, who saw her playing time mostly at catcher last year, is playing second base.

Willemssen, like most coaches, emphasizes leadership and has two quality team leaders in both Robinson and Wilber.

"Their senior leadership has been tremendous," said Willemssen, of the duo.

The coach said, no matter whom the opponent is, she wants to see her Lancers play all out and have a team-first mindset.

"We want to be relentless competitors and to put the team first," she said. "I’ve been pleased with our mental toughness. We never quit and battle to the end."

<b>LEE’S PITCHING</b> this season has been in the hands of two juniors, Amanda Layton and Julia Rihaly. Layton generally starts games for the Lancers with Rihaly entering the game later in relief.

"Ashley did the bulk of the pitching last year," said Willemssen, of shortstop Robinson. "So this is new for [Layton and Rihaly]. Neither is overpowering. We want [opposing batters] to hit the ball on the ground. Both pitchers are hitting their spots."

At the plate, Lee’s top batters early on have been junior Natalie Heinitz, the Lancers’ third baseman who played at shortstop last year, and junior center fielder Alyssa Fetterholf.

The coach said her team, across the board, has good hitting, fielding and pitching but could also show improvement in all those areas of the game. But she continues to like the Lancers’ sound work ethic and determination to get better as the season moves on.

"We need to continue to get better everywhere on the field, our fielding, hitting and with our pitchers cutting down on walks," said Willemssen. "We’re not extensively strong or awful in any area."

Lee has good team speed off the bench. Willemssen often utilizes that speed by inserting her fleet-of-foot backups as courtesy runners or pinch runners. This group of the team is nicknamed, "the cheetahs."

"They are mostly inexperienced players and their roles are to create havoc on the base paths," said Willemssen, of the cheetahs. "The girls chant ‘Cheetah’ and they embrace that."

The Lancers were scheduled to play district games this week at Lake Braddock on Wednesday, April 6 and against visiting South County this Friday, April 8.

On Saturday, Lee will play its first game at the Madison Spring Break Tournament with a matchup against Mount Vernon High. Game time is 2 p.m. at Mount Vernon. Lee will continue play at the spring break tournament the following Saturday, April 16 with a noontime double-header at Madison High in Vienna.