It’s been just six years since Donyelle DeMarse lit up the softball fields of the South Seven Conference with a .488 batting average and seven home runs.
But the 2011 Althoff graduate is back in Crusaders’ navy and gold, this time as a first-year coach who hopes to restore a softball program that has had to go young in recent seasons in order to fill a varsity roster.
“It was a challenge even when I played here, just getting girls to come out for softball,” said DeMarse, who served as an assistant last season. “Soccer happens at the same time and a lot of girls like to do that, too.
“I do think as we get the program going, people will want to come, be on a good team and have fun playing softball.”
As for DeMarse, 24, who followed up her Althoff career with four years of college softball at Missouri Baptist University, coaching at her alma mater is a dream come true. She also is coaching sixth-grade girls basketball at Queen of Peace, where she attended grade school.
“In grade school I always dreamed about playing at Althoff and then, after that, my thought was that I would want to coach here some day,” she said. “When I got the position, I really wanted to start to reform the program.”
We're young so learning and seeing progress is part of how we have to look at thing. We've come a long way in a short time, so I'm happy with where we are so far on offense and defense.
Donyelle Demarse, first-year Althoff softball coach
For 2017, DeMarse and the Crusaders are young again.
Kennedy Sims, a pitcher and catcher, is the only senior. Mariana Babic, Maria Davinroy, Leiten Kaiser and Katelynn Peterson are juniors. The balance of the 13-player roster are sophomores and freshmen.
The Crusaders are off to a 1-5 start, but winning at this point of the season isn’t the full measure of success, DeMarse said.
“We’re young so learning and seeing progress is part of how we have to look at thing,” said DeMarse, a full-time RTI teacher at Union Elementary School in Belleville. “We’ve come a long way in a short time, so I’m happy with where we are so far on offense and defense.”
Sims will be called upon to handle the bulk of the pitching duties. Freshman Alyssa Peterson and her older sister, Katelynn Peterson, also will get innings in the circle.
“They are different kinds of pitchers, which is good,” said DeMarse, who pitched 101 innings as a senior at Althoff in 2011. “Kennedy has more speed and Alyssa has a little more movement in her pitches.”
When Sims isn’t pitching, she’ll behind the plate. Otherwise, juniors Maria Davinroy and Mariana Babic will handle the catching.
Alyssa Peterson also can play first base, which she’ll share with freshman classmate Kyleigh VonBorries.
At second base, Kaitlyn Peterson will get more playing time. She’ll also see time at third base and in the outfield.
In grade school I always dreamed about playing at Althoff and then, after that, my thought was that I would want to coach here some day.
“She’s definitely my utility player,” DeMarse said. “Kaitlyn can play just about anywhere.”
Davinroy will anchor the infield defense at shortstop with back up from sophomore Meghan Schmidt, who can play both middle infield positions.
Freshman Allison Bertelsman has been the starter at third base, but also projects playing time at second.
Kaiser, a key contributor on an Althoff volleyball team that placed third in state last fall, will anchor the outfield in center and bat leadoff.
“I really enjoy watching her play, “DeMarse said of Kaiser. “She makes amazing plays in center field. I would love to see her play somewhere in college, but she’s really good at volleyball, too. We’ll see.”
Sophomores Abby Harris and Abby Herzing will share both left and right fields. “Softball isn’t really their sport, but they came out last year and you can see already how much they’ve improved. They came with physical ability, but are now catching onto the mental aspect as well.”
Sophomore Ally Ecker and freshman Brianna Habel will lend a hand in the outfield as well.