Merchant ushers in new beginning for Redhawk softball


TRAER – Following several losing seasons – including two full seasons with not a single win – and two different head coaches in as many years, Redhawk softball appears primed for a new beginning this year and the program’s new head coach Madonna Merchant is ready to make that happen.

“I am doing everything I know to create the right atmosphere to help create the culture we need to establish. A culture and attitude change about softball is what is necessary to make strides in getting this program where we would all like to be,” Merchant told the Telegraph during a recent Wednesday afternoon practice on Lee Wiges Field in Traer.

“Positive vibes, improving fundamentally, gaining knowledge of the game itself, and team chemistry are all necessary for the improvement to happen.”

Merchant’s appointment to the position of head softball coach was made earlier this spring and since that time the veteran coach has been working hard to formulate a new game plan for her 22-member roster.

“With over 30 years of coaching experience I have learned how to make this happen,” Merchant said when asked about her coaching experience. “And I have a great and capable assistant in Kami Roth. Our goal is simple – to improve softball at North Tama in every way and for all of us to have a lot of fun, laughter, and improvement doing it.”

A partial team photo (several of the players were competing in other spring sports at the time) taken by Redhawks softball player Larissa Morrison during a recent scrimmage. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

One of the first ways Merchant is working to breathe new life into the program is by instituting a new policy on absences – if a player misses a practice, they sit out the first three innings of the next game, she said.

She also spent considerable time beefing up the girls’ off season this past spring.

“Our off season has been really stepped up thanks to trustworthy volunteers like Seth Seda, Todd and Amy Harmsen [Amy is the new Redhawk Junior High coach], Channing Halstead, and Olivia Schrier who all stepped up to help cover all the dates of opportunities for the girls to pitch, catch, and hit,” Merchant explained. “Sara Forrester was also involved with pitching instruction weekly.”

When comparing last season – during which the team finally broke a 48-game losing streak and then went on to win an additional game – to this season, Merchant said more than just policy is changing, many of the players will be finding themselves in new positions.

“We have new catchers, new pitchers. The energy at practice has been really, really good.”

Members of the North Tama softball team practice in Traer on a recent Wednesday in May. PHOTO BY SOREN M. PETERSON

One of those returning players making a move to a different position is junior Larissa Morrison who played outfield last season but is moving infield to first base this year.

“This new season is so exciting,” Morrison said when asked to comment on all the changes. “I look forward to each practice – not only to get better, but the environment is fun. Coming from outfield to playing first is a lot more exciting and I get a lot more action than I used to.”

When asked how practice has been going, Morrison didn’t hesitate, responding, “Coach Madonna and Coach Roth have been great. Each practice is very efficient and we get lots of reps. For me, this season is all about togetherness. Playing together, improving together, and winning together. My goal for this season is to get better everyday and do it as a team.”

Meshing the team together as a functional unit is another goal of Merchant’s but it’s something she admits she cannot accomplish singlehandedly.

“We are all working hard on this, but ultimately it comes down to the girls themselves and their environment when they aren’t at practice to make this happen.”

A unique feature of the roster this season, however, might be helping to move the team in the right direction whether intentional or not – Redhawk softball boasts a whopping four sets of sisters this year including Kinsley and Kahlia Even, Violet and Gabby Seda, Lydia and Delanie Taylor, and Larissa and Jessica Morrison.

While many high school softball teams in Iowa – particularly in smaller, rural school districts – have struggled to recruit and retain both players and coaching staff in recent years, Merchant is hopeful the enthusiasm she’s seeing for Redhawk softball continues, belying that trend.

“We are lucky that there is enthusiasm at North Tama for softball, compared to a lot of the schools around us. It is difficult for softball because it’s in the summer when people want to take vacation, work [summer jobs], relax. But I am a firm believer that you have to establish a love for the game at the younger ages. We are blessed here that people have stepped up to do that through the Youth program that Sara Forrester has organized.”

North Tama is set to face conference powerhouse Collins-Maxwell tonight at home to open the season. Following the home opener, the Redhawks are scheduled to play Baxter on the road Wednesday followed by a home game against GMG on Friday.

“I think it is awesome that we have 22 girls working hard to make Redhawk softball happen,” Merchant said prior to the home opener. “I have told them it is exciting really – the only way we can go is up. … They need to enjoy every little victory along the way.”