The freshmen on the Washington softball team left the nest ready to fly — sooner than even they anticipated.

The Lady Jays have carried six freshmen on the varsity roster since the season started, four of whom are regular starters — pitchers Taylor Brown, Christine Gerling and Lauren Opfer, shortstop Lacy Monzyk and catchers Kelsie Holtmeyer and Maddie Guevara.

A seventh freshman, Kendall Nix, made her varsity debut at shortstop Sept. 29, collecting her first career hit and driving in a run. 

“I knew we were getting some good freshmen, but I was not expecting to be this successful just because they are so young and I know the transition from select ball to high school can be pretty rough for freshmen,” senior center fielder Emma Vodnansky said. “I’m really happy with how we’ve done.”

The underclassmen have paid immediate dividends for Head Coach Philip King’s squad as the Lady Jays are in the midst of a 16-game winning streak, the longest in program history.

“We are a very complete team,” King said. “We have great pitching, solid defense and good hitting. The only problem is that we are making quite a few mental mistakes. However, this is to be expected when you have four freshmen and two sophomores starting most of your games. The younger players are very good at the skills part of the game, but we have a lot to work on with the mental part of the game.”

Washington had a tough start to the season, losing three times at the Troy Leadoff Classic and then dropping the home opener to perennial state contender Sullivan in a close battle to start 0-4. Three of those four losses came in one-run games.

Once the calendar turned from August to September, however, the Lady Jays became unstoppable. The team averages more than nine runs per game and boasts a 16-4 record.

Their opponents have been no slouches, either. Washington swept the field at the Francis Howell Central Classic, have started 8-0 in the Gateway Athletic Conference Central standings and already clinched the league title.

The Lady Jays also topped former division rival Holt, 4-2, in nonconference play.

As a part of the GAC Central in 2016 and 2017, Holt ran the table on the conference in 2016 and shared the league title with the Lady Jays the following year.

Holt has won at least 20 games each season dating back to 2014, including a 27-3 record last year.

Fresh Pitching Staff

Brown (11-1) and Gerling (5-2) have accounted for all 16 Washington wins thus far in the circle.

Both already have a no-hitter to their credit. Gerling completed the feat against Ft. Zumwalt North Sept. 10 and Brown did it against Ft. Zumwalt East Sept. 2.

Brown has thrown 66.1 innings with a St. Louis area low earned run average of 0.63 and 117 strikeouts. She averages more than 11 strikeouts per seven innings. Most recently, Brown struck out 10 batters in a 5-4 win against Timberland Monday.

“It’s fun having two really strong pitchers together,” Brown said. “No, (we didn’t expect this level of success right away) at all. It’s been a big surprise for us.”

Gerling holds a 1.44 ERA, the third lowest in the St. Louis area, with 58 strikeouts in 48.2 innings.

Opfer has pitched in two games, throwing 2.1 innings and recording four strikeouts.

New Sluggers

At the plate, Gerling is among the team’s batting leaders with a .455 average, three home runs and 21 runs batted in.

Brown is not an easy out either, holding a .328 average with three home runs and 18 RBIs.

When Brown isn’t pitching, she’s usually playing first base, sharing the 

infield with fellow freshman starters Lacy Monzyk (shortstop) and Kelsie Holtmeyer (catcher).

“I don’t think any of us expected any of it,” Brown said. “We just thought that we were going to play both the JV and varsity. I feel like we all do really well on varsity and play really well with these girls.”

Kelsie Holtmeyer is a .281 hitter with a triple and five runs batted in.

Monzyk hits .278 with three RBIs and 12 runs scored. Her .422 on-base percentage is the third highest on the team behind Gerling’s .492 and Maddie Holtmeyer’s .426.

Guevara has played in 15 games, primarily as a pinch runner. However, she had a pivotal three-run home run in a 3-1 victory against Francis Howell Central.

Veteran Leaders

The Lady Jays temper their youth with the experience of three seniors: center fielder Emma Vodnansky, second baseman Maddie Holtmeyer and left fielder Allie Huddleston.

Vodnansky and Holtmeyer are both four-year starters and Huddleston is on her third varsity season.

“It helps that we have seniors, two of which are four-year starters and another that is a three-year starter, that have helped lead and show the younger players how to approach the game,” King said. “We are still making some physical errors, but that is going to happen. But now our team is hitting, and we keep looking better every game. Our goal is to be playing our best as a team once districts start.”

Vodnansky has walloped five home runs thus far and driven in 21 runs to go with a .366 batting average.

Maddie Holtmeyer is batting .381 with 12 RBIs and 19 runs scored. 

Huddleston carries a .351 average with eight RBIs and 13 runs scored.

Revamped Success

Washington similarly started to build a core of four-year starters in 2016 that led to a fourth-place state finish that year and three consecutive 20-win seasons from 2016 to 2018.

Vodnansky has been a starter for the Lady Jays since her freshman year in 2017.

“I think this is one of the best teams we’ve had,” Vodnansky said. “We’ve had a lot of freshmen come in and play some pretty big roles on our team.”

Despite losing senior ace Ellie Quaethem to injury in the preseason in 2019 and going 7-15 overall, Washington managed a 5-5 conference record with wins over two of the three teams that ultimately split the GAC Central title last year.

This new wave of talent mixed with experience in a few key places has the Lady Jays back on the same winning pace they enjoyed in three of the previous four seasons.

“I knew that we had Taylor and Christine coming in and I knew that they were pretty dominant pitchers,” Vodnansky said. “I wasn’t expecting to get some of the other defenders that we’ve had. Then, on offense, some of these girls have come in and hit and I know it was a pretty big adjustment for me coming in as a freshman on varsity and swinging against some of the older girls. I think they’ve done a pretty good job with it.”

Even during those three 20-win seasons, the Lady Jays’ longest winning streak stood at 11 games, from Aug. 25 to Sept. 15, 2018.

Washington could reach the 20-win milestone again this season by winning each of the remaining games in the regular season.

The Lady Jays have remaining home matchups with Francis Howell North (Oct. 6, played after The Missourian’s print deadline), Ft. Zumwalt East (Oct. 8) and Union (Oct. 12) at Lakeview Park. One road game remains, at Pacific, Oct. 7. Each game has a 4:30 p.m. start time.

A potential 21st win, which would have to come in the postseason, would set a new school record for total wins in a season.

Washington is scheduled to host the Class 5 District 2 Tournament, starting next week.