When Anne Vogt crouched down to catch warm-up pitches from Kiernan Schock at Larkin's home opener on March 15, she understandably had a bit of a flashback.
"I was thinking, 'I haven't done this on this field during a game since 1992,' " Vogt said.
Vogt was one of the best softball players to ever play in the Fox Valley area. Her game was solid offensively and defensively and she was, as coaches love to put it, a student of the game.
It's no wonder Vogt has made softball her life. It's always been her passion and after playing at ECC and Judson University, she started putting her knowledge to work as both a private instructor and as the head coach at ECC for 12 years.
But now it's back to her roots as Larkin's new head coach after Larry Hight decided 16 years was enough. Hight had his fair share of success as Larkin's softball coach, winning three regional titles and over 300 games. But as a senior counselor at the school, Hight's duties at his full-time job were increasing to the point he didn't feel he could continue as softball coach. And Larkin made the right move by hiring Vogt when she threw her name in the ring for the job.
Vogt knows the road won't be an easy one in bringing the Royals back to the winning side of the standings. The varsity team has only won 19 games the past two seasons and there have been struggles already in this young season.
"The confidence level isn't there yet but it will happen," said Vogt, who is assisted this year by former St. Edward, ECC and Judson standout Natalie Smith. "It's a physcological game and you have to learn how to coach each kid. I'm still learning how these kids tick -- that's my biggest challenge right now."
Larkin's players need to get to know their new coach, too.
"I want them to have fun but I have a little sense of sarcasm in what I say sometimes, so they're getting used to me too," said Vogt.
One thing Vogt won't stand for is anyone hanging their heads. When one of her players came in from the field after making an error and slammed her glove against the dugout wall, Vogt sternly made sure that player understood her actions were unacceptable.
"You gotta hustle and there's no hanging of heads," Vogt said. "If you strikeout, OK. But then get off the field. Natalie and I both have expectations that include having a sense of urgency. We'll get there."
So there are no overnight miracles expected here.
But what Larkin softball players present and future will get with Vogt is one of the absolute best teachers of the fundamentals there is.
Toughening up: Several area coaches have toughened up their schedules this season, but maybe none more so than South Elgin's Jason Schaal and Burlington Central's Cray Allen. Schaal and Allen will take their teams to Murfreesboro, Tenn., this coming week to play in the Warriors' Southern Classic. South Elgin has seven games scheduled against teams from Tennessee and Alabama and Allen's Rockets will play five games down south.
In addition to the Tennessee trip, Allen, the former Lake Park coach, has really beefed up Burlington Central's schedule. Two days after they get home from Tennessee, the Rockets will play at Barrington. Elgin, Libertyville, Geneva, Glenbard North and St. Charles North are also on the slate, as is a May 12 date against defending Class 4A champ Moline at NIU. BC will then close the season against 4A Elite Eight qualifier DeKalb. And, the Rockets are in the Big Northern East, where they will play defending 3A champ Marengo twice. If BC isn't ready for the postseason, the schedule will certainly not be to blame.
Speaking of Marengo: The Class 3A champs figured they might have to reload a little, especially with the graduation of pitcher Chloe Montgomery, who is now playing at Illinois Wesleyan. But former Harvard standout pitcher Lindsay Melson, who left that team last year for personal reasons, is now at Marengo and the Illinois-Chicago recruit gives the Indians the favorite tag in 3A again.
Familiar face: Many players in all sports enter the coaching profession after college and we try to keep up on all of them. One surprise was earlier this week at Geneva. I turned the corner of the Vikings' dugout before their game with Jacobs to run right into former Daily Herald all-area captain and female athlete of the year Erica Maisto. The Burlington Central grad, one of the best pitchers the Rockets have ever had, is now coaching with Greg Dierks at Geneva. Maisto graduated from Upper Iowa University in December.
Tournament mania: The Elgin Sports Complex will again host two local high school tournaments -- St. Edward's Chicagoland Challenge on April 14 and the Larkin Slugfest on April 28.
In addition to the host Green Wave, the Chicagoland Challenge participants are Harvard, Aurora Christian, Illiana Christian, Westmont, Farmington, Genoa-Kingston and Hampshire.
Larkin's annual Slugfest has an interesting twist to it this year with the addition of Rice Lake, Wis. Rice Lake is home to Steve Salisbury, the former Elgin High softball and wrestling coach who won three softball regionals in the early 1990s as the Maroons' mentor. Salisbury is still the athletic director at Rice Lake and is scheduled to make the trip to Elgin with his team for Slugfest.
Other Slugfest participants this year include the host Royals, Elgin, South Elgin, St. Edward, Chatham-Glenwood, Plainfield Central and Oak Lawn.
Help the cause: The South Elgin softball program is conducting a raffle for a new bat with 50 percent of the proceeds going to benefit young Matthew Erickson, the son of South Elgin teacher and assistant baseball coach Ben Erickson and his wife Sue. Matthew was diagnosed with brain cancer njust 4 days after he was born on Dec. 11. He's already had two surgeries and chemotherapy was scheduled to begin recently. The medical bills for Matthew's care have already topped $1 million. The bat South Elgin is raffling off is a 2012 CF 5 Insane, one of the top softball bats on the market. South Elgin will donate the proceeds to the Ronald McDonald House, where Matthew has been staying while he fights the disease. Cost of the raffle tickets are $10 each and the winning ticket willk be drawn March 30. To purchase tickets, contact South Elgin coach Jason Schaal at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (847) 909-8857. To follow Matthew's fight against brain cancer, check out his Facebook page at Matthew Donald Erickson.
Postseason news: While several regional hosts are still to be determined, the IHSA did release a partial list of postseason sites on Friday. Burlington Central will host a Class 3A regional that feeds to the Belvidere North sectional and the NIU supersectional. In Class 4A, Cary-Grove and Barrington host the sectionals that feed to the Judson University supersectional. Three of the four regionals that feed to the Cary-Grove sectional are still TBA. Bartlett has also been awarded a 4A regional. The sectional site Bartlett feeds to is still TBA. The new Chicago Bandits stadium in Rosemont will play host to a Class 4A supersectional doubleheader. Judson also gets a doubleheader, a 3A super and a 4A.
All-star game: The Ninth Annual Dave Fehlman Memorial Senior All-Star Game will be held Monday, June 11 at Judson University at 6:30 p.m. More details will be available soon.