After a succesful high school coaching career with stops at Lake Park and Burlington Central, Cray Allen decided he wanted more.
"It's college," the first-year Harper softball coach said of his most recent endeavor, which begins with Sunday's scheduled doubleheader at Prairie State College.
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Winning has been standard for Allen, who amassed a 46-26 record at Burlington Central over three seasons, including a 28-9 mark and a regional championship last spring.
Allen understands he's facing quite a different scenario at Harper. The Hawks program was shut down just prior to the season last spring, which eliminated the usual opportunity for recruiting.
Another obstacle for Allen and Harper is lack of player experience. No member of the 2011 team that last took the field for Harper has returned.
That has not stopped the program's new coach from putting together what at this point is a 15-player squad.
"I'm getting used to them, they are getting used to me," Allen said. "It's a huge spectrum of experience level."
All 15 players are freshmen, but Allen is enjoying seeing their skills develop.
"It's a great thing to watch," he said.
Allen expects a core of four players to be key this year. Among them is third baseman Kate Keegan (Elk Grove).
"She's going to be somebody we rely on heavily," Allen said.
Another is Barrington alumnus Jasmine Score, who will be asked to log a majority of the pitching innings. When not in the circle, she will see time at either shortstop or second base.
"Jas has been awsome in practice," Allen said. "You can tell she loves the game."
Paige Ward (Conant) has played for Allen's travel program and figures to be a good fit. She's a left-handed hitter with power and will also pitch.
"Once she gets back into it," said Allen, "she has a pretty high skill set."
Second baseman Jessica Debrock also fits that desciption.
"She's a softball player," Allen said. "She can handle the bat."
One wild card for Allen is outfielder Steph Bulger, who Allen said could have been his best outfielder this spring.
But Bulger has missed the majority of preseason workouts due to injury, and Allen may be forced to redshirt her.
Allen is still unsure what the North Central Community College Conference has in store for his developing program, and he expects it to be a challenge.
"I go to bed every night, thinking about what are we going to run into," Allen said. "The coaches in this conference know what they're doing."