UTICA — In each of the first three years Deonna Giacona has been head softball coach at Utica High, her teams have improved their record and their standing in the MAC White.
Last year, Utica went unbeaten in the White Division while going 29-8 overall. In her fourth season, Giacona will have to replace some key parts from last year’s division title team, but she remains hopeful to improve once again in 2014.
“We have to do a little bit of rebuilding; we have to do a little of fitting in for positions. Everyone is kind of fighting right now for a spot,” Giacona said. “We’re probably going to have to do some re-arranging and movement because of those spots that we lost. We have some work that we need to do this year.”
Delaney Maki and Sarah Mauser are each four-year varsity players who will be leading the Chieftains. Maki, who will be playing for Olivet College next year, is a four-year pitcher, while Mauser is a four-year starter at shortstop. Mauser will be playing at the University of Detroit Mercy next year.
Mauser’s younger sister, Ashley, is in her third year on the varsity team as a junior pitcher. Third baseman Draya Ackerman will also help lead Utica this year.
“They need to work together as a team, and I think that we still have a decent core of those girls coming back this year where they know what they want from their teammates. They know what to expect, and they want to win it again to defend their title,” Giacona said.
With this being her fourth year as head coach, Giacona explained how Maki and Mauser have helped lift the Utica program since they were freshmen.
“They know exactly what it takes because they did put in the hard work the last couple of years, so they understand all of the hard work and dedication that goes into being a successful program,” Giacona said. “They’re stepping up by staying after and helping the younger kids, and doing whatever they can to make this program better and stay around for a while.”
When Giacona came into the Utica program, she emphasized playing young, talented athletes early on the varsity level as an investment to lift the program in the long run. That work has already paid off as evidenced by last year’s division title, and Giacona said that now she is in a position where she may not bring up freshmen to the varsity for the first time in her career.
“Luckily, over the past few years we’ve had some really talented freshmen come through the program, so we were able to move them up and put them in a level where they’re going to be most competitive,” Giacona said. “I’m not a believer in having freshmen sit, so I know that I’m only going to pull them up if they’re going to play, which means that they made a huge impact on us as a coaching staff and they’ve proven themselves on the field.”
While Utica seeks to return to the same form it had last year, Giacona said playing with consistency against a difficult division will be especially important.
“Any team can come out and play their game. We have our good days and our bad days. Even the best teams have their good days and bad days. With us, we need to find consistency, and I think that’s kind of where we’re going to be at so our league is going to be competitive. It has been the last two years, and I hope it stays that way. That’s what makes good teams better.”
Utica’s first game of the season is scheduled for the first week of April against Utica Ford. Due to weather conditions and scheduling uncertainties, the exact date and time have not been set yet for the season opener.