The East Ascension softball program just parted ways with one of the most talented and accomplished senior classes that they've ever had.
The East Ascension softball program just parted ways with one of the most talented and accomplished senior classes that they’ve ever had.
It featured players like Claire Weinberger and Jessie Watts—two standouts that started since they were freshmen and went on to sign scholarships with Division-I college programs.
Now it’s time to reload and rebuild for the Lady Spartans. That process will be directed by first-year head coach Katie Ocmand.
Ocmand takes over for Amy Pitre. The longtime East Ascension head coach left the school to coach at St. Amant during the summer after head coach Scott Nielson decided to resign after 14 years.
Pitre coached the Lady Spartans for nine seasons. In that time, she won 202 games, and East Ascension reached the Fast Pitch 56 state tournament in five of the last seven seasons—including a run to the semifinals in 2015.
Last year’s team was chocked full of college talent that went 16-10 during the regular season and reached the second round of the playoffs. There, they lost a one-run heartbreaker to top seed and eventual state champion Alexandria.
Unfortunately for Ocmand, she will be without the entire starting lineup from that team.
Weinberger (LSU signee) and Watts (UL-Monroe signee) were both All-State players. Verlencia Jackson (Mississippi Vally State signee), Bria Aikens (Grambling State signee), Taja Landry, Molly Moran, Abbey Anderson and Abby Gauteau were all-districts performers.
“We have 12 seniors that are gone, and most of them were starters,” Ocmand said. “The players that are back, we’re going to get them to work hard, we’re going to try to train them to be the best players that they can be and we’re going to try to get where I want us to be as a program.”
Ocmand has a winning pedigree. She helped lead Lutcher to a state title as a prep player, and she went on to play for an LSU-Eunice squad that brought home an NJCAA Division-II national championship.
The player returning for Ocmand with the most experience will be Rachel Ducote. Some of the other players that the first-year head coach is expecting to step up and compete for spots in the starting lineup are: Genesis Smith, Jaylen Triola, Jacelyn Wheat, Grace Bagwell, Brynnen Gautreau and Meagan Ross.
The biggest shoes that must be filled will be Watts’ from the circle.
Watts was East Ascension’s ace for the past four years. She won 17 games in 2016.
Ocmand said that Erin Nicol will be her starter this season. Preslee Truax will also be used in the rotation.
Like any year, the Lady Spartans will have to compete against the brutal District 5-5A that contains the likes of St. Joseph’s Academy and parish rivals Dutchtown and St. Amant.
St. Amant has not lost a district game in five years.
But when Ocmand was hired, she was immediately excited about the opportunity to play in one of the premier leagues in the state.
“It’s going to be really exciting. I’m really looking forward to moving up to the next level,” Ocmand said. “Being at Lutcher, we were in a smaller classification. We did play some bigger schools, but being here, we’re competing with the big 5A powers each game and competing with them in district. The competition is really intense.”
Though East Ascension is short of maturity and experience, Ocmand thinks they make up for it in their determination.
“My team’s biggest strength is that they are young and hard working,” Ocmand said. “They may not fully understand the game yet, but everyday, they progress and build confidence in their decisions on the field. They are extremely hard workers with great attitudes. This team has a bright future as long as they keep working hard every day and learning the game.”