Hempfield grad eager to take reins of Penn Hills softball program

Sunday, January 23, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Ashley Banner couldn’t overstate the impact her high school softball program had on her. Banner, a 2001 Hempfield graduate, hopes to leave a new generation of players with the same impression Bob Kalp had on her.

Kalp, who recorded a 431-111-1 with the Spartans during a tenure that stretched from 1997-2021, set the standard for WPIAL softball coaches.

While Banner isn’t putting the pressure on herself to have the same success on the field as she takes over the Penn Hills softball program, she would like to find a way to leave a similar impresion with the players.

“I’ve been playing softball since I was 9,” said Banner, a Penn Hills resident. “Coach Kalp had a tremendous impact on me as an individual. Not only did he teach me the game and how to play the game but having a desire to teach others. That’s definitely the biggest influence on my life.”

The Indians’ program has seen some lean years. Penn Hills finished with a 2-12 record last season, including an 0-12 record in Section 1-5A play. Seven of the Indians’ 12 losses came by 10 or more runs.

Issues with covid put Penn Hills behind from the outset of last season. The Indians had five players on the roster who had never played the sport before, and they weren’t able to get up to speed.

Encouraging participation in the sport is something Banner looks forward to.

“Honestly, I’m excited about hearing about some of the challenges ahead,” Banner said. “Right now, I’m excited to meet the team and see what interest we have and what interest is out there. (Athletic director) Stephanie (Strauss) had good feedback on the softball team and how they could compete in 5A. I’m excited for the opportunity ahead.”

The Indians will once again be in Section 1-5A this season. Penn Hills will compete with Armstrong, Franklin Regional, Indiana, Kiski, Plum and Woodland Hills for a spot in the poseason. The Indians haven’t reached the postseason since 2007.

Penn Hills will return its starting pitcher from last season, as Mara Wade will be a junior. Sophomore catcher Lauren Sipple was named honorable mention all-Big 56 last season.

“I’m scheduled to meet the team this week,” Banner said. “This is moving pretty fast. I’ve had great conversations with the current coaching staff. I’m kind of excited to meet the team and learn about what players we do have returning.”


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