Mt. Pleasant softball team rebuilds with new coach
By: Bill Beckner Jr.
Saturday, March 16, 2019 | 7:12 PM
Several Mt. Pleasant softball players left the practice field one day last week but didn’t head to the parking lot to catch a ride home or drive away like they had in the past.
Instead, they disappeared into the field house behind the football stadium.
What was so intriguing behind those walls? A Bazooka Gym bubble contest? A new sunflower seed flavor reveal?
The girls ducked into the weight room.
Moments later, they were pumping iron and doing leg lifts. Working out. Softball players.
It’s part of the new strength program, introduced by first-year coach Chris Brunson and his assistant, Aaron Hutter, who used to coach the middle school program.
Perennial power Mt. Pleasant is known for winning championships. Now the Vikings really can flex their muscles.
“I like to hit. We have some girls that can pop it,” Brunson said. “They’re going to be given free reign to do that. We’ll be able to situational hit, too. If we need a ball to the right side, we’re going to need a ball to the right side. But we have some power.”
The Vikings lost a half-dozen uber-talented seniors and return only one 12th-grade player in strikeout pitcher Carolyn Alincic. With her keeping opponents at bay and a productive offense adding run support, the Vikings should once again be one of the high-end teams in Class 4A.
Gone are standouts and quick-change college players Meadow Uncapher (St. Francis, Pa.), Ava Gnibus (Cal, Pa.), Christiana Czegan (Cal, Pa.) and Chloe Poulich (Towson).
“We’re a lot different without those six for sure,” Alincic said. “But we have a lot of bats and some fast runners. I think our chemistry is really strong. Chris is a really good coach and had a lot of knowledge about the game.”
Alincic, who recently changed her college decision from Division II Dominican to Division I Morehead State, is expected to take on an increased leadership role for the Vikings, who went 19-2 and reached the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals and PIAA semifinals last season.
Mt. Pleasant won a PIAA title in 2017 and a WPIAL 3A title in ’16.
“We’re going to rely heavily on her to carry us in those tight games,” Brunson said of his pitcher.
Alincic will be the mother hen to a young group.
Sophomore Mary Smithnosky also will pitch for the Vikings.
Back to those bats. Sophomores Haylie Brunson and Courtney Poulich return with base-clearing potential. Smithnosky also can hit home runs.
Haylie Brunson, a Lousiana-Lafayette recruit and all-state player, led the team in batting average (.474) and RBIs (35) and had 13 extra-base hits, including four home runs. She will move from the outfield to shortstop or third base.
First baseman and outfielder Courtney Poulich, a Liberty commit, hit .388 with 15 RBIs.
“Obviously, we want to win but we want to grow as a team, be confident in each other and play our hearts out,” Courtney Poulich said. “We’re trying to get stronger, then we can all produce better. We have high expectations and work hard.”
Other key returnees include junior center fielder Sydney Kanuch, sophomore catcher Lexis Shawley, sophomore infielder Hanna Gnibus, sophomore Rae McNair and junior Sydni Overly.
In terms of expectations, Chris Brunson hopes to pick up where former coach Lauren (Shaheen) Armanious left off when she resigned after five seasons. The pace of things are a little different at practice, however.
“I like to do everything fast,” said coach Brunson, a former Southmoreland assistant who, like Armanious, graduated from Hempfield. “We try to keep practices upbeat, running in and out, running in between drills, running to pick balls up. They’re not going to get yelled at and screamed at, but I will yank the chain a little bit when it needs yanked. It keeps everybody involved and upbeat.”
Brunson helped Southmoreland win the WPIAL 3A title last year.
Mt. Pleasant has made the WPIAL playoffs 13 straight times and takes a 14-game section winning streak into the new season.
WPIAL Section 1-4A will look slightly different. Knoch is gone, but Yough and Greensburg Salem moved in, joining Mt. Pleasant, Highlands, Indiana and Uniontown.
“We want to keep the standard high here,” Chris Brunson said. “My expectation is always to win the last game … whatever that game is. Hopefully, it’s a state championship.”
The Vikings open the season Friday at Penn-Trafford.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
Tags: Mt. Pleasant