Weight-training program powers Mt. Pleasant softball’s run to state finals

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Thursday, June 17, 2021 | 3:36 PM


Each grapefruit the Mt. Pleasant softball team smashes out of the park seems to go farther than the last.

It’s obvious this team likes home runs. Juicy home runs.

With eight dingers — as they like to call them in softball circles — the Vikings (20-3) have shown a flair for power in their six playoff games. But while their lineup is as strong as any in the state, it isn’t just talent that sends balls soaring into oblivion.

Muscle mass helps, too.

“Hit farther, run faster,” Mt. Pleasant assistant coach Aaron Hutter said. “It’s easy for the girls to buy in when they see it working.”

Hutter started the team’s strength program several years ago when many of the players were in seventh grade and he was their junior high coach. Gradually, he has turned up the heat on weightlifting as the girls have ascended in the program and they have responded.

Head coach Chris Brunson steps aside and lets Hutter do his thing.

“We gave them a Saturday off (a couple of weeks ago) and several girls showed up to lift,” Hutter said. “They seem to enjoy it. They like coming in on days off.

“We tell them if you’re going to be a college athlete, you have to get used to being around the weight room and that environment.”

Mt. Pleasant has home run clout as it gets set to face another team that has some of its own. You might say the Vikings are ripped in that department.

They have 29 homers and will take on Mid Valley (22-2), a team with 30 homers, at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Penn State in the Class 3A title game.

Mid Valley is the champion of District 2.

Mt. Pleasant has few thin spots in its order and can leverage games with one or two big swings. Some of their homers, especially those off the bat of senior Courtney Poulich, who has a team-leading 10 homers, and senior second baseman Haylie Brunson, who has six round-trippers, seem to make a different sound.

Poulich has found a power alley with five bombs in six playoff games, including two Monday in a 13-0 PIAA semifinal win over Punxsutawney. Brunson was the second batter of the game when she lined a shot over the fence in center.

The victory for the Vikings was a way for them to flex their muscles, physically and metaphorically speaking.

“Losing last year (due to covid-19), we really went at it,” Poulich said. “We all love it. The end result shows it has helped.”

Poulich, who has hit some some moon shots, can dead-lift over 300 pounds, while Brunson can bench-press 180 and Katie Hutter’s specialty is pull-ups. She can do 15 in a row — with a heavy chain around her neck.

While weightlifting is a big thing at the college level, it is spotty in high school programs. Mt. Pleasant’s weight room gets as much use as its hitting cages.

“It’s a big thing here,” senior pitcher Mary Smithnosky said of working out. “A lot of girls are really into it.”

Smithnosky and her sister, Sophia, train with their father, Bob, a former football lineman at West Virginia, in between pitching lessons.

Poulich is a regular in the team workout room, along with Haylie and Krista Brunson, Katie Hutter, Abby Swank, Addison Reese and Emma Scanlon.

“I’ve been (working out) my whole life,” Katie Hutter said. “We don’t really compete (in the weight room). We just try and support each other and work to get better and stronger.”

Aaron Hutter said former Vikings standout Chloe Poulich, Courtney’s sister, came back from Towson this week and worked out with the team. She was a pupil of the Vikings’ strength program.

“When she came in (to Towson) as a freshman, they had Chloe demonstrate (weight-training) as a freshman,” Hutter said. “Another one of our players, Sydney Kanuch, did the same kind of thing at Seton Hill. She was their ‘Beast of the Week.’”

Music plays a role among the banging and clanging of weights, Hutter said. “We let the girls play girl music, the lighter stuff,” he said. “I don’t treat them any different than I do my boys (Jackson and Brody). I have my playlist for the boys.”

Where some scratch paper and a pencil once served as a way to pass on a training regimen to the players, Hutter said Google sheets are now part of the plan.

“Seeing them succeed is my joy,” Hutter said. “It’s not easy. They gain so much self-confidence and trust in each other.

“They respect each other for making the sacrifice to stay after and do extra.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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