The coaching bug is a hard one to shake.
Harley Roller had moved back to Johnson County with her husband, working remotely in the corporate world after spending the previous seven years coaching softball at the collegiate level — two as an assistant at her alma mater, Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and five as the head coach at Albany State, a Division II school in southwestern Georgia.
Not long after she started on her new path, though, the old one came calling, and Roller — a 2010 Whiteland graduate who was an Indiana All-Star behind the plate — returns to the dugout as the Warriors’ new head coach this spring.
“I’ve learned coaches never stay out of the game long,” Roller said. “Every time I think, ‘Okay, I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish,’ the itch is still there. And for this situation, what a dream it is to come back to a place that built me and put me on a path to go and do such amazing and great things and see the world. To give back and make sure that these girls get the same opportunities is something that I’m really passionate about and looking forward to.”
Roller settled in the South for a while after her college years, but returned home when her sister got pregnant; her husband, a Franklin native, didn’t need much convincing. But now, Roller is enjoying being back on the field — and embracing the different challenges that come with coaching at a public high school as opposed to a college.
“The biggest thing is recruiting; I don’t get to recruit my kids,” she said. “It’s kind of, ‘Here’s what you’ve got; figure it out,’ and I think that’s the challenge I’m most excited about. It keeps things interesting, keeps me on my toes in having to be creative. But… the game’s always the same. I think the speed will be different, but getting to teach the little things about the game that maybe I took for granted at the college level has been the most fun.”
She’s not exactly working with an empty cupboard. Yes, the Warriors lost four starters from last year’s 24-3 sectional championship team, including an All-State pitcher in Debbie Hill and a Division I college catcher in Haley Wilkerson, but there’s still enough talented players returning that Roller’s expectations remain high.
One of the keys might be sophomore Kiley Sullivan, who saw some action as the No. 2 pitcher last year but will be counted on to be Whiteland’s ace this spring. Roller has plenty of confidence in Sullivan’s ability to transition into a larger role.
“Sully is fully capable and ready to carry that weight that comes with stepping into an All-State pitcher’s shoes,” the coach said. “She’s solid mentally and she’s able to handle pressure. It doesn’t faze her.”
The Warriors have a good deal of returning talent elsewhere in the lineup, led by seniors Emma Piercy and Halle Nett as well as juniors Josslyn Harbert and Maddy Myers. Roller doesn’t view her current situation as a rebuild by any stretch.
Having spent this entire school year in the building as a special education teacher, Roller has gotten the opportunity to get to know her players pretty well already. She sees a group of “good character kids” that should translate well into leadership on and off the field.
It’s going to be a different animal than coaching at the collegiate level — especially after being away from the game entirely last spring — but Roller is looking forward to the challenges that come her way.
“There are things I haven’t gotten to teach in a while,” she said. “It’ll be an exciting year.”
SCOUTING THE COUNTY
Center Grove Trojans
Coach: Alyssa Coleman
Last season: 18-9, lost to Mooresville in Class 4A sectional opener
Key returnees: Samantha Bruce, Haley Fuhr, Maggie Lee, Payton Shimansky and Ashlynn Wolff, seniors; Hannah Haberstroh, Riley Henson and Riley Janda, juniors; Sydney Herrmann, sophomore
Top newcomers: Kynadee Warner, junior; Hayden Baird, sophomore; Erica Burris, Kiersten Hardin and Brynn Meyer, freshmen
Outlook: With most of the starting lineup back and a ton of talent incoming, Coleman believes the Trojans will bounce back in a big way from what was a disappointing season by their always-high standards. Indiana State recruit Henson gives Center Grove a potential ace in the circle, but she may not have to carry as much of the pitching workload. With Shimansky behind the plate, Janda and Wolff in the middle infield and Haberstroh in center, the team is stacked up the middle; look for newcomers such as Seymour transfer Warner, to fill in around them. The Trojans are loaded with speed and set to regain the swagger of years past. “Russ (Milligan) would be proud,” Coleman said.
Coach: Ben Taylor
Last season: 11-12, lost to Indianapolis Lutheran in first round of Class A sectional
Key returnees: Gracie Crawhorn, senior; MacKenzie Bieker and Alix Streeval, juniors; Jasmine Hester, sophomore
Top newcomers: Gracie Barrett, Eloise Cox, Lillie Goff and Kenna Streeval, freshmen
Outlook: The Lancers only suited up nine players last spring and lost starting catcher Kyah Streeval to an ACL tear over the winter, but they got some major reinforcements in the form of nine freshmen, many of whom will make an immediate impact. Crawhorn is one of the county’s top hitters, and Bieker is back in the pitching circle for a third season with what Taylor expects to be a pretty solid defense. Barrett figures to slot in behind the plate. Edinburgh is young, but also talented enough that it should be able to contend for the Mid-Hoosier Conference title yet again.
Franklin Grizzly Cubs
Coach: Kayla Craft
Last season: 8-20, lost to Whiteland in Class 4A sectional semifinal
Key returnees: Corin Dammeier and Maddie Stearns, seniors; Emily Fuqua, Mia Herbert, Sara Small, Alysa Vaught and Lexi Willey, juniors; Adeline Blackwell, Bryleigh Carlisle-Haltom, Ellie Chumbley and Ashlynn Keser, sophomores
Top newcomers: Aubrey Leugers, Addie Martin and Annabelle Richter, freshmen
Outlook: Not only does second-year coach Craft return almost everybody from last year’s extremely young squad, she gets back a pair of former starters (Dammeier and Stearns) who didn’t play last year as well as three very talented freshmen. Some of last year’s starters will be moving into reserve roles, so maintaining chemistry and morale will be an important task. Franklin should be deep and talented enough to climb back into the top half of the Mid-State Conference; whether it can challenge the likes of Mooresville and Whiteland for a league title remains to be seen.
Coaches: Greg Norwood and Nataley Raker
Last season: 8-15, lost to Franklin in first round of Class 4A sectional
Key returnees: Taylor Dick, Sophie Markowicz and Nikki Wheatley, seniors; Courtney Hankenhoff and Avery Kraeszig, juniors; Haylie Hendricks, sophomore
Top newcomers: Emma Chism, junior; Kinsley Clark, freshman
Outlook: The Woodmen return both of their top pitchers in Dick and Hankenhoff, providing a good foundation for what should again be a competitive squad. Markowicz and Wheatley provide some additional leadership and experience. Greenwood fielded a very young team last spring; the hope is that the experience gained then will pay off this season and push the record back over to the north side of the .500 mark.
Greenwood Christian Cougars
Coach: Brad Keller
Last season: 4-8, lost to Morristown in Class A sectional semifinal
Key returnees: Brooklyn Collins and Sophie Keller, seniors; Naomi Avina, Sophia Doyle, Summer Huberts and Sierra Parramore, juniors; Elle Schnake, sophomore
Top newcomers: Sydney Waldron, junior; Lillian Keller and Sarai Robertson, freshmen
Outlook: Brad Keller, an assistant the last two seasons, inherits a team with little to no pitching experience and some other key holes to fill. Collins and Doyle are expected to pick up some innings, as could Lillian Keller, but the Cougars will often need to outslug teams in order to win. The new coach likes the overall attitude and approach of the players so far, and he’s hopeful that GCA can at least be competitive against most of the teams on the schedule.
Indian Creek Braves
Coach: Gary Mitchell
Last season: 3-19, lost to Northview in Class 3A sectional opener
Key returnees: Bailey Dowty and Hannah Emenhiser, seniors; Alli Gavin, junior; Jasmine Day, Amelia Woodke, sophomores
Top newcomers: Jalyn Hauger, junior; Rylan DeHart, sophomore; Jackie Hammond and Delaney Jones and Addie Schab, freshmen
Outlook: The Braves were a team without a home last season, playing all of its games on the road. They’ll get to cut down on their travel significantly this season, which should help — and the roster has been upgraded as well. Gavin, an Illinois State commit, provides a solid backbone behind home plate for what Mitchell expects to be a good defensive team. Jones is expected to step in as the No. 1 pitcher right away. Indian Creek has more year-round players in the fold than it has in recent years, and the expectation is that there will be a much greater payoff in the win column. “We’re sure not going to be 3-19 again,” Mitchell said.
Coach: Harley Roller
Last season: 24-3, lost to Shelbyville in Class 4A regional
Key returnees: Halle Nett and Emma Piercy, seniors; Josslyn Harbert and Maddy Myers, juniors; Kiley Sullivan and Gracee Whitaker, sophomores
Outlook: Though the Warriors lost a decorated senior class led by pitcher Debbie Hill, first-year coach Roller has a solid nucleus to work with, led by seniors Nett and Piercy. Sullivan, who saw some action in the circle as the No. 2 hurler last year, moves into the top spot. Her development will go a long way toward determining how far Whiteland can go this spring. The lineup won’t be quite as deep as it was last year, at least early on, but Roller is hopeful that some of the newcomers can become contributors over the course of the season. This might not be a top-10 team in the state again, at least right away, but the Warriors should again be one of the stronger clubs in the area.