FRONT ROYAL – Not long after Ted McDaniel was named head coach of Warren County High School’s softball team last fall, he began having conversations with Macie Clerkley about what he expected of the senior come softball season.
The primary topic of those conversations, he said on Tuesday, was the leadership role Clerkley would have to fill in 2018. Clerkley is one of only two seniors on the Wildcats’ roster this season – and the only one with varsity experience – and McDaniel wanted to make sure Clerkley knew she’d need to serve as a supplementary voice to the coaching staff in her final high school season.
Clerkley had been preparing for such a role all along. Approaching her third year as a varsity starter for the Wildcats, Clerkley hopes to take everything she’s learned from watching her older teammates during her sophomore and junior seasons and apply that to her own senior year this spring.
“I have had some leadership skills (prepare me) for this,” Clerkley said. “I’m part of the leadership on the marching band, so I took a lot of the stuff that I’ve learned from everywhere and tried to put it in here. I was really excited to become a captain this year, just to help the younger girls both on JV and varsity kind of step up into a leadership position.”
The five seniors on last season’s team molded Clerkley in a similar manner, she said, noting that she learned how to carry herself as a varsity player and how to pull all members of the team together to ensure they perform as a unit.
Her own leadership style, she said, blends the vocal aspect with leading by example.
“I like to be the most positive person on the team, so I’m always jumping in the dugout, trying to corral people to get cheering and stuff,” Clerkley said. “But I do like to lead by example, so I do like to work on myself a lot performance-wise. I do take like the extra swings and the extra balls in the field.”
Clerkley’s eagerness to do more helped power a breakout season at the plate in 2017, during which she batted .462 (24-for-52) – the second-best mark in The Daily’s coverage area – with nine doubles, a home run and 15 RBIs and earned second team All-Conference 28 honors.
McDaniel, who served as Warren County’s assistant coach the previous three seasons, said Clerkley’s emergence as one of the Wildcats’ most consistent hitters was the product of logging more at-bats during travel ball over the previous summer and her devotion to becoming stronger and quicker in the weight room.
Having a year of experience at the varsity level as a sophomore certainly helped as well – Clerkley said she felt more relaxed at the plate and in the field during her junior year – and she also received a boost from what could’ve otherwise been an unfortunate setback at the start of the 2017 season.
“I sprained my ankle earlier in the season, so I had more time to really work on my stance and a lot of just fundamental things,” said Clerkley, who missed the first couple games of 2017. “Having all of that work, so I could build up to when I did start going back into the season, it really just made me more confident in my stance and my swing and helped me really accentuate the parts that I was strong at, which was hitting. I think that even though my injury was kind of a little bit heartbreaking for me, it did really help me to kind of shape my season as a hitter.”
In regard to Clerkley’s preparation for this season, McDaniel said the senior has done everything that’s been asked of her. With the Wildcats’ 2018 season starting on Tuesday with a home game against Millbrook, Clerkley will be asked to do even more.
A shoulder injury is expected to sideline junior Elizabeth Keener – Warren County’s home run and RBI leader from a year ago and the team’s No. 1 starting pitcher – for the next month, meaning other Wildcats need to pick up the slack.
McDaniel said freshman Arianna Whited will be Warren County’s primary starting pitcher until Keener returns, with sophomore Sabrina Perea serving as the No. 2 option in the circle. McDaniel expects a team effort to make up for the lack of Keener’s run production, Clerkley chief among those Wildcats who will be asked to drive in more runs.
“I told Macie and I told the whole team, I said ‘Everybody’s gotta elevate their game here,’” McDaniel said. “When your leader goes down everybody’s gotta elevate their game. Injuries are part of the game and you’ve just gotta deal with them. Macie’s kind of really stepped into that position.”
Clerkley, who ranked second on the team in RBIs last season, said she anticipates moving up in the batting order from fifth into the third or fourth spot this season. She’s also made a positional switch from corner outfielder to center fielder.
“From the first time we went outside and hit, I put her out in center field. She really had great range and there was no doubt in my mind that was the right person for center field,” said McDaniel, who added that Clerkley brings valuable varsity experience to the position. “She really breaks on the ball well. When the ball comes off the bat that first step is so crucial and she really does a good job of doing that.”
Clerkley said her primary goals for the 2018 season include increasing her power and consistency at the plate while also boosting her RBI totals. She also hopes to top her lofty batting average from last season.
“I think since I’ve already attained it,” Clerkley said of her 2017 batting average, “I think I can do better and push forward with it.”