There is a humble powerhouse in the area that is quietly launching up in the rankings—the Hughson High varsity softball team.
The Hughson Huskies have won four consecutive Section titles under head coach Rod Cree and this year they are on their way to five, anchored by six soon-to-be collegiate athletes.
This year marks a unique scenario for one of the best softball teams in the area because not only are they off to a perfect 13-0 start but this team is the heftiest senior squad that coach Cree has ever led.
“Well this season is different because we do have so many seniors,” said Cree. “Usually in their senior year most girls have their heart set somewhere else and don't play as well but this year the girls are not letting that happen, if anything they are playing as good as ever and making it as good as they can.”
Jessica Garcia, Mackenzie Babbitt, Taylor Lutz, Brittany Vankonynenburg, Courtney Thornhill, and Savannah Ahumada are the six individuals that will be taking their athletic talents on to the next level and play at the collegiate level after each receiving multiple offers from various universities.
Their scouting process began early on due to various reasons and probably the most obvious, because they can all play softball and understand the game as good as anybody in their age bracket, said Cree. By the end of their junior seasons, all but two had essentially committed and signed to their respective schools.
“It’s been really nice having this team,” Cree said. “I had a meeting last year after awards and point blank I asked if they were willing to put the effort or asked if they will have senioritis and asked if their hearts will not be in it and they all wanted to get five section championships in a row.”
With so many seniors, they are a very experienced team that has a maturity that is unlike any other and the discipline these ladies have shown has impressed many on and off the field.
“I let them run the show more normally this time and that's what you hope for an experienced team,” Cree said. “If the girls are taking charge then it’s easier for the rest of the bunch to get things going and it’s been fun. They are all great humans aside from being great softball players and everything has been first class.”
Interestingly enough to say for a team that has won 19 or more games since the 2009 seasons and has owned the Trans Valley League with a current 74-11 league record since then.
Garcia and Babbitt have been described by Cree as 'five-tool players' which essentially means they have little to no weaknesses and can run well, hit for power and average, have great arms, and possess intelligence and a competitive drive.
Garcia will be attending Oregon State University and Babbitt had set her sights on California State University, Northridge for a while and signed last year.
During their four-year varsity stint at Hughson, neither future Division I player has held a batting average less than .459.
After 12 games, Garcia is currently batting .497 and Babbitt has a surreal average of .618.
“They are just tremendous people as well. Everything you want in a player and kid,” Cree said about Babbitt and Garcia. “Which is the best part about them, they are top of the line athletes but also people. I put those two together because they are very similar. They both had a lot of interest from many D-I schools.”
After missing her junior year due to injury, Taylor Lutz is back and decided to join former Hughson Huskie Katelyn Harden over at Dominican University.
“She is a hard worker and fun to be around and knows the team extremely well, and knows the game very well and it’s a great division for her, so she will do well,” Cree said.
Savannah Ahumada is going to be attending Dakota Weslyan University for the upcoming year.
“She is one of my favorites. She is the attitude on the team. She has the big voice and she is always cheering for her teammates and telling them where to be and she is the team voice,” said Cree. “She is a really strong third baseman and has a lot of power, big clutch hitter as well, but biggest thing is leadership. If you come to our games, you will hear Savannah.”
Courtney Thornhill just recently decided to commit to play at Humboldt State and she is currently having a great year with an ERA of 0.12, an 11-0 record and is batting .471.
“Courtney throws really hard. She has the gift of an arm. She worked this last offseason harder than ever in her life to make sure she was in shape to handle this season,” said Cree. “She knew and stayed dedicated to being ready and it’s starting to show that the work has paid off.”
Brittany Vankonynenburg, who has currently taken over the first base duties is currently batting .391 and has decided to take her skills to Tabor College in Hillboro, Kansas.
“She is really good at playing softball. She knows where to be and a good leader and one of our better clutch hitters. If you know you need a hit and she’s coming up, you’re in good shape,” Cree added.
Hughson's next game will be at Ripon High against the Indians at 4 p.m. Friday.