'Tis the season to challenge yourself

Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

High school softball season is the time to test myself. It’s an opportunity for me to get comfortable with changes I have made over the winter.

For example, this last winter I learned a new pitching style, and this spring I am perfecting my mechanics. I am not playing against “the best of the best,” and I am in a more relaxed environment to just get in there and play.

In contrast, summer season is when it’s go time. Day-in-and-day-out I am competing against the very best players in the country. For me, it’s when I want to peak in my training, and by nationals I should be at my very best. It is my biggest challenge and it shows me what I truly need to improve on because I am playing against the girls I will be facing in college.

What I have found is that high school season can become a goof-off and social time, and for the college-bound athlete, it can be easy to fall into that. So learn to challenge yourself; make your own competition. It’s very easy to lose your mechanics in the high school season if the talent level is not the same as it is in travel ball. Basically, the 15 home runs you hit in high school mean nothing if you get to an exposure tournament and go 0 for 5 against pitchers going to Division I schools.

That brings me back to my point of challenging yourself. High school season doesn’t have to be a time to coast; it can be so much more than that. It is an opportunity to test new things in your mechanics or learn new things about yourself as a player. Take advantage of it.

My challenge this high school season is to develop my rise ball. We are calling it at least twice for every batter, and whether or not it’s a strike every time, we keep throwing it. You have to fail to be able to succeed, and why not fail now? It’s easy for me to throw a fastball right down the middle every time and strike girls out, but that’s not making me better.

Realize that high school season is a huge opportunity for growth and it is something that should be taken advantage of. I would much rather fail a couple times in high school season than fail at Premier Nationals when it truly counts. Take this opportunity to work on your pitches or get some at-bats and see the ball.

You have to be willing to sacrifice some statistics by challenging yourself, but it is so worth it to be at your peak in the summer and eventually gain those stats back against better competition.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on her fire to compete – here.