A Deep, Young Roster Led By Sophomore Tayler Biehl Has Vista Del Lago Softball Thinking Big Things For 2020 And Beyond •
They say that youth is wasted on the young. The Vista del Lago softball team hopes to prove that adage false in 2020.
To do that, the Eagles will look to ride a young roster to heights the program has never seen. Last season they challenged for the Capital Athletic League title, compiling a 22-6 record despite a roster with just one senior.
“We’ve been young before, but there was more on the shoulders of underclassmen last year than any team I have ever coached,” Vista del Lago softball coach Robert Reed said. His 2019 Eagles team included four freshmen and three sophomores who saw significant playing time. “This year will be easier for them to be at ease. They’ll have a role in the leadership of the team and develop their identity and expectations.”
Reed is the only softball coach Vista del Lago has had since the school opened in 2007. The veteran coach has logged 20 years as a head coach at Folsom’s two high schools. He has experienced youthful lineups, as the Eagles’ program began without upperclassmen on the campus. However, he’s never had such an impactful group of underclassmen.
That impact will continue to be felt for years to come — both at the league and section levels.
Leading the youth movement is sophomore shortstop Tayler Biehl. She almost immediately stepped in at the top of the lineup and the middle of the defense. Biehl led the Sac-Joaquin Section with 60 hits while batting .600, scoring 49 runs, stealing 26 bases, and anchored the defense with a .947 fielding percentage.
“She’s as solid a middle infielder as I’ve ever seen,” said four-year starter and middle infield partner Mia Perez. With a full year together in the middle of the infield, the duo will play a large role in Vista del Lago’s success in 2020.
The Eagles’ young guns included Grace Matej and Sammy Smith. The duo combined for 71 hits, 57 runs and 44 RBI as well as outfield depth. This season, Matej and Smith will add to the depth and versatility of the roster. Matej will move to catcher and Smith will be one of a handful of capable outfielders.
“We are very versatile,” Reed said. “We have a better mix of options to address depth everywhere on the field and for players to step in case of injury.”
Senior twins Hanna and Olivia Dominguez are capable of fielding multiple positions. Perez can also slide from second to third base when junior Lexi Holihan pitches. Holihan, who posted a 12-5 record and batted .432 and drove in a team-best 44 RBI while alternating between the hot corner and the circle, will again play an important role in the Eagles reaching their goals.
“We definitely have high hopes this season,” Holihan said. “We want to continue to bond as a team, win league, and go far in sections.”
In 2019, the fifth-seeded Eagles fell to No. 13 seed Ponderosa-Shingle Springs in the second round of the SJS Division II playoffs to abruptly end their season. The 2-1, 10-inning defeat was disappointing, but eye-opening at the same time.
“Coming off of that loss, I think that the team realized that they had the potential to go further. And that maybe we let something get away,” Reed said. “But it’s a good motivator. They understand that we have a good team with the potential to go a long way in the playoffs this year.”
Another lesson learned from the playoff loss was the need for consistency and confidence. “The want to win was missing early in the game,” Holihan said. “We need to have that early in the game, start hitting early and get confidence.”
Vista del Lago will face some tough competition to get battle-tested and prepare for playoff intensity. The Eagles will host Roseville, Sheldon-Sacramento, Elk Grove, Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills and Casa Roble-Orangevale throughout the season. It’s a slate built to gain insight and experience against teams with section championships and winning mentalities.
“It is important to see programs that have the tradition and mentality of a champion,” Reed said. “We need to have a similar mentality where the players believe that we can do it and we should do it.
“Playing against teams that will challenge us and provide a measuring stick to see where we are at and where we want to be will be good for when we face the challenges of the postseason.”
Perez is gaining valuable playoff experience before the softball season starts as a member of the Vista del Lago girls basketball team. The Eagles advanced to the section semifinals for the first time in program history and earned a berth to the NorCal regional playoffs despite falling to top-seeded Antelope in the section semis. A senior guard/forward, Perez averaged 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds while also preparing for the softball season.
“As a coach, I selfishly would love to have her full-time with softball. But I understand that it is important for athletes to enjoy their high school experience,” Reed said. “She is a consummate athlete and is working hard on her softball while still playing basketball.”
Despite focusing on hoops in the winter, Perez has made it to some softball practices. She plans to get outside and play on the diamond at every opportunity. During her limited time on the field with her teammates, though, Perez likes what she has seen from the team.
“I think that talent-wise, we have all of the boxes checked,” Perez said of the 2020 softball team. “If we can have the right mentality and keep focus throughout the season, then I believe that winning a section title is an attainable goal.”