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CENTER POINT — A little less bark. A little less bite.
That’s the demeanor of the second edition of John Olachnovitch, high school softball coach.
“My temper still gets away from me sometimes,” said Olachnovitch, in his second year at Center Point-Urbana. “I guess that’s the drill sergeant in me. But I’ve found that kids react better when you talk to them instead of bark.”
This is a story of the (moderately) old coach and the (extremely) young team. The sixth-ranked Stormin’ Pointers (28-9) make their first state appearance in 20 years on Monday, when they face Greene County (27-7) in a Class 3A quarterfinal. First pitch is 5 p.m. at the Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge.
CPU is one of nine area teams that have qualified. Without a doubt, it’s the greenest.
The starting lineup features seven freshmen and an eighth-grader.
“They can be kind of goofy off the field, and sometimes we have to make sure they stay on task,” said junior catcher Elizabeth Hearn, who along with pitcher Samantha Croghan (another junior), provide the veteran leadership. “But when it’s time to play, they get down to business.”
It’s that young talent that brought Olachnovitch, now 62, back into the high-school ranks.
He coached at Linn-Mar from 1992 through 2002, taking the Lions to state in 1995. He resigned to become the pitching coach at UNI, then has spent his past eight springs as an assistant at Mount Mercy.
Now he’s back in the third-base coaching box, with his full mop of hair and his trademark horseshoe mustache turned white.
“When the job came open, the first thing I had to do was ask for permission from my wife (Cindy),” Olachnovitch said. “We had seen some of these kids at our (Mount Mercy) clinics, and we knew this was a good group of kids that loved softball.”
Mount Mercy head coach Larry Yoder is Olachnovitch’s assistant at CPU.
“Larry’s in charge in the winter and spring, and I’m in charge in the summer,” Olachnovitch said.
It’s two different roles, and it’s two different atmospheres.
“The biggest adjustment to make is (within) me,” Olachnovitch said. “You remember these are 14-, 15-year-old kids.
“I used to go off on kids when I was at Linn-Mar. I try not to do that any more.”
In Olachnovitch’s world, mistakes are part of the game. Mistakes are forgiveable.
Lack of effort, that’s bound to test his patience.
During practice Wednesday, when an infielder didn’t dive for a ground ball, the result was a raised voice and five pushups — for everybody. When an outfielder didn’t race for a fly ball, practice ceased as he marched to the fence where the ball landed, then counted the steps to the outfielder.
“You could have had that ball if you gave full effort,” he said.
Freshman Katelyn Banning said, “He expects a lot out of us. He doesn’t treat us like we’re young.
“Like he says, practice is his day to teach. We get game days, to play.”
Not only on game days. Later Wednesday, a few hours after practice had ended, the players battled their parents in a game of Wiffleball.
A real drill sergeant wouldn’t allow that.
CPU is taking its first team to state since 1994. The Stormin’ Pointers reached the regional finals last year before falling to Monticello. This time, they banged their way through the door to Fort Dodge, collecting 12 hits in an 8-5 regional-final win over Mount Vernon.
Most of the players have been on various ASA teams for years. Then, they come together in the summer to represent their school.
Banning, for instance, plays for a club team called the Barracudas.
“I really like club ball. but (playing for CPU), it’s a different atmosphere,” she said. “A lot of fans come to the games, and it’s more intense.
“With club ball, there’s another weekend, another tournament. But with high-school ball, at the end of the season, it’s do or die. I like the pressure situations.”
Then she’ll love this week. The 3A field is wide-open for the taking to whichever team gets hot.
“We need to show up,” Hearn said. “If we do, if we play Pointer softball, we can hang with anybody.”
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