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Tom Rysinski: Love is all around for Pahump Valley softball team

Say what you want — and people have said, are saying and will say plenty — but it worked.

When Cassondra Lauver and her all-star cast of coaches joined the celebration after the Pahrump Valley High School softball team won its first state championship since 2005, she would have been forgiven for thinking about vindication.

Not everyone was jubilant when she got the softball coaching job, knowing full well her husband, Rich, would be part of the package deal. Rich is as intense as it gets, and when a fire breaks out some people wonder if he’s running to get water or gasoline.

But the two of them make a great team, and they, the coaching staff they have assembled and a driven, talented group of players made the preseason goal of a state championship a reality.

Changing coaches is not always a smooth process. Sometimes one coach favors a certain type of player and the next coach might like a very different type. Some coaches are more concerned with defense than others. Some coaches want fiery players, others prefer more laid-back personalities. And that doesn’t even start to take into account personal relationships.

And when the new coaches are known quantities with clearly defined personalities who have a previous relationship with many of the players, well, the climate is ripe for all kinds of issues.

“People hear things, and you can either go find out for yourself and see for yourself what’s actually going on or you can believe what other people say,” Cassondra Lauver said after the Trojans defeated Fernley 13-10 in eight innings for the state title. “I don’t think there’s a person that’s a part of our program that would doubt the love our coaches have for any of these girls, and yes, one coach in particular.”

Love. Love is all around. All you need is love.

Yada yada yada. It sounds like such crap, unless, of course, you have been hearing it from every single player every single time you ask them anything after every single game all season long.

“We’re just like a family,” Ally Rily said. “We bonded so tight, and we’re just so close. We enjoy the game and that’s why we got so far. It’s wasn’t like we have to win, we have to win … we wanted to win.”

“We just love each other so much and we have so much confidence in each other,” Jackie Stobbe said. “We know if one of us strikes out that there’s someone else coming right back behind us.”

“I feel like we’re a talented group of girls, we just needed the love factor, the intangible factor,” McKayla Bartley added.

What makes this year’s team better? Love.

Why will this team do better at states than previous Pahrump Valley teams? Love.

Yep, that’s the secret. Other teams can hit, pitch and field, but we love each other. Everyone is wearing flowers in her hair. It’s San Francisco 1967 all over again. Except it’s not.

Nobody, most certainly not Rich Lauver, is telling kids to tune in, turn on and drop out. This kind of love assumes that focus and energy and desire and skill and willingness to get better are already there. Their shared goals bring them together, but they are convinced love makes it all happen.

I’m as cynical as the next person. OK, as cynical as the next few million people. Probably more cynical. Normally when I hear this kind of thing I reach for a bucket.

But keep listening.

“We just loved each other and overcame everything that came toward us,” freshman catcher Deeanna Egan said. “It’s just the love of the game.”

There’s that word again.

“We all love each other, we all support each other no matter what,” Hannah Cuellar said.

Somebody call the schmaltz police.

Ask any player why this year’s team was able to win a state championship — without losing a single game in the double-elimination postseason tournaments — while previous Trojans teams combined for six consecutive losses against Northern Nevada schools at the state tournament going back to 2014, and that’s all you hear.

Not that the pitching is better. (It is.) Not that the defense is tighter. (It is, even if it faltered a bit against Fernley.) Not that the batting order is deeper. (Actually, the Trojans hit well most seasons.)

Nope, it’s love. Whole lotta love. Love will keep us together. Love in an elevator.

Oh, wait, I kind of ran off the rails with that last one. But you get the point. They really, really mean this. And it starts from the top.

“My coaching staff is incredible,” Cassondra Lauver said. “I love these people. We all just have special qualities that we offer each of these girls: infield coaches, outfield coaches, hitting coaches, catching coaches, pitching coaches. When we’re at the field practicing we can hone in on specific things we need to work on.

“I will tell you that the coaches I have on this staff love these kids and they will bend over backwards. They love being part of this program, and they are here for these girls day in and day out.”

Those words were in response to one question. One question, and “love” appears three times. And she meant it every time.

That entire coaching staff must be mentioned, because if this team is a family — and you hear that a lot, trust me — the assistant coaches are a big part of it. Before the season, Cassondra Lauver was raving about the high quality assistants she was able to bring on board, and if anything, those raves became louder as the season went on.

Whitney Roderick is a pitching coach, Sammy Charles is an infield coach and hitting coach, Rick Martin is a catching coach and hitting coach, Evandy Murphy is an outfield coach and handles conditioning, Susan Toomer is a catching coach and the head coach of the JV team, Sara Coleman-Colucci is a pitching coach and the assistant JV coach, Shane Rily is an outfield coach and a hitting coach, Taylor Frazier is a pitching coach and assistant varsity coach, Rich Lauver is a hitting coach and defense coach, and Cassondra Lauver is an outfield and hitting coach in addition to being the head varsity coach.

Make no mistake, this is a group effort. The face you might see the most might be Cassondra Lauver’s, and the voice you hear the most is definitely Rich Lauver’s, but the coaching staff is a team as much as the players on the field are a team. It’s something to see. And the players have responded to them.

“Every single coach that we have has put something forward whether they realize it or not,” junior second baseman Skyler Lauver said. “I’ve grown up with my parents being my coaches, so it’s something I’m kind of used to. But meeting coach Taylor and having Sara as my basketball coach and Whitney and Susan and Sammy and all the rest … everyone, they’re always there for me. Sammy is always helping me relax and calm my nerves. They all help out.”

“It’s energy,” Stobbe said. “I think the coaches have brought a new energy. It’s amazing.”

“They just bring happiness and their love for us and their love for the game,” Hannah Cuellar said.

Again. Love. Twice in one sentence. I’m about to dress up in an orange robe and throw money at some guru as he drives by waving from his Rolls Royce.

But there’s nothing phony or fake about this. And the players are convinced that those emotions were the difference between being a good team and being a championship team.

“I think it’s definitely our coaching staff and how much more heart our team has and how much more we can come together in situations like this,” Cable said, referring to the 10-6 deficit the Trojans faced in the state final.

“This year we just realized we can’t have any negativity, and we all came together as a family,” Egan said.

“The staff brings a sense of family,” Bartley agreed. “Honestly, we really wanted to do it for our seniors.”

“I think the difference is all of us played together,” Hannah Cuellar said. “Our hearts were in it.”

Yes, they were.

“It’s about character,” Cassondra Lauver said. “We’ve had a lot of compliments this weekend from strangers around this town (Mesquite) that you guys have great attitudes. Our girls are just incredible people, and that speaks volumes. That’s the team we want to be. We want to be competitive and tough, but they’re just great human beings.”

That’s a trait the Lauvers have carried over from their days coaching the Pretty Vicious club team. Rich was the head coach then, but the message was the same.

“We’re not about Pretty Vicious,” he said after the team disbanded. “We’re about individuals becoming as awesome as they can, and Pretty Vicious was the vehicle they rode to get to this point. We now need to let them go out and be able to play to their highest peak in whatever it is in life.”

“I believe that our actions speak for themselves,” Cassondra Lauver said. “We put kids first, and our coaching staff and players have done everything we could to deserve the honor of winning a state championship, whether or not we had won. Rich and I, along with the rest of my coaching staff, truly just feel so very blessed to be a part of this story.

“We are a cohesive unit with one goal in mind: help kids become better people. All of our energy must be spent on these kids. If we concern ourselves too much with what other people think, we are sacrificing time that should be spent on them.”

As she held the championship trophy in her hand as the players and coaches were packing up to leave Virgin Valley High School, Cassondra Lauver mentioned something Stobbe had said the night before.

“One of my girls said last night, ‘You guys love us a lot,’” she recalled. “Yes, we do.”

And don’t you forget it.

Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at trysinski@pvtimes.com On Twitter:@PVTimesSports

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