For Kate Fleming, playing on the Princeton Day School softball team over the last four years has been a true labor of love.
Fleming and fellow seniors Dina Alter, Jessica Toltzis, and Tess Zahn, didn’t go into each spring with visions of titles.
Instead, they simply tried to keep the program afloat as the team struggled to attract enough players to compete.
“Jess, Tess, Dina, and I all love playing softball; we have all played travel,” said Fleming.
“We always wanted to play and it was great to be able to field teams all the years, even when we thought we weren’t going to have one. Last year, in particular, was really, really tough.”
Last Wednesday, the quartet of classmates got some love as they were honored on Senior Day before the Panthers played Trenton with PDS athletics director Tim Williams and head coach Paul Lano extolling them for sticking things out.
“It was just so nice, we four seniors have had a tough round,” said Fleming. “When we were coming up, we always had to work to get nine players so it was really nice to have a ceremony and have Tim Williams recognize us for it and coach Lano. We loved having him as a coach. It was nice to just hear how he feels about us.”
The seniors’ efforts to promote the program has paid off as this year’s roster totals 14 players.
“This is one of our first years where we have more than one sub,” said Fleming.
“We are so happy because we are able to have extra people on the team. Practices are more fun; we can do more things in practice, which is great. There are so many underclassmen too; it is really great because they will come up in the program and be able to bring the new incoming classes in to our program. I am really excited about that.”
Fleming and her classmates have enjoyed acting as mentors for their younger teammates.
“It has just been a great experience just teaching the younger players because all four of us have had that role,” added Fleming.
“We haven’t been a very advanced team so it’s been fun to really get to know the underclassmen and be able to teach them.”
In the game against Trenton, the Panthers displayed what they have learned as the game was tied at 3-3 going into the sixth inning before the Tornadoes pulled away to a 12-3 win. Fleming crushed a double to the left field fence in the first inning and had an RBI in the fifth to help spark PDS.
“That was probably my biggest hit of the season,” said Fleming, referring to her two-bagger.
“We played awesome today, this is one of the best games we have played. I am just really happy that everyone was on task and everyone’s head was in the game today.”
PDS head coach Lano was thrilled to see Fleming get some big hits against Trenton. “I am happy for her, she is so deserving,” said Lano.
“Tess and Jess were the hit leaders for this team and Kate would fall in right behind them to a degree. Kate was building and building, she was a great defensive player. She would always give quality at-bats. I am just so happy that she got to see what it feels like to hit a couple of bombs.”
Fleming’s heroics were contagious as the Panthers put together a couple of rallies to scratch out their three runs.
“The younger players are all starting to hit and to make contact and that breeds confidence,” said Lano.
“Once you start doing things well that you don’t expect, then you start to become a little more confident and that is what excited me. Everyone was hitting and we had opportunities. In the first couple of innings it was fun to realize it was within reach.”
Lano realizes how much his seniors have given of themselves to help the team’s younger players. “It is the sacrifice that they made that chokes me up, to be honest,” said Lano.
“They have given up a lot of their practice time to provide help and instruction and things for the newcomers and the players who were not as gifted as they were. We knew we had something in the beginning of the year and I think that is why the seniors made that special effort, especially this year. That sacrifice is not common in athletics.”
That sacrifice has laid the foundation for PDS to prosper going forward.
“That is something we all can be proud of but that is their legacy and that is what they are leaving behind,” asserted Lano, whose team fell to Morrisville on Thursday to end the spring at 0-9.
“It is because of their work that they have put in that this program is going to shine. It is going to have even better days that they didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy. That is what it is all about, planting the seeds and they did that, they were part of it.”
Fleming, for her part, believes the program can grow into something special. “I am really happy that we all stuck it out, the four of us,” said Fleming.
“I just appreciate everyone who stuck it out and kept playing with us, even the girls who stepped in last year and this year who have never played before. It is just awesome to see that and hopefully we can continue that in the upcoming years.”