The Varsity Baseball team turned more double plays this spring than they have in the previous five seasons combined.
"That was huge," new Head Coach Mac Estrada said. "To see the progression of kids actually knowing what to do in certain situations, and having the quickness to be able to do it."
And that's just one statistic that shows the team's momentum.
During the state tournament, four of the team's nine starters were freshmen. The team only graduated two seniors this year and will return next year as a young but experienced bunch. "To have such a young team and come back and be able to develop that is a really cool thing," said Coach Estrada, who in 2007 started a 10-year stint as assistant coach.
According to the coach, 2010 marked the first year in recent history that the team advanced to the state tournament. That kicked off a trend: the team has advanced every year since then. In 2011 and 2012, they had back-to-back region titles. This year, the team took third in the region. Now that he has one season in the lead role under his belt, Coach Estrada plans to hone the team's practice regime for next year.
"We're progressing, doing better, and staying consistent with guys coming back," he said. "The guys who have been involved are passionate."
Returning players have proved that passion. In 2016, the team graduated four strong seniors—three of whom were named to the All-Region team—leaving holes to fill on the roster. Coach Estrada praised this year's returning players for hitting the ground hard to recruit new teammates; canceling the season was never an option for those dedicated Winged Lions.
Going from an incomplete roster to third in the region is its own success story. Coach Estrada cites a few other season highlights. At the very start of a game against North Summit High School—on the very first pitch—junior Luke Nicoloff hit a homerun.
Then, there's sophomore Austin Davison's entire season.
Austin is a statewide powerhouse. According to the statistics on trusted high school sports website MaxPreps, he's currently Utah's #1 player in batting average, slugging, and on-base percentage (OBP). In those three categories, he trumps the next-highest players by significant margins and even made appearances in national rankings. He finished his season #1 in the state in runs batted in (RBIs) and now sits at #3. The MaxPreps rankings cover all schools—public and independent—and all divisions, not just 2A.
Austin has been surrounded by supportive and talented teammates and passionate coaches who have helped him to achieve success in the Rowland Hall program, Athletics Director Kendra Tomsic said. And Coach Estrada is one of those supporters: he said Austin has shown this command of the game since his freshman year. "His next two years are going to be exciting to watch, for sure," the coach said.
In May, Austin was the only sophomore invited to the 2A All-Star game and ranked second of 30 in the home-run derby. This summer, he'll be participating in nationally high-profile baseball programs. At the end of June, he'll be part of a 17U free-agent team at the USA Baseball National Team Championships (East) in Florida—this also serves as a tryout for the prestigious 17U National Team Development Program. He'll attend camps, showcases, or meetings at a slew of colleges. He'll also be heading to Puerto Rico as part of the 18-member Planet Baseball team led by college coaches.
Baseball is his passion, but Austin also enjoys playing on Rowland Hall's basketball team. "Basketball has been a boon to my conditioning routine," Austin wrote in his personal statement on Next College Student Athlete, a recruiting website. Thanks in part to basketball Coach Ronnie Ross' sprinting drills, Austin is currently #18 in Utah for stolen bases.
During a clinic here in Salt Lake City, University of Utah Baseball Assistant Coach Jay Brossman gave Austin and other young athletes some advice. "Coach told my group that our chances of playing in college would be small," Austin wrote, "but for any of us to have a chance to play in college or beyond, we would first have to become the best player on our team, then the best player in our region, the best player in our conference, then the best player in our state."
Austin's certainly working toward that. He also has a specific goal he'd like to achieve here at Rowland Hall: he wants to be the second student-athlete to have his jersey retired on his graduation day. He called the goal "lofty but attainable." Given what Austin's already accomplished in two years, it might just be in the cards.