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FAMILIAR FACE: A-C Valley Grad Lauren (McNany) Forrest Returns Home to Take Over Reins of Union/A-C Valley Softball Program

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Lauren (McNany) Forrest was facing the prospect of the first spring without softball since she was a little girl growing up in Emlenton.

Softball has always been a big part of Forrest’s life.

She excelled at A-C Valley during her high school days and was also a force on the diamond at Chatham University.

After she graduated from college, she served a year as a volunteer assistant coach at Chatham before leaving after last season.

Suddenly, she was without a softball future.

“I get bored when it’s not softball season,” Forrest said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Man, this is gonna be my first year without softball and it’s gonna be so weird.”

Then fate stepped in.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

The head softball coaching job at Union/A-C Valley opened up and Forrest jumped at the chance. She applied and was hired.

Softball was back in her life again.

“I had been talking to a couple of people and they were saying that the coach from last year (Mike Parks) was resigning,” Forrest said. “I was like, ‘Well, I would be interested if that opens up.’ It finally opened up, so I was like. ‘Alright. Here we go.’”

Forrest was thrilled for the opportunity to coach and stay involved in the game.

She’s already putting her stamp on her new team.

“We’ve been having some open gyms. We’ve been going every day the past two weeks,” Forrest said. “We’ve been working. We have a lot of good bats. It’s gonna be hard to pick just nine.”

Forrest has amped up the intensity during the open gyms.

That has not gone unnoticed by her new players.

“They’ve been running … a lot,” Forrest said, chuckling. “We’re just trying to get in shape. We have three or four games a week this year, so we definitely need to be in good shape to be able to play that many in a week. I actually heard (senior Bella Ielase) the one day after practice say, ‘Man. I don’t think we’ve ever worked out at softball.’ So I think that’s definitely new for them. But you know, I’ve still had a great turnout for open gyms despite all the running and working out we’ve done. I think they’re buying into it and they’re ready to work.”

So is Forrest, who never shied away from a challenge in her own softball career.

It was tumultuous at times, especially at Chatham where the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked havoc with her career.

Forrest — then McNany — finally got on the field in 2021 and posted a .347 average in 32 games.

In 2022, she batted .304 with a homer and 24 RBIs. She played several games at catcher because of injuries.

Now as high school coach, she definitely still feels the itch to mix it up.

“It’s definitely weird. I mean, I definitely have that desire when you’re trying to show them something to take a couple of swings,” Forrest said. “I pitched to them (Wednesday night). It kind of makes you want to compete again, but I’m ready. I think they’re learning a lot. I’ve seen a lot of improvements in them just over the past couple of weeks that we’ve been working. I’m really excited to see what we can do this season.”

Union/A-C Valley can certainly pile up the runs.

Last season, the Falcon Knights scored 169 runs in 19 games and hit .364 as a team.

Mackenzie Parks, who batted .544, is gone, but there is plenty of thump returning in Maddy Dehart (.444), Ielase (.343), Alivya Hartzell (.442), Emerson Stevens (.339) and Rylan Strauser (.365).

Things are certainly different for Forrest now than when she played in high school.

Then A-C Valley and Union each had its own teams. Now there is a co-op.

Forrest has had to navigate that.

“It’s definitely a lot,” Forrest said. “I had to get keys for two schools. Find out where all the equipment is. I didn’t know where anything was. So I got Ava Schreckengost a senior at Union and Bella, a senior at A-C Valley, and I tell them, ‘Here’s what I want set up for today.’ And that’s how we kind of run every practice. I’m relying on them a lot.”

Forrest is also fortunate she has a flexible work schedule in the admissions department at the Clarion Pediatric Center.

“It’s been very good softball-wise,” Forrest said. “It’s been working great. I’m really grateful.”

A hectic schedule is nothing new to Forrest. She quite enjoys it.

“I’m kind of used to the go, go, go,” she said. “I would be bored if I had time to myself. 

“I’m excited,” Forrest added. “We have a lot of good girls.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.