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Newly Minted Central Clarion Softball Team Has Some Big Goals for First Season of Clarion, Clarion-Limestone Co-op

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Alyssa Wiant welcomed it.

So did Abby Knapp-Greeley.

(Pictured above, Abby Knapp-Greeley and Alyssa Wiant will be key cogs for the Central Clarion softball team, a co-op between Clarion and Clarion-Limestone for the first time/photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)

Softball standouts at Clarion-Limestone last spring, the two seniors got a front-row seat of the daily struggles in simply fielding a team.

Their rivals, Clarion, was in the same unenviable boat. Thin roster. Scuffling on the field.

It was only logical for the two programs to merge this season, hoping two teams that had a hard time in 2023 will bolster each other as newly minted Central Clarion in 2024.

It was an act of survival for both softball teams.

“Honestly, I was pretty excited about it because if we didn’t combine, C-L wouldn’t have a softball team to even play,” Knapp-Greeley said. “I haven’t played with the girls since Little League, so it was kind of fun to reunite.”

“Like Abby said, we really struggled last year getting enough girls, between injuries and if someone was sick or had something else going on,” Wiant added. “We struggled to get enough girls to even play games. It’s really nice to know that we have that depth in our lineup and we have a lot of girls now who can play different positions. We can mix people around and still have a strong lineup.”

Clarion-Limestone and Clarion combined to win just three games last season.

But with a more robust roster of 16 — an even eight-eight split between the two schools — there is definitely some talent.

Wiant batted .455 with nine doubles, two home runs and 16 RBIs for the Lions last season. Knapp-Greeley hit .426 with a homer. C-L junior Samantha Simpson and her .417 average returns and Lions’ junior Jenna Dunn, a .413 hitter is also back.

Clarion senior Emily Troese, along with other former Bobcats, will also be counted on to be a big contributor this season for Central Clarion.

With a new start comes new expectations for a group of players hungry for success.

“Ultimately, we want to win the KSAC,” Central Clarion coach Joe Lopez said on the Main Street Sports Show on March 7. “This is probably the last time I’m gonna talk about it. You don’t just say, ‘Hey, we want to win the KSAC’ and hope that it happens. It’s coming in every single day, working hard, working together, doing things the right way, hoping you leave a little bitter each day.”

Wiant said the meshing of the two programs has gone very well.

It helps that many of the players that have come together on the Wildcats’ roster have played together in the past.

“We’ve all pretty much known each other since Little League,” Wiant said. “A lot of us played together, if not multiple years, at least one. So it was really easy for us to come together. There was only a few girls who hadn’t met yet. We’re just figuring out a few things. But it’s been fun just having new teammates and being able to learn new things from different people.”

The merging of the two programs has also resulted in the filling of some major holes.

Wiant said the strengths of each team fit together like a puzzle.

“That’s exactly how it was,” she said. “I mean, I feel like we have a lot of good athletes. Last year, we just didn’t have the depth in our lineup to move people around like that. I felt like Clarion had the same situation. They have good athletes, but we just needed a few missing spots, and they needed to fill a few missing spots. Now we can do that.”

That flexibility should be a big boon for Central Clarion this year.

Knapp-Greeley will move full time behind the plate. To say last year was an adventure for her would be an understatement.

During a practice while playing in the field, she lost a fly ball in the sun — and then lost a tooth as the softball crashed into her mouth.

And “Gail” was born — Knapp-Greeley’s missing-toothed-grinning alter ego.

She hopes for no more mishaps this season at catcher.

“I’m probably going to be behind the plate,” she said. “No missing teeth for me.”

What Knapp-Greeley brings to Central Clarion beyond a good average and some speed on the bases is an effervescent personality.

“My main focus it to just hone in on my one spot and do the best I can for the team, if I’m on the field or off the field, just cheering on the girls,” Knapp-Greeley said. “Our main focus this year is kind of just energy and making sure we keep it up and keep everybody up as a team. So far we’re doing that. We’ve been working really well together. It’s been really nice actually.”

It has Knapp-Greeley buying into the belief that this team can chase titles and put those struggles of the past behind them.

“I think this year is going to go pretty smoothly,” Knapp said. “Plus, with the coaching staff we have this year, it’s going to be great. Coach Lopez, honestly, he’s one of the best softball coaches I’ve ever had. He’s so organized. He wants to win and you can tell. We’re trying to get that KSAC title at least.”