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Sterling seniors hoping to make most of last go-round

One last hurrah

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 11:37 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 11:38 p.m. CDT
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Philip Marruffo/pmaruffo@saukvalley.com Sterling Stephanie Kester is one of six seniors for the Golden Warriors that played on the 2008 Little League All-Star team that finished third at the World Series.

It seems like just yesterday, but the Little League World Series memories are still vivid in minds of the Sterling Golden Warrior seniors who were there.

The 2013 Warriors softball team features six players who were on the first Sterling team to visit Alpenrose Stadium in Portland, Ore., back in the late summer of 2008. All six are seniors now, and this spring marks their final chance to represent Sterling on the softball scene.

"I still remember that like it was yesterday," Priscilla Aponte said. "It's weird to think this is our last high-school season."

"It seems like it went by really fast," Bailey Oetting agreed. "It's been 5 years, but it's crazy that we're already seniors."

Time may have flied, but so have the Golden Warriors. Four of those six seniors were part of last year's run to the 3A sectional final, a team that boasted a school-record 31 wins.

In fact, the group has never failed to win a conference championship, and they're looking for more of the same in 2013.

"You always hear about programs reloading," coach Rick Henderson said. "That's how I feel about this team right now. We have so much talent – almost too much – that it's tough to find spots for everybody … and that's a problem you'd love to have every year."

Those six seniors – Aponte, Oetting, Darien Bardoner, Stephanie Kester, McKenna Pearson and Jenn Rahn – aren't the only Warriors with LLWS experience. They are joined by freshmen Abri Hale, Shannon Long and Erin Stroup, who were integral parts of Sterling's 2011 LLWS championship team.

Two groups of Little League heroes, one varsity softball team. Talk about bridging the gap between age groups.

"It's really cool that we all get to play together now," Oetting said. "To be 3 years apart, and two successful Little League World Series teams apart, it's fun to be playing on the same team now."

Fun isn't the only word to describe the mingling of two talented groups of players used to success.

"You can definitely feel the competitiveness between the two age groups," Aponte said. "They want to prove they belong on varsity, and that just pushes us older players and makes us better."

Henderson, now in his second stint and 10th year overall as Sterling's varsity coach, was unsure how his veterans would react to the talented upstarts. What he got, though, was close to what he expected from a group of third- and fourth-year varsity players.

"It could have gone either way, but I've loved the senior leadership," he said. "They could have been jealous or mad at us coaches for even thinking of bringing up some of the younger girls. But they've responded so well, just gone out and really picked it up from Day 1 in everything they've done."

According to the seniors, jealousy was never really in the cards. Instead, the idea of a strong group of underclassmen coming into the program only boosted their morale.

After all, the goal this year at Sterling is a fourth straight conference crown and another deep postseason run … and talent is talent, no matter how old the players are.

"It really makes us a stronger program, and that's what it's all about," Kester said. "We have so much talent, and it's not only the Little League World Series girls; we've got some really good players who weren't on those teams, too. We're so deep, and if we can put it all together, I think we'll be hard to beat."

For two groups of girls who have already made their marks and left their legacies in Sterling's Little League program, the seniors now know how key their younger teammates can be in helping them leave Sterling High School with similar accolades.

"We want to go out with a bang," Oetting said. "This is our last chance, and we definitely want to make the most of it."

"We want to put Sterling softball on the map again," Aponte added. "We've been fortunate to do that in the past, and that's the way we want to leave high school, too."

LLWS stars

On Sterling varsity roster

2008 LLWS players: Priscilla Aponte, Darien Bardoner, Stephanie Kester, Bailey Oetting, McKenna Pearson, Jenn Rahn (all seniors)

2011 LLWS players: Abri Hale , Shannon Long, Erin Stroup (all freshmen)

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