Sterling junior Lauren Fritz spent most of last season's fourth-place state run watching from the bench as senior Bailey Oetting handled all of the duties behind the plate.
Fritz, then a sophomore, tried to soak in as much information from the senior as she could in hopes to ready herself for her junior season, as she figured to be the team's starting catcher.
"I was part of the team, but I was more just helping out rather than hitting and fielding," Fritz said of last season. "I knew my role."
This season, she got what she wanted, and was handed the starting catching role by first-year coach Becki Edmondson. But it wasn't a full-time role, as the Golden Warriors had a young, talented sophomore, Nadia Trujillo, waiting in the wings.
Edmondson knew of Trujillo's ability at the plate, and figured that she would be a great addition to the varsity squad. The only issue was that Trujillo was a catcher, and Edmondson knew that if she was going to call Trujillo up to the varsity squad, she would have to play every day.
"We knew that if we brought Nadia up, it wouldn't be fair for her just to hit," Edmondson said. "She would have hit and caught every inning of every game at the sophomore level, and we didn't want to do that to her."
So Edmondson decided to use both at the catching position this season, splitting time evenly between Fritz and Trujillo. The two will catch during this weekend's 3A state tournament in East Peoria.
The hope, at first, was to see if one would pull away from the other to earn the full-time starting gig. But as the season marched on, Edmondson realized that the team benefited from what each player does well.
"They both offer different strengths," Edmondson said. "I like the way they complement what we want to do."
Edmondson decided to use Fritz as the starting catcher, and bring Trujillo in during the fourth or fifth inning. She likes Fritz's leadership abilities and vocal directions she gives to the fielders. Trujillo acts as a strong late-inning defensive addition, as Edmondson describes the sophomore as a "backstop," and likes her aggressiveness in throwing down to bases for pickoff attempts.
But while the move has worked out nicely for Sterling, it took the two catchers some time to feel comfortable in their reduced catching roles, as both wanted to be the starter.
Early on, Fritz was at war with herself mentally, trying to overcome the switch. She remembers having a hard time keeping her concentration in the last half of games, when it felt like she was being pulled.
"In the beginning, it was weird," Fritz said. "You never hear about catchers switching all the time. I knew I still had to do my part, but I would get down on myself.
"I wouldn't really care about batting, because I would get down. I would mentally not be all in the game, but I started to figure it out once I learned my role."
Once Fritz overcame the mental barrier of seemingly being taken out of the game, her overall play improved, and she started to enjoy splitting time. It kept her fresh, and she was able to focus more on batting in the later innings.
Trujillo has also grown to appreciate the role. She thought she would have been the team's starting catcher after being called up from the sophomore team, but saw the advantages of the platoon situation right away.
"I wouldn't say we were battling for the spot," Trujillo said. "We're both pretty equal. It was different, but we became really good friends because we talk more.
"It wasn't about the competition from the beginning, because we already had spots. I just looked at it as having fun and being able to play the game."
Like the two catchers, freshman pitcher Lexy Staples had to adjust to throwing to a different catcher halfway through a game. She admits it was tough at first, but it is now a seamless transition.
Staples and Fritz became fast friends early in the season, and Staples was familiar with Trujillo, as the two had been battery mates since they were 8 years old.
"You figure out pretty quick that they are both great catchers," Staples said. "I know how each sets up, and what they want to do, so it's not really an issue anymore."
FYI: Has three home runs and is tied for second on the team in RBIs with 27.
FYI: In her first full varsity season, she is second on the team with 11 doubles and has played in every game.