In just the span of three years coaching softball in the Moon Area School District, Ally Niggel has moved from seventh and eighth grade coach to junior varsity coach to varsity coach.
Now the first-year varsity coach hopes to see a similar progression from her team as the Tigers try to bounce back from a 5-12 season and make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Moon welcomes back five letter-winners this season, including a pair of collegiate softball recruits, senior pitcher Erika Aughton and senior shortstop Alex Kleer.
Aughton will play at Grove City next season. She is one of the strongest pitchers in the section and one of the top bats in the Moon lineup, hitting cleanup.
"I would say her biggest strength [as a pitcher] is location," Niggel said. "She has the speed, but I wouldn't call her a speed pitcher. It is more about accuracy."
Kleer, who will play at Pitt-Greensburg next season, will bat either first or second in the lineup.
"Her strength is running," Niggel said. "She is very quick and very smart. She is a right-handed hitter but she can slap [as a left-handed batter] if needed."
Aughton and Kleer, like the majority of the players in Moon's starting lineup, play travel ball.
Junior center fielder Katie Daczkowski, junior first baseman Deana Watson and junior third baseman Tori Vojtash all play travel ball as well.
Daczkowski is a returning letter-winner who has been on the varsity squad since her freshman year. She will bat either one or two depending where Kleer ultimately ends up. Along with playing at first base, Watson can also pitch.
Freshman Meg Heller is another player who plays travel ball. Niggel has high expectations for this ninth-grader. She previously coached Heller when she was in seventh grade. Heller is expected to start at catcher.
Last season Moon finished fifth in the six-team section with a 3-7 record. The section takes on a new look this year with Chartiers Valley and McGuffey moving out and Carrick, Ringgold and South Fayette moving in. Niggel is a South Fayette High School alumna.
The section also features defending WPIAL champion Montour.
"I am just hoping to be competitive," Niggel said. "If we can play consistently every game, we can be competitive this year."
The Tigers are in the same situation as a lot of teams early on in the season having to cancel games and move practices inside. Moon's first two games against South Side Beaver and a section contest against Carrick have already been postponed. The only game they had played through Tuesday was a 6-2 loss against Ambridge Area on March 27.
The Tigers, maybe moreso than most teams in the WPIAL, could really use a chance to get outside.
"I think we'll have dominant pitching," Niggel said. "Hitting, I don't know. They're crushing the ball in the cages right now, but it's so hard to tell until you get outside."