Five years ago when Woodland Hills softball coach Tony Paganico met with the sixth and seventh graders who were playing softball at the middle school level, he told the group they would be the ones to put the program back on the map.
That was in 2008 and the Wolverines had not qualified for the playoffs since 2002.
Paganico set the bar high for the sixth and seventh graders early because he knew of the talent on the team and because he did not want the group to wait until their senior year to leave their mark.
They wasted very little time.
Now sophomores and juniors, the group makes up the nucleus of a playoff-qualifying Woodland Hills softball team, the first Wolverines team that can say that in 11 years.
Woodland Hills finished the regular season 8-5 overall and 7-5 in Class AAAA Section 2 to finish tied with Gateway for third and both qualified for the WPIAL playoffs. The Wolverines' playoff run was short-lived, however, as they lost to No. 5 seed Shaler Area, 11-0, on Tuesday.
That playoff appearance was the culmination of years of hard work.
"The first thing I said to them when I got them in sixth grade is that 'You will be the legacy for this school -- your legacy will be that you turn the program around,'" Paganico recalled.
"I didn't want them to wait until their senior year, I wanted them to do it in their sophomore and junior years and cap it off in their senor year."
The Wolverines began to turn things around last season. They were 23-112 over the previous nine seasons before this year. After a 2-12 campaign in 2011, they finished 7-9 last year.
Junior shortstop/pitcher Kelsey Geyer has been a catalyst for the turnaround. Geyer boasts one of the most impressive stat lines of any player in any high school sport.
Through three years of varsity softball on the Class AAAA level, she has never struck out. While playing shortstop, one of the most tasking defensive positions on the diamond, Geyer has only made two errors in three years. This season she is batting .500 with a .569 on-base percentage.
"To me, she is a Division I player," Woodland Hills coach Tony Paganico said. "She is like having another coach on the field. In my opinion she is one of the top two shortstops in the WPIAL.
Abby Trojanowski is the lone senior starter on the team. This is the first time she has played high school softball since her freshman year. She did not come out for the team as a sophomore or junior. Trojanowski, the starting catcher, hit .250 during the regular season.
"She is really, really good at controlling the ball," Paganico said. "She doesn't miss many, she controls the play."
Besides Geyer, sophomore Kirsten Terry also pitches. Geyer is 4-2 and Terry is 4-3. Terry also is adept at the plate. She bats leadoff where she hit .488 this season with two grand slams.
"They both have five pitches," Paganico said. "Both are close in speed. When Kirsten is really feeling it, she has maybe a little more pop to the ball, Kelsey has more movement. They both throw really nice changeups. They are both in the 52-54 mph range."
Both pitchers average about four strikeouts per game.
Junior Morgan Murphy usually starts in center field but has also moved in to play infield. She has one of the best arms on the team. She finished the season with a .405 batting average with 11 walks. Junior Hannah Bennaugh plays third base and catcher. She batted .422 from the cleanup spot with 15 RBIs and four home runs.
Sophomore Nicole Welsh never played softball before her freshman season. Now she is batting fifth and playing in the outfield for Woodland Hills. She hit .486 this season and brought her strikeout total down from 15 last season to just five this season.
Junior second baseman Autumn Porter hit .333 this season and increased her walk total while lowering her errors and strikeouts.
The third sophomore starter on the team is Tiara Martin, the number seven hitter who batted .486 during the regular season.
Junior Laura Valenti batted eighth and hit .325 this season while starting at first base.