WESTMONT — The last time Jason Bolden coached Westmont High School softball, in 2007, the Sentinels won a regional title.
That came a year after they finished fourth in the state under Bolden. Westmont struggled last spring, but the talent is there to turn things around, and Bolden is happy to be back to do just that.
"I think the girls are going to have a great year," Bolden said. "I'm super excited. It's great to be back. I'm looking forward to turning some heads. With the talent we have and the way we're going about things, I think we're going to be competitive. The kids are ready to go."
A team with six seniors is offset by the youth of two juniors and two sophomores. Though Bolden hasn't coached these players at the high school level, he knows them well from coaching them at Westmont Junior High.
"I had these kids in sixth, seventh grade and I do camps in the summer, so I know all these kids real well," the coach said. "We had some good seasons with them at the junior high. We've been competitive with them and that's something positive."
The squad looks solid up the middle defensively, and it starts with junior shortstop Maria Prete, a three-year starter who batted .444 last spring and has already verbally committed to play at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Skyler Poel is an outfielder during the travel season but will transition to catcher for the Sentinels.
"She's a kid I could put anywhere and she'd be able to do it," Bolden said of Poel, who he said pitched for him in junior high. "She makes great contact (at bat) and she's very speedy, so we're looking for her to get on base and take advantage of her speed."
Bolden also anticipates using a two-pronged pitching attack of Kristen Skala and Susie Sternard, both of whom added pitches to their repertoires in the offseason.
"Kristen added some miles per hour to her pitches, and Susie does a great job painting the corners and hitting her locations," he said.
Bolden expects several varsity newcomers arriving from the lower levels to provide boost on both sides of the ball, especially on the base paths.
"We have really good team speed and I think we'll be able to take advantage of that by getting the ball down, getting kids on base and getting them around," he said.
Among several goals are playing smart and winning competitive games, both in and out of the Interstate Eight Conference. That starts with all-out hustle from the first pitch of the season to the last.
"Every single pitch is important. You can't take one off. I don't want them to look back and say, 'Oh, I could have done better,'" Bolden said. "I guarantee you this team will hustle all the time. That's the way I teach them and that's how I coach."
Meet the Sentinels
Coach: Jason Bolden
2012 record: 9-22 (4-12 Interstate Eight Conference)
Skyler Poel so. C
Vanessa Possidoni jr. OF
Maria Prete jr. SS
Kristen Skala so. P
Susie Sternard sr. P/OF
Vickie Wallin jr. OF
Next game: 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Mt. Assisi