There were times during Sadie Coenen's freshman season when she felt the weight of Johansen High's softball program on her shoulders.
"We didn't have many girls playing travel ball and we did not have a deep lineup," says Coenen, who batted .419 with a team-high 10 RBIs that season. "Take a look at this team now? It's like night and day."
Coenen was the lone Viking to hit over .204 her freshman year and she led them in every significant offensive stat.
Fast forward three seasons.
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Coenen is still driving it to all fields and hitting for power, but she's surrounded by like-minded hitters who hone their skills playing travel ball.
"Nine of our 10 starters are in travel ball. We had maybe two or three in Sadie's first year," recalls coach Debbie Guenther. "This is the best team the school's ever had."
The Vikings proved it Friday, as Coenen belted a game-winning homer to lift them to a 3-1 win over Beyer — clinching Johansen's first Modesto Metro Conference crown.
Johansen (21-4, 13-0) made the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs just once in the school's first 17 years, but this will be the second consecutive trip.
"The big difference, even between this year and last, is we hit the ball up and down the lineup," Guenther said. "The key is making contact."
Coenen, headed to San Jose State on scholarship, is but a piece of the offensive puzzle this year:
Gabby Maurice, a freshman leadoff hitter, is batting .410 and her 29 runs scored is second only to Coenen (32).
Shortstop Theresa Martin, who teams with Maurice for a fine middle-infield combination, bats behind Coenen at No. 3 and it batting .301 with a team-high 23 RBIs.
Guenther bats .397 with 21 RBIs at cleanup, joining Martin and Coenen (22) as Vikings with at least 20 RBIs. She can provide finesse as well as power: Her squeeze bunt in the sixth scored Coenen for the game's final run.
"The other big change is we have a lot of speed, and (assistant coach) Corey Reid wants these kids to be aggressive," said Guenther, who has built one of the region's top coaching staffs. "Corey, Larry (Loger), Steve (Drewery) and James Davidson. They've got great experience and they're more teachers than coaches."
Developing depth was as important as the coaching. Guenther had 10 players on the roster last year, stripping the Vikings of any flexibility. With 15 players, she can mix and match when needed.
That came into play Friday, with two players — Jazmine Pedrotti and Ashley Wohler — missing the game to take Advanced Placement tests.
Guenther swapped some positions and, with sophomore Lizzie Perez continuing her mastery of MMC hitters, the Vikings never missed a beat.
"We're young, but we're not inexperienced," said Guenther, noting the role that travel ball has played in helping her girls mature.