COLUMBIA — On the bus ride home from Jefferson City earlier this season, the Rock Bridge softball team began singing its school song. After the seniors, juniors and sophomores went through their class chants, in unison they mocked the freshmen.
“Freshmen, freshmen, scum on the floor. Freshmen, freshmen, number four,” they sang.
When this happened on the team’s first road trip, these freshmen, dumbfounded, sat silently in their seats.
Not this time.
Instead of accepting the good-natured verbal taunting, shrugging it off as a minor annoyance and waiting for next season to be on the other side of the fun, this group of freshmen did something unheard of.
It fought back.
“You tease and taunt, but you will pay. Because we’re going to take your spot someday,” the group emphatically replied.
Did they really just say that?
“In nine years of riding buses, I’ve never seen a freshman class even attempt something like that,” Rock Bridge coach Joe Henderson said. “Never. Even I was speechless. I’ve ridden that bus a long way, I’ve never, ever seen it. That’s how cocky they are.”
Infielder Caroline Sicht, who helped with planning the response, was pleased with its turnout.
“We all had it planned and so they did their little chant thing, and then we came right back, their mouths fell open,” Sicht said. “Joe started screaming and said never in the history of Rock Bridge softball had something like that happened. So we were really proud that we made history.”
But, perhaps what this group did wasn’t all that courageous, all things considered.
These 12 freshmen comprise almost half of Rock Bridge’s 25-member team. It outnumbers the sophomore class 3-to-1, the juniors 3-to-2 and senior class, aka Ashley Farmer, 12-to-1.
“Everybody at our school asks us how many people from our school play on the team,” Sicht said. “We’re like, well actually 12, and everybody is amazed that about half the team is freshmen out of four classes.”
And, no, they weren’t joking about taking the upperclassmen’s spots.
Henderson said he starts four or five freshmen each game, meaning some of the upperclass players are forced to sit on the bench. The players who contribute the most on the field are the ones who play.
And players like Danielle Linneman, Tiffany Dow, Caroline Sicht, Brianne Bond and Melissa Kiehne are quickly becoming major factors for the Bruins.
Each player adds a unique characteristic to the team. Whether it’s power at the plate, solid pitching, exceptional fielding or all of the above, these players have worked hard to prove they belong.
At times, this can put heaps of pressure on their teammates, who are engaged in constant competition for their starting positions on the varsity roster. Bruins junior Ali Kitchen, who is out with an injured wrist, even feels this pressure from the bench.
“It can be real stressful because you never know if someone is going to beat you out for your position,” Kitchen said.
It’s the ones with diligent work ethic and the ability to adapt and adjust to the game’s intricacies who shine during these periods of competition. And, according to Henderson, many of these freshmen fit that mold.
“They actually bring a calm,” Henderson said. “They’re confident, calm, coachable. When you see them out there, you wouldn’t even know they’re freshman. They bring a lot of heart and that’s what you’ve got to have.”
To keep their spots on the varsity roster, many of these freshmen try to improve their game even when practices aren’t scheduled.
“It takes a lot to be on varsity,” freshman Danielle Linneman said. “I usually go and hit and pitch every single day and practice with my dad a lot, even after practices. And our practices usually last about an hour and a half to two hours every day.”
Not only does this group perform well on the field, but it also excels in the classroom.
During one of Rock Bridge’s practices, Henderson asked each freshman what her GPA was last semester.
“Carrie, what was your GPA?” Henderson asked. “Last year? 3.9,” she replied.
“What was your GPA, Brianna?” “4.0,” she answered. “Geez, you’re stupid,” Henderson said sarcastically.
He asked each freshman and not a single one answered below 3.8.
Despite the group’s intelligence, Henderson said next year’s class is just as strong on the field, which should create some tough decisions come cut time.
“If half of the new class is as good, I may be having to make 20 cuts,” Henderson said. “That’s what the matrix is showing me now.”