CAMDEN By PATRIC FLANNIGAN
The Camden Fairview Softball Cardinals made it to the 5A State Playoffs for the second consecutive year but came up short against a sold Morrilton team in a 7-2 loss. While the season didn’t finish like the Lady Cardinals might have wanted it to, it still has a lot to be proud of and a lot to look forward to. Lady Cardinal Head Softball Coach Kendra Center spoke to the Camden News about the team’s 18-7 season, next year’s switch to another conference and development of the underclassmen on the team.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted but I thought our kids were learning,” Center said regarding the game against Morrilton. “Competing at a high level is a learned behavior. We made improvements. We sat down as a coaching staff and set goals. Our ultimate goal was to make it past the first round. We didn’t make it but we made a lot of other goals along the way. I thought that was a victory for us.”
Since Center has joined the C.F. School District her team has made it to post season play. Something that wasn’t too much of a common occurrence in Lady Cardinal Softball history. Now with Amateur Athletic Union softball teams on the rise and a newly renovated softball complex, a change in culture has come over the C.F. Softball program. Center is involved with younger student athletes - teaching them fundamentals and showing them and their parents what will be expected from them by the time they get to ninth grade. Center said its is about “mentality.”
“Winning is expected,” Center explained. “Losses are going to come but wins are what we expect. That’s not just a program thing i think the community is starting to buy in. We got a lot of younger kids that are coming to the games. It’s an exciting feeling. An exciting time to be a head coach.”
After the Lady Cardinals won the Oil Belt Softball Tournament for the first time in El Dorado this season, it was able to continued to trend upward and capture the third seed in the tough 5A South Conference.
“Winning that tournament in El Dorado was big for us,” Center reflected.
“That set us up for success later in the season. We had a lot of younger players step up for us. We started one senior and two freshman in the outfield and we ended with three freshmen. Anytime you put those kids in positions you are taking a chance and I thought that they came through... We were very young, so we are bringing back all but a couple of our players.”
Next year the Lady Cardinals will move down to a 4A Classification in every sport but football. Center said that the Lady Cardinals will still share a conference with Magnolia and will play against teams like Malvern, Monticello and Star City for Conference play.
“I think if we do what we should, we will be one of the top teams in the conference if we keep working,” Center shared.
“That’s exciting. That’s something that has never been done here - a conference softball title. That’s my goal next year moving into a conference that I feel like is winnable. It’s my goal as a head coach to push these kids to a conference title. Anything can happen from there. We have phenomenal parent support here. I always tell people that softball teams are just teams without parents. Building a program is mainly due to what our parents do for us.