March 21, 2024

Umatilla Softball Striving to be Noticed

2.9 min read| Published On: March 21st, 2024|

By Neal White

Umatilla Softball Striving to be Noticed

2.9 min read| Published On: March 21st, 2024|

Tucked away discreetly at the northeast corner of Bulldog Lane in Umatilla, FL sits the Umatilla Lady Bulldog Softball Field.  On any given weeknight between mid-February and the end of April, you’re almost sure to hear the ping of batted balls, the smell of ballpark food, and various genres of music playing over the sound system.  Although its view is hidden from the road, you can be sure there’s lots of work being put in on the field.

In the last year,  the dugouts have been painted, the field has been leveled, new batting cage nets have been hung and countless hours have been devoted to getting the clay infield improved.  Coach Jessica “Jet” Meier credits her assistant coach, Josh Clark,  with the improvement of the clay infield and the players, parents and other coaches with much of the other hard work that’s been done.   The Lake County Schools maintenance division also installed a new AC system in the locker room this past fall and for that, the players were extremely grateful.  The team has also had several field cleanup days and Coach Jet credits the school administration, players and parents for the continued improvement of the facilities.

Under first year head coach Jessica “Jet” Meier and assistant Josh Clark, the Lady Bulldogs jumped to a red hot 5-1 start to the 2024 season with their lone loss coming to class 6A Ocala Vanguard.  The Lady Bulldogs are now 5-4 having suffered 3 straight defeats to traditional softball powers Montverde Academy, Eustis and South Sumter.  Umatilla, which plays in class 3A District 7, has faced a schedule which has included half of their games against teams from larger classifications.  Coach Meier designed the schedule this way in order to prepare her squad for the postseason.  It just so happens that Montverde Academy, the #1 ranked 3A team is in the same district as Umatilla.

Coach Jessica “Jet” Meier

Coach “Jet” and Coach Clark were both on staff last year, Coach “Jet” was the associate head coach with Mike Harden and Coach Clark was the JV coach.  This year Coach “Jet” is the head coach, Coach Clark is a varsity assistant and Randy Craft is the head JV coach.  They’ve also added two JV assistants, Katie Johnson and Adrianna Newkirk.  Coach Jet stated that all practices are run together and all coaches work collaboratively.   Coach “Jet” was formerly an assistant at Lake Sumter State College for 3 seasons and the head coach at Mount Dora for 2 seasons before coming to Umatilla for the 2022-23 season.

Last year, Umatilla finished with an overall record of 8-13 and finished as the 5 seed in a 6 team district which also includes Montverde Academy, Trinity Prep, Lake Highland Prep, Mount Dora and Windermere Prep.  While not an easy challenge, Coach Jet believes her squad can improve upon their first round district loss last year and their goal is to make the regional playoffs.   With 5 wins under their belt already they are almost sure to eclipse last year’s win total and look to have their first winning season since the 2014-15 campaign which saw them go 8-7.  Coach Jet states “winning is nice and we want to build a culture here while also winning games but we want the players to grow as well-rounded individuals off the field most of all.”

Danika Jones, Senior

Jaelyn Larsen, Freshman

Currently the team has four players hitting .350 or better with senior Danika Jones, a LSSC signee, leading the way with a .407 clip, 7 runs scored, 11 hits and 4 stolen bases.  However, the offensive firepower comes from various players as Mittie O’Brien leads the team with 8 RBIs and is tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 4.  Brooke Moss, also a LSSC signee and catcher,  leads the team with a .458 OBP while also being tied for the team lead in extra base hits(2) and stolen bases.  The pitching staff is bolstered by Carleigh Scott, Chloe Rumford and Camryn Bowcott.

The team loses 10 seniors to graduation this year but has 10 freshmen out this season, along with 3 juniors and 2 sophomores which should contribute to the continued success of the program.  O’Brien returns next year along with fellow starter Jaelyn Larsen, a freshman who is hitting .389 with 7 hits and 4 RBIs on the season and Rumford who is also a freshman pitcher.  In the years to come, the goal is for people to notice the hidden venue and the program it represents within the Lake County community.

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About the Author: Neal White

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