When Keana Miller dropped a fly ball in the ninth inning of 1-0 loss to Woodinville, softball coach Kristian Dahl wanted to see how his team would react. With a young roster experiencing their first loss of the season on an error, he wasn's sure.
In the locker room, he saw what has become a microcosm of how his team plays the game: young players acting older than their age.
They refused to assign blame, instead focusing on the fact that it could have happened to anyone and that they had plenty of chances to win.
"In the postgame meeting, I had girls, "Hey, I've done that, I've done that' and they're sharing stories about times when they've made those errors and totally picking her up," Dahl says. "We know when one girl's down, another's going to pick her up."
That story, in a nutshell, sums up the suprising success of the Juanita team in 2011. Loaded with sophomores and juniors, the group has become a study in putting team first, a rarity with a group of inexperienced players. Even their coach is puzzled.
"I had no idea," Dahl says about his teams success. "I lost nine seniors, my entire infield, I didn't know what was going on... I had no idea what our sophomores were going to do. They've stepped into roles that had big shoes to fill and they've filled them really well."
That team-first approach has the Rebels rolling. Aside from the loss to Woodinville (the No. 1-ranked team in the state in 4A), Juanita has rolled over just about every opponent in running its record to 14-1, while sporting a rotating lineup.
"We're so much more versatile than we ever have been," Dahl says. "I can move girls all around the infield, I don't have just one position or two positions, they can play anywhere."
At the helm for the Rebels is ace pitcher Allison Rhodes. One of the few seniors on the roster, Rhodes has put on her best Danielle Lawrie-impression in 2011, allowing just three earned runs so far in 59-plus innings, allowing an average of one hit every three innings and tossing six shutouts.
"She's a great competitor," Dahl says. "Every time I walk out to the mound, she's just, 'What are you doing here? I've got it.'"
Rhodes has gotten plenty of help from the offense, which is hitting .403 through Wednesday and is averaging 10 runs per game in actual games played (one was a forfeit). Five Juanita regulars are hitting over .400 on the season, including team-leading Lexy Faist, who is hitting a whopping .571 and sophomore Cami Pettengill, who recently hit a ball -- ruled foul -- that cleared two fences and landed four spots deep in the parking lot.
But Juanita is getting more than just contributions from the starters. Sophomore Katie Kent had found consistent playing time difficult with a junior ahead of her playing the same position, so Dahl began to use her as the pitchers' designated player. Kent has responded with a recent streak that has left her with a season average of .500, three homers and 22 RBI's.
"It's been like that all year," Dahl said. "I know that they want to be on the field and giving everything and I put them in a different role and they're like, 'OK coach, whatever you need and I'm going to give you everything I've got here.'"
At the head of it all is Dahl, who knows a little something about coaching talented teams and what can happen to a team that looks ahead. Two years ago, the Rebels were ranked No. 1 heading into the state tournament, and promptly lost their first game. Last year's team was arguably just as talented and also stumbled in the tournament.
So Dahl couldn't care less about rankings.
"I hate the rankings," he says. "Two years ago, we were in the rankings as No. 1 going into state and lost the first game."
But even Dahl admits that this year's team seems to have a different feel, something that can't be quantified.
"I can't put my finger on it. There's a different sense of what we do as a team, practice, games. There's no, 'It's about me, I want all the recognition' or 'I did this', it's 'we did this.'"
Juanita still has to finish the season strong and fare well in what should be a tough district playoffs to even make the state tournament. However, with a talented roster of young -- but mature -- players who are playing beyond expectations, the Rebels are certainly and team to watch.