A couple years ago, I was talking with the late football coach Don James. I mentioned how when he led the Washington Huskies from 1975-1993, freshmen usually redshirted and didn’t play. But these days, freshmen play frequently, and the times have certainly changed. James responded with a dry quip: “Like I always said, the best time to play freshmen is when they’re juniors.”
James always liked to give his young players time to develop mentally and physically. But Woodinville Fastpitch had no such luxury this season. With the graduation of superstar pitcher Madi Schreyer (now at Stanford) and all-star catcher Alex Boyd (now at Oregon State), there were huge voids to fill.
But then came a couple of ninth graders. Pitcher Olivia Riener and catcher Jordyn Boyd joined the club and opened some eyes this season. The battery was a big part in Woodinville’s 19-7 record and fifth place finish at State. Riener posted a 13-6 record with a 3.20 ERA, while also batting .349 with one home run and 25 RBIs. Boyd was a solid presence behind the plate all year, and hit .338 with one home run and 18 RBIs.
But beyond the numbers, what impressed even more was the grace under pressure that both girls exhibited.
Riener and Boyd have been close friends since 2009, when they were on the same Little League All-Star team. Boyd liked Riener’s work ethic and positive attitude, while Riener liked Boyd’s trustworthiness and dependability behind the plate. They developed a playing chemistry. “They both play their best when they’re playing together,” Woodinville coach Dani Weir said.
When the season started, many people (including this writer) thought the team would hover around .500 for much of the year.
“When we first started the season we weren’t expected to be a great team,” Riener said. “We had lost our senior pitcher and catcher, and a lot of people look at Woodinville’s history of all those perfect seasons and championships. There was always that fear that we’re not the same team, but I still think we played our best, and it showed.”
When asked to describe the most challenging moments of their freshmen seasons, Boyd started by citing a KingCo rival.
“The three times we played Redmond, the whole entire time there were butterflies in my stomach,” Boyd said. “It’s just because of the names and the players on that team. Competing against the names they were putting out there. That’s the lesson that will carry on, that if we play Woodinville ball then we can be unstoppable regardless of who we’re playing.”
For Riener, the toughest moments were the handful of times she surrendered 2-3 runs in the first inning. As a pitcher, she’s out there on an island — and for a youngster things can get overwhelming. But Riener always maintained composure and kept her team in the game.
“Obviously getting down 3-0 in the first inning is hard,” Riener said. “But my teammates always say we’ve got to score runs anyway. So you treat it like a 0-0 game.”
And what were the season’s best moments?
“Probably our first win against Redmond,” Boyd said. “They were doing so well in their season. We had had a couple bumps in the road, but we knew we could pull together as a team and execute and come together as one like a family. Play for our teammates and not for ourselves.”
“For me it was the first two games at State,” Riener said. “We were down in the first couple innings. We fought back and came together as a team and won. We realized if we wanted to go far we needed to play our best and rally.”
With their debut seasons now in the books, both girls have accumulated precious experience. Fate willing, they’ll play three more seasons under fireball head coach Dani Weir.
“Dani’s probably the best coach I’ve ever had,” Boyd said. “She has inspiration flowing out of her. She is such an amazing role model. She made it comfortable for us. We could tell her anything. She could see if we were starting to struggle. She would pull us aside and say, ‘It’s OK, you’re on the team for a reason. We’re going to get through this together.’ She believed in us 110 percent. I can’t wait to play for her again next year.”
“Dani never got angry,” Riener added. “If we were down, she never thought we were going to lose. She understands the game so well. She knows exactly what we’re feeling in the game. I think that helps so much. She’s always there for us.”