Murray High School softball dynasty under new managementMar 31, 2017 10:01AM ● By Bryan Scott
Murray High School softball standout Ali Jennings delivers a strike. (Glossy Sports Photos)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
It’s a little like replacing Bill Belichick on the sidelines…but new Murray High School softball coach Danie McKay says she’s up to it.
Coach Belichick has prowled the New England Patriots sideline since 2000, and nearly always comes up a winner. McKay knows that her predecessor, Lisa Parker, did the same, since 1994 in the Spartans’ softball dugout, long before we ever knew the name of the NFL’s grumpiest coach.
“I know they’ve had a lot of success—for a lot of years—here at Murray,” McKay said. “And I’m confident, if the girls buy into my coaching and methods, it will continue.”
McKay selected her first Murray softball team about a month ago, consisting of three seniors, eight juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen. Those 23 varsity and JV players are now in hot pursuit of the Spartans fourth consecutive Region 6 title, and their 18th of the past 19 seasons. The only title that slipped away in that time frame was in 2013, when Herriman took the region, before moving up to the larger 5A classification.
One of those working to extend the success string is senior Ali Jennings, who returns as the Spartans top pitcher.
“I’m super excited about the season,” she said. “I think our defensive play will be one of our strengths. We can hit. But I think we may be even stronger playing in the field.”
The Murray girls play their “home” softball games about two miles from the high school, at Riverview Junior High (751 Tripp Lane, near 5800 South).
Raised in San Diego, McKay made her way to the Salt Lake valley after graduating from Dominican University of California, just north of San Francisco.
“I came to Utah to attend Westminster College in August 2015,” McKay said. “I’m still not used to the cold weather.”
While working in Westminster’s Master of Arts in teaching a year ago, she was almost completely out of coaching. “I did a little volunteer help for Olympus High last season—and went to a few games—but mostly I was busy being a student,” she said.
McKay began teaching at Murray last fall and completed her degree work in December.
In addition to returning pitcher Jennings, another key girl back is Sophie Richmond, who holds down second base defensively. She’s also high on the new coach.
“McKay is very intense working us on specific drills,” Richmond said. “I know we’ll compete very well. We have solid pitching and strong hitting.”
Jennings and Richmond are team captains.
“These girls have a lot of potential,” McKay said. “I’ve coached some good kids over the years and this group can be as well.”
Former head coach Parker agrees. Though now gone from the program, she’s still active in sports activities including competing in pickleball tournaments throughout the west.
“I’ll miss the girls,” she said. “But it was time to go. Coaching is such a huge time commitment. It’s worth it. But it’s a lot of work, and I’m glad someone else has it now.”
“She (coach McKay) should have a good season,” Parker added. “A few of last year’s girls have graduated, but there was also plenty of talent coming back.”
Parker knows talent and how to get the most out of it. From 2005 through 2008 she guided the Spartan softball team to four consecutive state championship games.
The Murray girls took state in 2005 and 2007, while placing 2nd in 2006 and 2008. Parker’s daughter Brittany played on three of those teams, before graduating and going on to play four more years for the University of Utah.
This year’s Murray softball team opened play with a couple of preseason games in the Salt Lake area, followed by a trek down to St. George two weeks ago, for an icebreaker tournament.
Now into their region season, the Spartan dynasty remains the one other teams are trying to knock off.