For one Wapakoneta native, she says it is good to be back playing on the dirt infields at Veterans Memorial Park, driving down Bellefontaine Street and being in her hometown to see family and friends.
For the past two falls, Erica Bryan, who graduated from Wapakoneta High School in 2010, has been a member of the Ohio Wesleyan Battling Bishops, the only team to play all 14 years in a college softball tournament organized by former Wapakoneta Redskin softball coach Bob Elsass at the end of September.
“It is great to play in this tournament,” the Wapakoneta native said. “We are always at practice talking about this tournament being in Wapakoneta and I get to say this is my hometown.”
Bryan also took the time to tease her college softball coach Cassie Cunningham, noting the coach who has been leading the squad since 2006 and traveling to this tournament for six years, still gets lost getting here.
But Bryan says she still loves Wapakoneta although she is in Delaware, Ohio, now.
“I really love coming back,” Bryan said. “All my friends and family come out and support me and it is really nice. I also like having all my new friends come here and see ‘Hamburger Row,’ which confuses them, but it is pretty obvious because of all the fast-food hamburger restaurants.
“I really love coming back and seeing my family,” she told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “I know I am only an hour and a-half away, but it is nice to have them be able to watch me play.”
Bryan continues to play shortstop for the Battling Bishops, a position she played at Wapakoneta High School for Redskins varsity softball coach Bill Sammons. She started at the position for Ohio Wesleyan and Cunningham.
Cunningham told Elsass she is a much better player and teammate than she initially expected when she recruited her. Bryan played on a Redskins softball team that went deep into the state playoffs and the girls basketball team which made it to the state finals.
“In terms of athleticism, she brings to the game speed, athleticism, great range at shortstop and a great arm,” Cunningham told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “On offense, she brings speed with really, really good softball sense to the batter’s box.
“From a leadership standpoint, she is always positive, outgoing and she is just a natural athlete,” she said. “She started for us as a freshman at shortstop. She is a great kid and we are lucky we got her.”
Bryan quickly pointed out the attributes of her coach, with one being her positive nature.
Bryan said Cunningham has taught her to stay positive because the coach knows Bryan is her own worst critic.
“I have learned a lot from coach, she is always great about staying positive,” Bryan said. “Even if we do something wrong, she will first tell us how to correct it and then she will always tell us something that we did well.
“I really learned that if I did something wrong or if something didn’t go my way to keep my head up, to stay positive for me and my team,” she said. “I just have to keep on truckin’.”
The biggest difference between playing in high school and college is the consistency of the talent.
“Honestly, I would have to say the talent,” Bryan said. “You play some teams that are really good and some that are not of the same caliber, but in college everybody is good, everybody is of the same caliber so you always have to be on your toes.”
Bryan noted another key to college play.
“The kids you play with in college, team chemistry is key,” Bryan said. “We are always together and we all come together with a common goal. Freshmen coming in this year is not any different than the year before — we clicked right away.
“It is just really great to see everyone come together and contribute and be a team and do great things together.”