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Following three seasons as an assistant coach for one of the most successful programs at Henry County High School, Suzanne Cates will step into the lead role as the head coach of the HCHS softball squad this spring.
The previous head coach, Jon Kasten, resigned last June after winning 104 games during a six-year span that saw the Ladycats win the school’s first three North Central Kentucky Conference titles, three district championships since making the switch from the 30th to the 31st District in the state’s new alignment in 2006, and two trips to the regional semifinals. Cates, who was a star player for Butler High School and Georgetown College, was named the new coach this past summer.
“It was a goal of mine (to become a head coach),” said Cates, who is married and has a four-month-old daughter. “I didn’t think it would be this soon but when Jon decided to leave it put me between a rock and a hard place. From a family standpoint, I had to sit down and think hard to decide if I wanted to really commit myself to it. It wasn’t a tough decision to keep coaching, though. I knew I wanted to stay with this group of girls and now I’m glad that I decided to take the position.”
For HCHS Athletics Director Todd Gilley, it wasn’t a hard choice to hire Cates as the replacement to keep the program moving forward.
“She’s very knowledgeable with softball and familiar with this program,” Gilley said. “She’s been working with us the last couple of years and I think she will continue to keep the program developing. The last few years we’ve had one of the better softball teams in our region, and with her softball knowledge it should keep us there and maybe allow us to climb a little higher.”
Cates got her start in fastpitch softball at Butler, where she was primarily a pitcher and was named to the All-Region Team three times, All-State Team three times and was Kentucky’s Ms. Softball before graduating in 2000. She then joined the Georgetown College softball squad. While a Tiger, she broke the school record for strikeouts in a single season twice — during her freshman and sophomore years — and was named All-Conference and All-Region all four years before graduating in 2004.
In January 2005, after moving back to the Louisville area, Cates was hired as a second-grade teacher at New Castle Elementary School. Because of an earlier commitment, she also was an assistant softball coach at Eastern High School that spring. The following school year, she joined the HCHS softball team as an assistant, where she has been the previous three years. Now, she will make the leap from assistant to the head role.
“The whole behind-the-scenes thing will be new to me,” Cates said. “Not so much the planning of practice but being in charge of it. I will now have to oversee all the girls. It will be different.”
Since Cates was mainly just a pitcher during her playing days, hitting will be the one area she will have to work at, she said. “I’ll definitely need to work on it. It’s something I need to focus on.”
Last season, in Kasten’s final year, the Ladcyats had a 17-14 record, won the 31st District for the third consecutive time, made a third straight trip to the 8th Region tournament and ended the season with an opening-round loss to Shelby County (8-5).
On paper, this year’s team looks even better than past seasons as the Ladycats return a core group of players that include starters Taylor Clark (sophomore, first base), Macie New (sophomore, second base), Jessica Booher (sophomore, shortstop/pitcher), Krista DeBurger (eighth grade, third base), Allison Vaughn (freshman, catcher), Karie Powell (junior, shortstop/outfield), Veronica Hornback (eighth grade, outfield) and Heidi Smith (senior, outfield/designated hitter). Smith and Katie Mertz are the only seniors, while Powell is the lone junior on a team full of athletic underclassmen.
“As a team, I think we’re definitely moving forward,” Cates said. “Our ultimate goal this season is to win the All ‘A’ Classic State Softball Tournament, and we look for that to be a building block to win the region and participate in thee state softball tournament. Also, we don’t want to be shutout in any game and we want to build our younger players so we can be successful for years. We will work on those goals.”
The biggest losses from last year’s team were seniors Ashley Buck and Kaitlyn Foree. Buck was the team’s centerpiece in the outfield as the starting centerfielder while Foree, who currently plays for Transylvania University, was the top pitcher. To compensate for the losses, Powell will most likely be moved from shortstop to the outfield and Booher will fill in as the team’s No. 1 option at pitcher, Cates said. Also, DeBurger might move from third base to shortstop.
“We’re going to be mixing things up a bit,” Cates said. “They’re so athletic and versatile that we can put anyone anywhere on the field and feel like we can be successful.”
The 2009 season will officially open Feb. 15 with the first day of practices starting statewide. Games will begin in late March.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Cates added.
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