Juan Gonzalez didn’t just want to be in charge of the Washington-Liberty Generals girls high-school softball team. The new head coach, hired in January of 2020, along with his assistant, Karen Walker, wanted to quickly change the direction and culture of what had been a perennial ly struggling program.
Mission accomplished, and quickly done.
The Generals not only amassed an impressive 13-6 record this spring, they became a huge Cinderella story by winning the 6D North Region Tournament title, upsetting 2017 and 2018 state champion Madison in the semifinals, then 2019 region titlist Langley in the championship game.
During the regular season, W-L defeated annual rivals Yorktown and McLean twice each, something that hadn’t occurred for decades.
“It was a dream season. We knew right there, when we beat those two teams [Yorktown and McLean] twice, we had arrived,” Gonzalez said. “Our players gained so much confidence from those wins and they really started believing.”
In the playoffs, the Generals finished second in the Liberty District Tournament, then won the region crown with a 4-0 record.
In the four-team Class 6 state tournament that followed, W-L lost to defending 2019 champion South County, 7-0, in the semifinals.
“We were one of the four best teams in the state,” Gonzalez said. “These girls were so hungry to win and have success.”
Washington-Liberty’s turnaround is significant because the team only won four games in 2019, and just one a couple of seasons before that. The 2020 campaign was canceled because of the pandemic.
Entering this season, the Generals had not even qualified for the region tournament since 2013, and only did so seven times dating back to 1992, and probably farther, finishing 0-1 in the competition each time. Washington-Liberty’s last softball title of any kind was a district crown in 1976.
With a new coach needed for the 2020 season, the school struggled to attract potential candidates. Gonzalez eventually was approached about taking over by a couple of his travel-team players, who were members of the W-L team.
He agreed to take the job if Walker could join his staff, as well. The arrangement was made and the culture change began, led by standout junior right-handed pitcher Emilie Doty. She was the winning pitcher in all of W-L’s games this season.
“We knew we were capable of winning, our coaches were confident in us, and this was a season we had nothing to lose,” Doty said.
Added Gonzalez: “We had a great bunch of kids, so we wanted to see what they could do. We were happy to finish second in the district tournament, but we knew there could be more to come. It has been a dream season. This team can hit, pitch and play defense. Now we want to continue that change of direction we have started.”
With no seniors in the starting lineup for much of the 2021 season, that successful direction seems possible.
Other top players for the Generals this season were junior shortstop Bridget Bartz; junior third baseman Caitlin Miller; sophomore starters Allie Malone (right field), Ava Lansbury (catcher), Grace Kane (center field), Riley England (designated hitter), Nadia Foote (second base) and Alex Socknat (first base). A starting freshman in left field was Kaitlyn Fado.