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Sports Person of the Week
Soares Emerges for the Warriors at the Hot Corner
Riley Soares earned a spot playing third base with the Valley Regional softball squad this season as a freshman. Riley relished the opportunity, and feels as though she learned so much to prepare her for years to come with the Warriors. (Photo courtesy of Riley Soares)
Riley Soares proved herself a valuable member of the Valley Regional softball squad this year. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Riley earned significant playing at third base at the varsity level.
Riley is also capable of getting behind the plate as a catcher. In addition softball, Riley also hits the pitch for the Valley Regional girls’ soccer squad.
Riley feels proud of the fact that she was able to crack the varsity roster with the Warriors this season. To get that shot as a freshman is a significant accomplishment for Riley.
“I’m very thankful to be a varsity player. I felt like a lot of people deserve that chance. I was shocked because everyone on this team is talented,” Riley says. “I’m fortunate to play alongside people that talented because I think that will help me get better in the future.”
The Warriors’ season was filled with twists and turns, but Riley feels that she and her teammates were able to navigate a difficult situation returning to the diamond for the first time in nearly two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, Valley’s players really formed a lasting bond over the course of the campaign.
“I feel like generally, I’m just really happy about my team this year. I love all the players at Valley. They’re so friendly and positive. Overall, I feel like we work very well together, and we always have each other’s backs,” Riley says. “I’m proud of our team for sticking with it because we had some really tough games this season. We kept our heads held high, and we got some big wins. It was pretty difficult, but we did it.”
A lot can change over the course of the season, and Riley believes that her game changed for the better because of her commitment to improving at her position.
“I felt like I really improved over the year. It was challenging in the beginning; the ball comes at you pretty fast over at third base,” says Riley, who lives in Essex. “Over time, the support of the team was really helping me. They never were mad, and they were always supportive in trying to help me get better. [Head Coach Allyson Pitney] had us practicing grounders 24-7, hopefully after all that I would be able to improve.”
Riley takes a measured approach at the plate when she’s up at bat. The most important thing to Riley is to make sure that she sees the ball travel over the plate and into the barrel of the bat. In other words, she sees the ball and hits the ball.
“I feel like I base my hitting off of watching the ball through the strike zone. I’m not trying to hit it over everyone’s head or get a home run. Of course that would be nice, but I’m just trying to make solid contact. That’s the best approach,” Riley says. “You have to just make sure you’re watching the ball all the way through the zone, and that’s when you’re going to make the best contact. It’s really simple, but I feel like it goes a long way.”
Riley’s whole family is full of ballplayers, so she believes that her playing softball was an inevitability. Riley took up tee ball when she was very young, and she’s had a lot of support from her parents Jenn and Sean, as well as her sister Avery since.
With so many players in her orbit, Riley can immerse herself in the sport, and she can’t wait for the opportunity for her and Avery to meet up on the Warriors roster .
“I have a younger sister who plays. Hopefully she wants to play as a freshman when I’m a senior. I would like that. It would be really fun,” Riley says. “My parents both play, and both their siblings play, too. It was pretty much guaranteed that I would try softball at some point. They’ve helped me become a better softball player. We go out every weekend. I’ll convince someone to hit balls to me, or I’ll go throw. Everyone gives me tips on what I can improve on.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Riley still found a way to keep her skills sharp. While Riley couldn’t play softball as much as she would have liked, she was sure to get in plenty of practice.
“I didn’t play as much, but I threw with my parents over the weekends. I really wanted to get a spot on the Valley team, or at least be the best I could as a freshman. So, I really worked hard with my Dad and my Mom to be the best that I could,” says Riley. “I think this season was definitely harder than it would have been if I was able to have an 8th grade season last year.
“To help me stay ready, I started running as a hobby. I felt like I needed to do something so I wouldn’t slack,” she says. “Me and my mom run in Old Saybrook, and I also have a treadmill in my basement, which was pretty convenient.”
Riley had the physical routine down pat, but there was also the mental aspect of missing out on an entire season of play. Riley tried to just be kinder to herself, especially once she made the Valley squad.
“In the beginning, I knew I was pretty rough on myself. It was different. I had to adjust to the stronger players that are a lot older than me,” says Riley. “I think I was harsh, but I took mistakes and turned them into things I could really improve on. Over time, I used a lot of those lessons for the next time so I can be better.”
In the end, Riley feels inspired by the way the Warriors’ seniors carried themselves this year, and she can’t wait to see what the 2022 season will bring with a whole new group of team leaders.
“I just want to say I’m really proud of the seniors this year. They are such great teammates. I think that was really true with Hannah Jenkins who couldn’t play a lot this season because she was injured. She came to every single game and supported us, and she was always cheering in the dugout,” Riley says. “They were all great team leaders, and they helped me through the whole season. I wish them the best. I’m just really excited to play. I know with the juniors right now, everyone is really good. I’m excited to play another season with them.”