When Jen Rosene, Ashley Petrillo, Sarah Campbell and Mykaela Williams came to Ardrey Kell their freshman year, they were a part of the first softball team at the school.
That team went 10-13. The next year it went 13-11. Then, their junior year, the Knights surged to a 25-5 record, making it to the fourth round of the 4A playoffs, where they lost to eventual state champions Alexander Central.
This year, the Knights (16-4 through April 22) are preparing for another deep run in the state tournament.
Earlier in the season, "I thought they were ahead of last year's team that went 25-5, and I think we still are," said second-year head coach Robert Bove. The offense is a little bit better, he said, and the schedule is just as tough.
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After their first loss of the season, a 5-4 decision against North Mecklenburg, Bove and the players held a team meeting. The seniors told the team that this was their last chance to win states. After coming close last year, the Knights were even more motivated to go all the way.
"This year, I think, is our year to win states," said Campbell after a 13-3 win against conference foe Myers Park on April 20.
The other three seniors said the same.
"We have that taste in our mouth" from last year, said Williams. Rosene, who is 13-4 (through April 22) pitching for the Knights, added that last year was a let-down after how hard they worked.
The Knights have come a long way in just four years, from 10-13 to state title challengers. Bove credits local leagues with the quick improvement.
"The south Charlotte area has a lot of good recreational and club organizations," he said. "A lot of the girls have grown up with the sport."
It's not just softball that Ardrey Kell has excelled in so quickly. The baseball and volleyball teams won state championships last year and the girls' soccer team went undefeated until the state final, where they lost on penalty kicks to Leesville Road. They started the season ranked No. 1 in the Observer's Sweet 16 poll.
But the seniors link the team's success to the arrival of Bove last year.
"Coach Bove has helped us," said Petrillo. "He really brought us together."
Petrillo added that the team gets together a lot more off the field and has gotten a lot closer. She said that has improved their chemistry over the last two years.
Outside of the four seniors, Bove pointed to sophomores Taylor Freeman and Jordan Hostetler and junior Stephanie Wood as leaders.
Wood earned Observer Player of the Week honors in a 4-4 batting performance against South Mecklenburg and going 2-3 with a double against Independence.
Ardrey Kell is the favorite to take the Southwestern 4A regular-season crown, and it hopes to also take the conference tournament. With all the expectations this year, even Campbell is impressed by how far the Knights have come.
"It's crazy," she said of the team's success the last two years. "I'm having fun."