Chatsworth Charter High softball is scuffling. Twenty-nineteen has been rife with disruptions: rainouts, campus construction, the graduation of last year’s City Open Division player of the year, the transfer of a player with stardom written all over her, and a small roster dotted with more than a few players with limited varsity experience.
Yes, those poor Chancellors were only off to a 9-3-1 start as play began this week.
Chatsworth has, indeed, endured more than its share of struggle and adjustment so far. And it can also be hard — if not impossible — to match up to last year’s title team that won its final 18 games, culminating with the 4-1 City Open Division title win against San Pedro High.
“We’ve been separated from our equipment for four months at a time. Water was cut off to the field twice two months at a time [because of construction],” Coach John Forgerson said. “We’re doing everything we can to recover, but we lost a lot of player time in the fall. We’re just now getting to a sense of normal.”
So it’s a testament to the talent here that the team is currently ranked No. 1 in the City Section, and is expected to make a strong run at another Open Division title in May.
“I have a feel for the group. What we’re working on now is the group getting a feel for the group,” Forgerson said. “And we’re actually making good progress.”
The loss of graduating senior outfielder Ruby Salzman, last year’s player of the year who is now at West Texas A & M University (and who’s already slugged 12 home runs in 28 games), was expected. “I hope I get to coach one more player like her and I don’t know if I will. She was that special,” Forgerson said. “Replacing her is really difficult, especially her leadership.”
The loss of last year’s freshman shortstop sensation Amber Toven, however — who transferred to Sierra Canyon — initially left Chatsworth unprepared. “[Toven] was the key to how we wanted to set our schedule,” Forgerson said. “We had to really modify our goals and objectives when she transferred out.”
Nonetheless, you dance with who brung ya. And Chatsworth still has, among other people, one of the City’s most dominant pitchers in Ava Justman who was 13-0 last year as a sophomore, and is already 7-1 this season as a junior.
“I trust every single player on my team,” said Justman, 16. “Losing Ruby and Amber was pretty bad. But I knew we had the girls to fill in those spots and make it okay. And we’re doing great.”
Third baseman Jasmine Wehn (pronounced Wayne) agrees.
“We did lose some of our starters,” said Wehn, 16, a junior. “But the players we have now, we’re all able to play multiple positions. It was easier to replace the missing pieces.”
Amanda Clack, 17 and one of eight seniors on the roster, sees the Chancellors emerging from the early chaos of integrating new players into the team and not always having their practice field into recognizable, dependable unit.
“I feel like in the beginning of the [fall] semester it was kinda hard. But we’ve gotten to adjust more to it,” Clack said. “They’re finishing up around our area, finally. So it’s easier to get our practices done, and do what we need to do.”
Playing West Valley League rivals El Camino Real Charter High and Taft High this week will keep the Chancellors focused. So will the weekend game against Simi Valley High, and the March 26 match against South High of Torrance. There will be plenty of other challenges after that.
“The way I see it, you play one game at a time,” Clack said. “Don’t think about the stats or anything. Just think about playing for your team and putting your heart out there.”
Which is why Chatsworth is confident that when all is said and done, it will be ready and in a position to defend its Open Division championship.
“It takes awhile to find that chemistry in softball,” Wehn said. “I like what I see so far. We have a good chance.”
Justman is even more direct.
“I know we’re capable of going all the way. It’s a matter of effort and wanting it. Of course there is other great talent and other great teams out there. We have to have enough heart, and put it all out on the field every game.”
It’s that kind of team attitude that will enable Chatsworth to get past the early obstacles, Forgerson said.
“I’m trying to give them some self-freedom and self-governing,” the coach said. “I’m trying to let them become the players they are and the players they can be without forcing it down their throats.
“They are pretty relaxed but competitive. And they are definitely not happy when they lose. They’re determined, and they don’t give up.”