VALATIE — Tracy Nytransky is no stranger to state championship settings. The Ichabod Crane softball coach leads her team into its third state Final Four appearance in four years this weekend.
The Riders (20-1) will play Olean (16-7) on Saturday at 9 a.m. in a state semifinal at Moreau Rec. The other 9 a.m. semifinal pits Westlake (18-5) against Susquehanna Valley (21-2). The two winners will meet for the state Class B championship at 1:30 p.m.
Since taking over the Ichabod Crane varsity program in 2002, Nytransky has averaged 18 wins per season and has her team on the brink of its second state championship since 2015. We recently caught up with the Riders’ coach to discus the team’s stellar season.
Q: How does it feel to be going to the state Final Four for the third time in four years?
TN: It feels great. Ever since we got there and won in 2015, I think we felt more confident year after year that we had what it takes to get there again.
Q: What is the girls’ mindset heading into Saturday’s games? Several of them have been there before and even won the whole thing in 2015. Is it still as exciting as the first time you went this far?
TN: I think everyone right now is pretty loose. I wish we didn’t have to wait a week to get there, but we have some good scrimmages this week that will prepare them. Calista is actually the only one left from the 2015 championship team, but there are about four players this year that were around when we went in 2016. It’s exciting no matter what. It isn’t every day that you go to states even one time, so going three out of four years is pretty special.
Q: Last year the team failed to make it out of the Section II Tournament. Have you and the girls used that as extra motivation this year?
TN: We have been angry about that Section 2 title game last year for a year!!!! It was extremely motivating for us this year. We knew how tough the sectional competition was going to be.
Q: It has to be different preparing for teams from all over the state that you know very little about. How do you go about it?
TN: It is difficult, but I’ve been trying to look up information on the teams we may play and also try to get in touch with opposing coaches to get a little insight on what these teams have. At this stage, you know most teams are going to have good pitchers, you would just like to know more about their defense and key hitters.
Q: Calista Phippen is the two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year and is one of the top softball players to ever come out of our area. What sets her apart from other good players?
TN: The thing that sets Calista apart is her attitude and work ethic. She is one of the hardest working kids I have ever coached. She brings intensity to practice every day, no matter what. She has worked in the offseason harder than anyone else and that is why she is so successful.
Q: You have a standout like Phippen pitching for you, but ICC is by no means a one-person show. Talk about some of the other key players on the roster.
TN: I feel like we are definitely a total team package. When one kid isn’t performing there is always someone to pick her up. Senior Ashley DeKraai came up big during the sectional final with three hits, Alex McKearin is always a threat for a home run or a big hit, Gabbie Cox is a major baserunning threat to any team, Jenna Downey is a huge part of our success because she has to catch Calista every game. They have great chemistry as a pitcher/catcher duo and I allow Jenna to call most of the game because I trust her. Kaili Saccento has been hitting the ball very well lately. Kylie Rivers and Brittany Futia and Lauryn Heffner have also been swinging a good bat this season. We have been working on our bunt defense and overall defense and if that holds together, we should do well.
Q: Tell me your thoughts on the fan support the team gets. Wherever you play there are a lot of ICC fans in attendance.
TN: The fan support is great. We have a lot of students that come to our games and the community is very supportive, as well. You would expect just family members to come, but a lot of people are just fans and really enjoy seeing us succeed and watching the girls play. Any time I am somewhere in the community I always end up getting in conversations with people (some I know and some I don’t), wishing us good luck and saying how proud they are of us.
Q: You have excelled as a player and as a coach. Do you enjoy one more than the other?
TN: I miss the playing aspect, but once you realize you aren’t as fast as you used to be (I can hit Calista’s change up...) then it’s time to move on to coaching. As a teacher, I enjoy motivating kids and having them learn, but as a coach you develop a special bond with your players that you just don’t get from teaching. Coaching is also much more satisfying for me. To see them succeed is much more gratifying than anything I could have done out there.
Q: You’ve just had another 20-win season and are now third on the all-time wins list for Section II softball coaches … what does it take to reach this level?
TN: It helps to have good players. When I first started coaching, our program needed a little pick-up. My first year we went 9-9 and I had some talent there that just needed to be developed. As the years went on, I wanted to build a superior program and just needed the kids to buy into what I was trying to do. It was actually easy for me at that point because they were anxious to be coached and they were all extremely coachable. Moving on, we had some good pitchers through the years and the girls in this area want to play softball because they are hoping to have the success that we have recently had. Obviously, it takes hard work and dedication to the sport to be a successful coach, and the season doesn’t just start in March and end in June. There is a lot more to it than that.
Q: I know you are close to your kids and this senior class is very special to you. What would your message be to those kids as they play their final games with you as their coach?
TN: Honestly, I just hope that I have touched their lives in some way. I hoped they have learned some life lessons, learned more about the game and themselves and that they truly understand how exciting these last few years have been. When they look back on their high school careers, they don’t always realize how many players never have the opportunity to get to the state tournament and how lucky they are to have been here. We are like a little family here, from the youngest to the oldest. They all take care of each other and bust each other’s butts constantly, but that’s really what it’s all about.