Pasco softball dances its way to success

By Katie Dorsey, Tri-City HeraldMay 4, 2012 

KENNEWICK -- A pack of Bulldogs found its way to Gail Todd's Monday night Zumba class at Gold's Gym in Kennewick.

It was a nice day for going to the park, but those 'Dogs weren't in the mood to follow a ball around a field.

Instead, the Pasco softball team wanted to dance.

When the lights went off and the bass of Pitbull's Shake Senora started to pump through the hardwood floor, the Bulldogs -- 10 nervously giggling teenage girls who gathered in the back left corner of the room -- worked to keep up with Todd's twists, claps and shuffles. Some stayed in step with the music. Others lost their footing and needed a beat or two to get back in sync.

But for almost an hour, they followed Todd's orders to move and have fun, exhibiting the chemistry that has helped them reach their biggest goals this season.

A year ago, the Bulldogs finished 2-12 in CBBN 3A play. This spring, they are No. 6 in the conference with a 5-7 record and a chance to go to the district tournament. Today, they close their regular season at home against Hanford (6-6), which sits in a three-way tie for third with Eastmont and West Valley.

Another difference between this year and last for the Bulldogs is that they have been working the circuit at Gold's Gym.

"I hope and pray part of their success comes from the different types of training they're doing," said Mike Hoard, a personal trainer who has worked with the Bulldogs.

When the players met up for their Zumba class, they were coming off last Friday's split against Eastmont, which reached the regional tournament last season in Richland.

Though Eastmont won the first game 5-4, Pasco took the nightcap 7-6 with back-to-back doubles by senior Giselle Gomez and freshman Shelby Fuston in the bottom of the seventh inning.

"The coach from Eastmont emailed me and said he's coached for nine years and that those were two of the best softball games he'd played," coach Kim Palmer said.

When Palmer got the idea to bring his players to the gym, there wasn't a huge need for team-building among the Bulldogs. Some of their bonds came through blood ties -- there are two sets of sisters on the team, Yenixa and Erika Benitez, and Kendall and Kristen Swentik. Also, sophomore outfielders Bibiana Gonzalez, Annabel Perez and Brittany Cruz are like sisters in the way they stick together on and off the field.

But Palmer, who works out at Gold's Gym, saw how much he has learned from Hoard, his personal trainer, and thought his players could benefit from a similar program.

"I was looking for something that would improve them physically without really knowing it," he said.

Palmer brought the players to Gold's Gym, where Hoard put them through 75 minutes of conditioning exercises on the basketball court.

"I made them arrive together, made them wait outside together and made them enter the building together," Palmer said. "It was a good unity thing."

On their next visit, they did some strength training on machines. They returned another time to try Body Jam, advertised on the Gold's Gym website as a class that "focuses on all types of dance, such as Latin, jazz and African with an emphasis on hip-hop."

"I was so into it, I felt I was the only one dancing," senior third baseman Marissa "Cha Cha" Menchaca said. "I was doing the moves, and even if I was a dork, I was still doing them. It was fun."

After cooling off from Body Jam, they gutted out a killer core workout.

The instructor, Lorraine Houghton, "worked us big time," Menchaca said. "She was 50 years old, and she was not sweating. She does six of those classes a day."

Pushing through those sessions has paid off during games.

"My catchers definitely got the work they needed and found out where they were weak," Palmer said. "There was a lot of emphasis as far as working their legs, thighs and back."

Other players noticed they could reach the ball faster and make tougher defensive plays, while Menchaca, who has struggled with shoulder problems, felt a marked improvement after doing flies and lifting dumbbells.

"The next day at practice, I said, 'I can throw again, and it doesn't hurt,' " said Menchaca, who will play softball next year at Columbia Basin College.

Palmer's only regret is that he didn't start bringing the Bulldogs to the gym sooner. At school or practice, the girls have had fun recalling embarrassing or exciting moments from their workouts.

Heck, several of them dissected their Zumba moves as they left the gym.

"The only one I could do was the shimmy," sophomore pitcher Ashlyn Boyle said.

But they all wanted to come back and try it again.

"It was way nice to get off the field, so we're not stuck doing the same routine," said Kendall Swentik, a junior catcher. "It's nice to change it up."

Added her sister Kristen, a freshman pitcher: "I'm hoping (Palmer) does it with future teams because I'm gonna be doing it for the next four years."

As some players waited for their parents to pick them up, a few drove home. But others were not ready to head out. They hopped back on the treadmill and kept moving.

* Katie Dorsey: 509-582-1526; kdorsey@tricityherald.com

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