Niagara Gazette — Niagara-Wheatfield softball coach Jim Proefrock often thought about what his team would be like without Caitlin Attfield.
Vastly different was the obvious answer, of course. But he imagined the inevitable, when his 2012 New York State player of the year and three-time All-Western New York shortstop would eventually depart for college.
Would it open up the eyes of those who only saw the Falcons as a one-dimensional team, one that would fold without its shining star?
Attfield was one of a kind, but Proefrock knew all along that his team went much deeper than one player. After all, life without Caitlin Attfield didn’t have to be a bad kind of different.
“You can never replace a Caitlin Attfield,” said Proefrock, entering his third year as Falcons coach alongside his wife, Melanie.
“But I think so many people focused so much on how great of a player Caitlin was that they sometimes lost focus on the rest of the team that is incredibly talented as well.”
With Attfield down in Alabama, hitting leadoff and playing shortstop for Division I University of Alabama at Birmingham (she’s batting .345 with a .409 on-base percentage to lead the first-place Blazers in at bats, hits and runs through 37 games), the remaining Falcons will get their chance to soar this season.
Niagara-Wheatfield’s roster still features five of nine starters from the 2011 Section VI championship squad that made it all the way to the state semifinals. Even more of them have the taste of the Falcons’ season-ending loss to powerhouse Clarence in the Section VI Class AA semis last year lingering in their mouths.
While the Falcons also lost second-team All-Niagara Frontier League first baseman Lauren DeVantier, their lineup is still fortified by seniors Laura Crooks and Ali Gonyea, each with four years of experience driving Attfield around the varsity basepaths.