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Westport, Staples Softball Get Taste of Holland

WESTPORT, Conn. – Sara Holland has worked with girls in the Westport Little League softball program for the past five years. Now, as the new head coach of the Staples High School softball team, she is in terrific position to reap the rewards from that association.

Holland, a college star at the University of Kansas, will begin her first season as the head coach at Staples when teams open spring practice Monday. Besides an impressive playing history, the native of Tulsa, Okla., brings an extensive softball training background and a high level of energy that can go a long way toward creating a strong softball program from the ground up.

“I’ve been working closely with the girls, and we’ve wanted to have better pitching, catching and hitting skills when they enter the high school,’’ Holland said. “We’ve gotten to see these girls get better every year, and now I’m going to get the chance to see this through.”

The Staples position will be the first on the high school level in the region for Holland. She previously coached at a high school in Virginia and has extensive coaching experience at Texas Tech and the University of Virginia. She is also the lead softball instructor at IST Baseball Headquarters in Norwalk, where she has also worked with a number of Westport girls.

Holland is diving head first into the challenge in Westport, where soccer and lacrosse have well-established programs. She believes young girls should play more than one sport. “We want to keep the girls going through the system,’’ she said. “We want to establish a winning tradition. The kids in Little League will see where it could end up.”

Steve Axthelm, vice president of Westport Little League softball, believes Holland is the right person to be in charge of the high school team and to work with the younger players. “We couldn’t be more thrilled,’’ Axthelm said. “The girls look up to her as a role model. It’s just an incredible gift for the program.”

Holland played catcher and outfield at Kansas, where she holds several hitting records, including total career bases, most hits, doubles and total bases in a season, batting average and overall slugging percentage. She graduated in 1998. She played professionally for the Georgia Pride. She was a three-sport standout in high school, where she ran sprints for the track team and played basketball.

Holland, mother of two young boys, is also the owner of her own yoga company and believes its fitness benefits can help softball players.

She ran into IST owner Glenn Katz when she was trying to get a yoga program started at a children’s facility in Fairfield. Katz ended up bring her board at IST. Axthelm believes Holland’s teaching style will fit in perfectly in Westport.

“It’s extraordinary watching her,’’ Axthelm said. “She has the ability to encourage he kids, but she doesn’t baby them. Everything is positive. Everything she teaches is ‘What can you do to improve?’’’

Holland is bringing with her to Staples a longtime coach in the Fairfield girls softball program, Dave McCartney , as her top assistant. Holland is aware the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference features some outstanding teams. She’s eager to get her players ready for the challenge.

“No one has a cape on,’’ Holland said. “Just because they’re at Darien or Westhill or any of the other teams doesn’t mean they’re better than us. We’re going to swing the bats, we’ll hit and run, we’ll keep the defense guessing.”

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