Varsity softball coaches talk team dynamics and skills

O’Maley Middle School student Aleena Brown interviews the GHS softball coaches as part of The Gillnetter’s Young Journalist Series.


Dawn Enos

Captain Cam Carroll hits a home run vs Beverly on April 19th.

ALEENA BROWN, Contributor

In the past few seasons, the Gloucester High School Varsity Softball Team has been a powerhouse. The team were NEC Champions in 2018 and 2019, as well as the Division 2 North and Eastern Champions in 2019. The team qualified for the state tournament last year, but they unfortunately lost in the first round. Despite this, they are coming in hot this season and are looking to make it far in the tournament this year. 

Senior captains Ashlee Aiello and Chloe deGaspe Beaubien, along with junior captain Cameron Carroll, lead the young team in the 2023 season. Three GHS freshmen are on the starting lineup, and the senior captains are the only seniors in the softball program. Even though the team is on the younger side, head coach Bryan Aiello and assistant coach Dawn Noble believe that this team is as experienced as their competitors in the conference. 

I got the chance to interview the pair on their views of the team’s strengths and weaknesses this season, as well as their views on different areas of softball.

Q: How long have you been coaching at GHS and in your entire life? What other team did you/do you coach for?

Dawn Noble: My first season coaching high school softball was the 2005 season. I coached the GHS freshman team along with two friends. At that time, the team was a true freshman team made up of 9th graders. The level of play was very different – they didn’t have travel teams or club teams in this area. It was a fun team, and it was exciting to see the players develop their skill level through the season. We had three players that went on to play with the Varsity that year during their tournament run. I’ve been coaching Rockets softball, Gloucester fall travel, and Gloucester summer travel since 2017. This is my first year as the assistant 18U Legends coach and my second season as the GHS assistant varsity coach.

Bryan Aiello: I’ve been coaching the Gloucester High School Varsity for two years. It’s my second year as the head coach of the Gloucester High School Varsity. Before that, I coached the Gloucester High School JV team a few years back. I have coached at the youth level for six years, at the AAU level for five years, and that’s about it.

Q: Has this prior coaching experience helped you with coaching the varsity team?

Aiello: So, yes. Coaching at the youth level has really helped with incorporating fundamentals into the varsity game. You know, that, coupled with the experience I’ve had at the AAU level, which is a lot more competitive, has really helped out at the varsity level, for sure.

Q: How has this season been different from your first season coaching at the high school?

Noble: Coaching as an assistant varsity coach for the past 2 seasons has been very different than my first time coaching high school in 2005. The level of play is far more advanced. – pitching, hitting, and fielding. Most players play year round club ball and have a high softball IQ. Their understanding of the game and their overall level of play are so different. This can be said of the coaching as well. The expectations of a coach who coaches year round and knows what to expect from the players are raised.  

Aiello: [The thing that has made] this particular season different as opposed to last is the amount of new players that we have. We’re starting three freshmen as opposed to four seniors. So that’s a big difference. Other than that, for me, everything else is the same. We focus on fundamentals and mechanics, good game situational skills, and a high softball IQ.

Q: What is your view on parents coaching from the sidelines?

Noble: Parents are very passionate about and invested in their child’s athletic career these days.  Most parents are excited to watch games and are enthusiastic when cheering on their player and her teammates. There are times at the youth level when parents are yelling out where they think a play is, and that definitely creates a sense of confusion and panic in younger players.  

Aiello: [laughs] That’s a big no-no, alright? For me, if I catch a parent coaching their player from the sideline, I am going to first talk to the parent and explain to them that it’s not acceptable. There’s a reason I have someone positioned the way I do, either in the box or in the field, etc. If it happens a second time, their player is just on the bench. That’s it until they can control themselves.

Q: You guys have a very young team this year. Do you feel like this is an advantage or a disadvantage?

Noble: We have a young varsity team this year, which is always exciting. You can mold and develop a young player, and that gives us more versatility and room to grow. 

Aiello: There is an advantage and a disadvantage to that. The advantage is when you have a young team that doesn’t have a lot of experience, you can kind of mold them to what you want them to be, as opposed to somebody who has been doing something forever. Sometimes they don’t want to do something in a new way. They want to do it their way. In that aspect, it’s an advantage. It’s a disadvantage having a young team because, situationally, they haven’t been in such high pressure situations before, and they really need to gain that game experience for the state tournament to really go deep and play well. It’s a curse and a blessing at the same time. That’s the best way I can put it. 

Q: How is the team atmosphere/chemistry and has it changed from last season? 

Noble: The team atmosphere is positive and supportive.  The team is very supportive of one another and encouraging – otherwise, there’s really no place for a teammate who is not.  Team chemistry is a top priority – without it, there would be very few wins this season, if any.

Aiello: So, we have a good group of leaders. We had some very good leadership last year with Natalie [Aiello], Riley [Thibodeau], and Jenna [Hoofangle]. I think it translated very well with our captains this year. They’ve shown great leadership, and when it comes to softball, that’s one of the most important things on the field. Team chemistry is almost more important than just talent alone. I’ve coached a lot of teams that are so-so talentwise but have good team chemistry; Those teams that have good team chemistry can beat a team that’s more talented than them. That’s just the way softball works. To me, team chemistry and bonding are more important than anything.

Q: Do you feel like softball is more mental or physical in the sense of the game?

Aiello: So again, that’s another 50/50 question. The game is definitely 50% mental, 50% physical. What I would say is that physical errors are part of the game. Everybody is going to make them. Everyone. They’re going to make 100 errors; it’s part of the game. Mental errors are something we can control. So, I feel like the mental part of the game is more important, to be honest, than the physical part. The physical part of the game, everyone’s going to make mistakes, but we can control mental errors. Being mentally tough with a high softball IQ is, to me, more important than straight physical talent. 

Q: Not only is your varsity team on the younger side, but the program also brought up some 8th graders to JV. Do you feel like this will affect the program in the future in terms of numbers/talent?

Noble: The talent gets stronger every year. I think the sooner a player sees a higher level of play, [the better] for their development if they want to play at the varsity level.  The numbers have seemed to increase the past few seasons, and the youth league has very high numbers this year and includes a high number who also play tournament softball.

Aiello: So, yes. [I think] pulling up 8th graders to play on JV only helps them. [It] gives them a little bit of a taste of what it’s like to play on a high school team, what the commitment level is. So it’s only going to benefit them in the future. Being so young and getting to play up only helps. That only helps.

Q: Do you feel like the team succeeds better on defense or offense?

Noble: If you had asked me that a few weeks ago, my answer would have definitely been defense.  But the last few games – they are exploding on offense and the defense has been rock solid.  

Aiello: For this year, our team definitely succeeds more, right now, with our pitching and defense. We use a lot of small ball to manufacture runs right now because we have such a young team and they’re just inexperienced at the plate. A lot of the girls right now just have not seen the level of pitching that they are seeing here. They’ve just never seen it before. They’re just coming straight from the softball league, which is a big difference. So, right now, offense is a work in progress, but we really strive with our pitching and defense. That’s really the forefront of our game. 

Q:[So, it’s] similar to Legends (AAU)?

Aiello: Similar to Legends, good. Softball, in general, is a pitcher-dominated sport. Right? The pitcher is pitching from 48 feet. By the time she releases, it’s 38 feet from the plate. Most good pitchers, depending on the level you’re at, they’re throwing 55-65 miles per hour. That’s not easy to hit at 38 feet. Pitching and defense definitely dominates softball.

Q: What are some skills of the game has the team has mastered?

Noble: Communication on defense – they are great at communicating with one another – constantly calling out where the play is – how many outs – etc.  It’s so important to keep the defense aware of each situation and how it changes pitch to pitch.  

Aiello: This year, in particular, I think they have really mastered defense. Their defense, I think, is one of the best in the conference. Our baserunning is very, very good and they have executed their small ball very, very well. Those are the things I think-well I wouldn’t say they’ve mastered them. There is always room to learn. They haven’t mastered them, but I think that’s their biggest strong suit. 

Q: On the flip side of that, what are skills that the team has to work on more?

Nobel: I think this is the biggest difference in having a younger team vs an older team.  They’re just so afraid of making a mistake or disappointing an upperclassmen/coaches.  Errors are part of the game, strikeouts are part of the game.  They’ll get past it as they get more games under their belts.  

Aiello: So, everything. Just when we play well on offense, maybe our defense slips a little bit. When our pitching goes well, maybe our offense slips a little bit. There is always stuff to work on. If you’re not continuously working, no matter what position you’re playing, you’re just behind because someone else is working harder. That’s the goal. You never wanna let someone outwork you on the softball field. If you’re the hardest worker on the field, you’ll be the most successful. 

Q: And for our final question: Do you think the softball team this year is playoff-worthy?

Noble: This team is absolutely tournament worthy.  We have depth in our pitching, our defense and offense are developing daily.  I’m so excited for tournament season to get here!   

Aiello: 100%. I think they have already proved it. They’ve beaten some tough teams this year. We’ve had some close losses to some tough teams. All that means is that they’re battle-tested. Right now, I expect them to make a deep run in the state tournament.