BOZEMAN — Shannan Bilbao's first year as the Bozeman Hawks head softball coach was supposed to be last season. COVID-19 changed that, but now the team is back and she’s ready to build the team from the ground up.
“I’m excited because I think that we can do a lot of great things here, and building this program is going to be really cool," Bilbao said. "There’s some challenges to it, of course, because we split schools and everything like that and we didn't have a season, but I'm going to take that as a positive so we can just hit the ground running, have some fun and play some softball.”
For Bilbao, it was toughest to watch the 2020 seniors lose their final season.
“It was hard and it was really hard to watch the seniors just have to leave that way, it was devastating to say the least,” she said.
After having one of their better seasons as a program in 2019, the Hawks and Bilbao now have a tough road ahead in rebuilding the program. They have enough players to field a team but not much more than that.
“We were able to get a bunch of people to our program for my junior year and then the split (with Gallatin High) happened and we're like, 'OK, so now we need to find more players and more people,’" said senior Karly Stromberg, who plays third base.
The Hawks are a young squad and have only one senior, Stromberg, and one junior, Josie Laufenberg, but both are ready to step up into a leadership role.
“Carly and I being the upperclassmen, we really need to take that role into our hands and give the team the best opportunity to win that we can,” Laufenberg said.
It's a role Stromberg has been waiting for.
“I have been waiting for four years to have my top spot and I’m so excited to be able to be somebody that the younger players can look up to and be somebody that can help create more of a fun playing experience,” she said.
For their head coach, this season is all about growth and staying positive to make sure the program can be a top contender a few years down that road.
“I look at it as a positive thing having less girls and having a younger team because we just have that much more room for growth and we just get to start fresh," said Bilbao. "I think that you play better when you play better teams, so those girls that don’t have much experience are going to get great opportunities to learn from great players.”
With all the players who have come out for both Bozeman and Gallatin, Bilbao is excited for the growth of softball in the city as a whole.
“What’s pretty great about it is even with that split, if you think of how many girls we have between both schools, we have more girls than we’ve ever had," said Bilbao. "It’s just they’re now split. It gives a lot of great opportunity for players to come out and play who didn’t want to in the past or were worried about tryouts, things like that. Now they know there’s going to be a spot for them and there’s a lot of potential in Bozeman.”
The Hawks' first game is April 3 at Helena High School.