Sarah Coleman was accustomed to being a part of softball programs that made the playoffs at the high school and college levels.
She played for Palm Harbor University 2006-09 and went to the playoffs three times. Coleman then went to Barry, which advanced to regional play three times during her career.
Playoff appearances have become more elusive for Coleman as a head coach. That is due in large part to being placed in challenging districts. When she took over at Dunedin in 2014, the program was in a seven-team district that included North Suncoast powers River Ridge and Land O'Lakes. The Falcons never got past the district semifinals in her two seasons as coach.
Last season, Coleman was hired at Calvary Christian. The Warriors, who were coming off consecutive postseason appearances, were bumped up to Class 4A and placed in the same district as Tampa Catholic and Academy of the Holy Names, both powerhouses at the private school level.
"I knew there would be a building process," Coleman said.
She figured the program would have to take gradual steps to contend, a process that could years.
Her timetable was off. After going 6-14 last season, Calvary Christian has already matched that win total and is tied for second place in the Class 4A, District 4 standings. Better still, the Warriors (6-3 entering the week) have already beaten Holy Names and Tampa Catholic once this season.
The swift turnaround can be attributed to a talented freshman class. Charlotte Schultheis, Hayley Eaton and Kaylin Cole have been the biggest contributors.
"It's been an amazing freshmen class," Coleman said. "We really kind of lucked into this having this many talented girls come in all at once. I saw them a little bit in travel and fall ball so I knew a little bit of what I was getting."
Eaton leads the team in hitting with a .600 average. Schultheis, Calvary's ace, is 6-3 with a 2.95 ERA and 34 strikeouts.
The veterans play a key role, too. Catcher Amy Smith, a University of Massachusetts signee, is hitting .462 with 14 RBIs. Her leadership behind the plate is just as valuable in helping Schultheis as a first-year starting pitcher at the varsity level.
"It can be a tough transition going from travel ball to high school, especially for a freshman," Smith said. "The games are seven innings and not timed like they are a lot of times in travel. I just try to help keep Charlotte grounded and help with the pace and boost her confidence as much as possible."
After starting 2-2, the Warriors have won four of their past five games. The biggest win came against Holy Names, two-time defending region finalist. Trailing 8-3, Calvary Christian rallied with six runs in the bottom of the seventh for a 9-8 victory.
"That was like the World Series for us," Smith said. "We know we can beat anyone, but we can't just be satisfied with those wins. We have to keep it going."
Smith transferred from East Lake last season. She made the playoffs with the Eagles as a freshman. She has not been back since.
"I would love to finish my high school by going back to the playoffs," Smith said. "I think that's what we're all striving for now."