The success Legacy's softball program has enjoyed over the past seven seasons playing in the largest classification has been remarkable.
Coach Dawn Gaffin has coached the Lightning to six Class 5A state championships since 2007. After winning five straight titles from 2007 to 2011 the championship streak ended in 2012 when Loveland defeating Dakota Ridge in the 5A title game. However, Legacy climbed back to the apex last season with a 6-4 win over Legend to claim a sixth championship.
While Legacy is tied with Wheat Ridge and Arvada West for second with the number of state softball titles in Colorado prep history — Erie leads with 11 state trophies — the hardware isn't the most valuable part of the winning culture for Gaffin.
"What really means a lot are the relationships you are going to have with those kids. That is what is important," said Gaffin, who has coached prep softball in Colorado since 1987. "The relationships are real and that is what's going to last."
Focusing on strong leadership, mental toughness and visualization skills have been a trademark of Gaffin's teams through the years. Bouncing back from adversity was the key last season for pitcher Haley Smith.
Smith took the loss on the mound as a sophomore during a 9-2 state semifinal defeat to Loveland in 2012. She had battled through pain with loose cartilage under right kneecap during the season. Smith had surgery in November after the season with the hope to be at 100 percent for her junior campaign.
"I felt really confident going into my junior year because I worked so hard rehabbing it, getting in shape and getting ready for the season," said Smith, who pitched in all 25 games last season and was named the 5A Player of the Year. "The (semifinal) loss my sophomore year really lite a fire under me."
While Smith enters her third season as the Lightning ace, she was also impressive at the plate. Smith led Legacy last year in home runs (six) and RBIs (36). She is one of seven returning players who batted over .400 last year for Legacy.
"We have really great hitters on that team that produce," Smith said.
Seniors Alyssa Geist, Celyn Whitt and Smith, along with sophomores Emily Taggart and Katelyn Kubitschek will provide plenty of pop at the plate for Legacy. The Lightning averaged more than six runs a game in its four state tournament games in 2013.
"I would definitely have to give credit to my two assistant coach in John Waller and Lauren Green," Gaffin said of Legacy's offensive achievements last year. "We've got some great hitters still on the team. In fact I've got four of my one through five hitters back. That's a good thing."
It's also helpful for Legacy's winning tradition that complacency isn't in the Lightning's vocabulary.
"I'm more focused than ever," Smith said. "It's my last year and the last time I'll be playing with my Legacy jersey on. All of us seniors want to go out with a bang."
Class 5A Softball
Defending champion: Legacy
Returning All-State players: Tes Hass, Sr., OF, Loveland (1st); Tayler Mashburn, Jr., UT, Eaglecrest (1st); Carly Perry, Sr., SS, Columbine (1st); Haley Smith, Sr., P, Legacy (1st); Emily Supercynski, Sr., SS, Grandview (1st); Autumn Anderson, Jr., P, Fort Collins (2nd); Lauren Buckley, Sr., OF, Eaglecrest (2nd); Alyssa Geist, Sr., OF, Legacy (2nd); Kenya Lindstrom, Sr., P, Denver East (2nd); Kayla Michel, Sr., C/1B, Brighton (2nd); Sloane Stewartson, Soph., C, Rock Canyon (2nd); Dani Valerio, Sr., CF, Dakota Ridge (2nd); Jasmime Wessel, Sr., C/SS, Horizon (2nd)
Regular season begins: August 15
Playoffs begin: October 11
Championship: October 17-18, Aurora Sports Park