The eternal question of nature versus nurture may rage on in some circles of life, but for Eldredge it makes no difference – she has the bases covered both ways. Eldredge comes from a long line of Cedar High athletes, and has learned from some of the best along the way.
Eldredge piloted the Lady Reds to a Region 9 championship and a top-five finish at state last weekend in her first year, but she’s wise enough to know she had plenty of help. Cedar High softball is a family affair – it has been for years, and likely will stay that way.
“There have been a lot of people who have helped out, and we wouldn’t have been able to get where we are as a program without them,” said Eldredge, a Cedar High graduate and former player. “This program didn’t really get turned around until Tom Cardon, Larry Kottraba and my dad got involved. My freshman year it was an utter miracle that we even made it to state, now there’s a great expectation for this team every year.”
That’s a concise way to wrap up generations of knowledge and sacrifice many families have made for Eldredge and the 2011 team to arrive at where they are. The Lady Reds bowed out of the Class 3A championships following a 5-2 loss to Union in the quarter-final round Friday.
Eldredge hails from a rich Cedar City athletic tradition. Her father, Steve Jensen, was a catcher in the city’s youth leagues before assuming the duties for the Redmen, Uncle Dave Jensen coached for many years in the area, and Grandma Jensen kept the Lady Reds’ scorebook for years.
Eldredge’s mother is Paula Carter – once a cheerleader and softball player – and the list goes on and on. Uncle Dave Carter was one of the finest pitching prospects ever to grace the city’s fields, and one of his daughters – Kelcie Carter – is an assistant for Eldredge while another daughter, Alainey, is a sophomore second-baseman.
If you feel like you need a course in geneology to follow this team, wait – it gets better. The Lady Reds have two other sets of sisters in Rachelle and Jessica Nakken, whose cousin – Eric – plays on the Redmen baseball team. Their uncle, Robert Nakken, was a Cedar High standout in basketball, while Grandpa Herb was a football star and is in a bevy of halls of honor around the state.
Sisters Staci and Brindley Oldroyd have played together since they were Little League all-stars on – of course – the Cardon Insurance team, and back we are where we started.
“Coach Cardon was like a second father to me,” Eldredge said of her coach, who died from cancer three years ago. “His wife, Suzette, is still a big support to us, and those people need to know how important they are to us.”
Kottraba filled the gap between the Cardon era and Eldrege’s arrival, and became her mentor, going so far as to provide a study hall for the Lady Reds this season. The effort translated in two players making the academic all-state team – Kaitlyn Friese and Amanda Johnson (yes, she’s the youngest daughter of Cedar baseball coach Mark Johnson).
How do the players feel about all the tradition and expectations?
“It’s definitely a strength,” said senior third-baseman Rachelle Nakken. “It’s a motivator for me to live up to the traditions of the school and the community. The programs here have helped me learn more about life than just the sports side.”
Rachelle also played basketball and soccer, as does her sophomore sister, Jessica. Siblings Sara and Michael also donned the crimson and gold Cedar High colors.
“I’ve been going to Cedar High games since I was little,” said Jessica, who suggested the Lady Reds will continue to excel. “There’s good things to come, that’s for sure!”
Designated hitter Staci Oldroyd is a senior who has seen the changes at Cedar High.
“Softball has been so great; we ‘re all so close and we’ve played together since we were little,” she said. “It was really hard when Coach Cardon died, and it was hard when Coach Kottraba retired. But Karly has done a great job; she’s put everything she had into it, and I’m really sad it’s over.”
The Oldroyd name will live on for at least another season in the Lady Reds’ scorebook, however, since sister Brindley has another year in the pitching circle.
“The tradition here is very motivating; you want to try to keep it going and keep them up,” said Brindley, who recalls going to Vancouver on a Little League all-star team with her sister. “Next year for sure we’ll be tough. We lose a lot of seniors, but we’ll be back just as tough.”
Sophomore Alainey Carter hopes to take over the shortstop position next year since four-year starter Kensie Kupfer will be moving on. She said the team stays close by doing clinics for younger players as well as fundraisers.
“I love the traditions, they get me motivated,” Carter said. “(Being from) a competitive family gave me a love for sports, and a lot of motivation.”
While the traditions are helpful, eventually it comes down to making plays on the field, and Eldredge said the team has gotten more and more cohesive as the season wore on, and gave credit to her seniors.
Johnson, Friese and Kupfer were joined by Brakel Yardley in providing direction and leadership at a point in the season that seemed to turn the team around.
And now, with her first season behind her, Eldredge only sees things getting better.
“We want to make sure the tradition continues,” Eldredge said. “The direction, the achieving, is as important as the outcome. Here, it’s the community support that makes the difference. Here, it’s ‘us,’ not ‘me’ that makes it special.”