By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — It was one of the unlikeliest of pairings.
One girl was practically softball royalty at Hatboro-Horsham High School, the link between what would ultimately become the two Lady Hatter 4-A state championship squads, a player who was considered one of the top prep softball players in the country.
Julie Wambold was from one of the first families of Hatboro-Horsham softball, which is saying something, when one considers how the baton of success has been built and passed in one of the top high school programs in the competitive ranks of Pennsylvania softball.
She was a confident, pretty and self-assured force on the diamond. Wambold forged her way into the starting lineup of a team that would win its first state title as a freshman in 2008 as the squad’s designated player and by the time she was a senior, this Syracuse-bound athlete was bound and determined to win another gold medal by the shear force of her personality.
She was the girl with the explosive bat speed — called by her high school coach, Joe DiFilippo the quickest he had ever seen — and tremendous power in a pint-sized frame.
If the squad needed a stern pep talk to get it focused on the task at hand before a game, Wambold was there to deliver it. If the Lady Hatters could use a musical lift before they played, Wambold’s iTunes mix tape of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) would set the proper tone.
This all-state performer also led by example. She could be counted on for the big hit, but wasn’t afraid to lay down a bunt, if she was in a slump. The team always came first.
Though she seldom saw many strikes by the time she was a senior, Wambold expected more from herself than anyone else on the team. On those few-and-far-between times when she failed, her icy glare could melt the courage of players on either bench.
There were times where it was best to let Wambold silently steam.
When it was time to have fun, few players had more than Wambold, leading her teammates in that regard as well.
When starting catcher Kelsie Koelzer suffered an elbow injury to her right throwing arm part of the way through the season, Wambold showed her team-first attitude by switching from shortstop to catcher to help HHHS solidify itself defensively, even though Wambold hadn’t caught since she was a 10-year-old.
She may not have realized it at the time, but there were some young players coming into the Lady Hatter program that were watching Wambold’s every move on the field. They couldn’t have asked for a better role model.
One of them was about as far away on the softball spectrum from Wambold as Pluto is from Mercury.
Charlotte Coulson had barely made her eighth-grade softball team at Keith Valley Middle School the previous year, being kept around largely as a practice player by coach Mark Wigand on a team that was on its way to its third consecutive undefeated season.
One player that took a quick like to her was a budding superstar in hew own right as an eighth-grader, Daria Edwards, foreshadowing the events of Coulson’s first season at Hatboro-Horsham High.
The following year, one of Coulson’s teammates on the KVJH team, Nicole Johnson, coaxed her to come out for softball tryouts the day before the 2011 season was set to begin in early March.
In a program filled with girls who had come up through the ranks of Hatboro Little League and playing on travel squads, Coulson was the rare athlete who was giving high school softball a shot without the benefit of club-level experience.
Moving to the Philadelphia suburbs after being born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Boone, this friendly, country girl made up for lack of softball experience with her bubbly personality.
The veteran-laden Lady Hatter squad wouldn’t have noticed Coulson much for her softball skills at the time, but they were quick to figure out there was something different about this quirky girl, with the cascading, always-in-motion, reddish-brown curls, the Tigger-like bounce in her step and the contagious laugh and broad, mischief-laden, smile behind steely, blue eyes and boundless freckles.
One of the players who couldn’t help but notice their new, young, charismatic teammate was Wambold.
A laudable tradition of the Hatboro-Horsham program through its years of success has been something called Big Sisters and Little Sisters, a device where older players “adopt” new players on the team to help them in their transition into the high school squad.
On the day that the varsity players selected who were going to be their Little Sisters, a light-hearted argument broke out between two veterans.
“Charlotte is mine,” shouted Chrissy James, a junior infielder at that time.
“No, she is not,” answered Wambold. “I get Charlotte.”
Being the leader of the pack had privileges. Wambold was used to winning and this battle wasn’t any different.
James had to settle for one of the other freshmen.
At least James got to share Charlotte when this trio went out door-to-door one Saturday to sell community discount fundraising cards.
With the wild-driving Wambold behind the wheel, Coulson was quickly indoctrinated into the world of fast cars and EDM, with rhythmic, synthesized tones blaring from Wambold’s car stereo. Coulson was quickly hooked on this energetic music.
Encouraging her dad to change the channel on his Sirius/XM satellite car radio a few days later, Charlotte explained she wanted to listen to what Wambold was listening to.
“Julie is my hero,” she said, in a statement that is still repeated almost whenever Wambold’s name is mentioned with excited reverence.
On and off the field, Coulson watched Wambold and learned as many lessons about being a team leader as she did about the fundamentals of softball.
When the regular season came to an end and the playoffs started, Coulson became a fixture and a personal good-luck charm on the Lady Hatter bench.
Before the first playoff game, most of the varsity was walking along the third-base foul line during pre-game workouts when they heard a loud stirring in the heavily-wooded bushes of the Jarrett Nature Center that borders the HHHS softball field.
“Charlotte is that you?” yelled a warily-shocked Jackie DiPietro.
Coulson emerged from a hard-fought battle with the thorny shrubbery, carrying a softball that had been lost moments earlier on an overthrow.
Wambold, DiPietro, James and the rest of the team busted into loud laughter and had just the distraction they needed to take the edge off any playoff pressure that had existed a moment before.
Some things need to be left to the imagination, but Coulson just might have cut a few classes to make sure she got to all of her team’s postseason games on the way to the school’s first-ever District One championship and later to the state crown.
As a JV player, she wasn’t on the travel list to ride the bus.
Wambold and her superstitious teammates would be on pins and needles before each game until they saw Coulson come sprinting from the parking lot to the Lady Hatter bench.
“Charlotte is here, now we can play,” Wambold and the others would tell each other.
Wambold fell into a big slump as the Lady Hatter continued to win in the district playoffs and the intense, almost-intimidating stares became bigger after each unsuccessful return to the dugout.
Early during the district title game between Pennsbury and Hatboro-Horsham, Coulson watched Wambold walk to the plate and announced that her Big Sister was going to hit a homer.
Seconds later, Wambold launched a pitch from fireballing Val Buehler over the fence at North Penn High School, the left-fielder tumbling over the barrier on this laser-like liner that quickly disappeared into home run territory. That blow gave the Lady Hatters some quick momentum in a game they ultimately won 6-5 in eight innings.
Wambold and Coulson shared hugs and the story of the called homer after the game as the impressionistic freshman admired the confident senior’s gold medal.
When Wambold and company met Pennsbury at Penn State a couple of weeks later for the state 4-A title, Coulson and her family were behind the first-base dugout, cheering the Lady Hatters on.
A three-run rally in the sixth inning turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory, the key play being a two-strike, suicide squeeze by James that tied the score and sent teammate Melissa Spinosa to third.
With the dangerous Wambold at the plate and the game on the line, Pennsbury’s veteran coach Frank McSherry called for one of Wambold’s club teammates with Newtown Rock Gold, catcher D’Anna Devine, to attempt to pick Spinosa off third. The throw hit Spinosa instead, bounced away and allowed Spinosa to scoot home with the eventual winning run as Wambold emplored her to slide.
As Coulson celebrated over Italian food with her HHHS teammates in a State College, PA. restaurant following that victory, she couldn’t keep her glances off the medal around Wambold’s neck, glistening in the artificial light.
“I want one of those before I graduate,” Coulson told her friend.
The dream of another state championship had been planted in the heart of a wide-eyed prep freshman.
After captaining Hatboro-Horsham to a state title with a 4-3 victory over Pennsbury in June at Penn State’s sparkling, new softball complex, Wambold’s Newtown Rock 18 and under Gold club team was the runner-up at the 2011 American Softball Association (ASA) national tournament.
Moving on to Syracuse, Wambold quickly established herself as one of the top college freshmen in the country.
Playing in one of the country’s most prestigious tournaments, the Cathedral Classic in Palm Springs, CA., Wambold announced herself to the college softball world with a grand slam in the fifth and a two-run shot in the seventh of a 9-3 victory over long-time national powerhouse Northwestern, her six RBIs coming within one of a Syracuse single-game record.
The next day, Wambold’s walk-off homer against UC Davis gave the Orange a stunning 5-3 victory.
“I’m thinking Julie Wambold needs to be in the lineup everyday,” was the reaction from Syracuse coach Leigh Ross. “With her offensive ability, we need to find her a position.”
Playing as a designated player, in left field, at second base and shortstop, Wambold was the team leader in homers (11) and RBIs (34), setting an Orange record for freshman homers on a squad that came within a game of beating out defending national champion Arizona State to go to the NCAA Super Regionals.
She added eight homers and 18 RBIs last year as a sophomore, despite a string of injuries, starting in left field, and is establishing herself as one of the top power threats in the ACC as the now-slick-fielding, second baseman helps Syracuse make its transition into a new league.
As of Tuesday’s games, Wambold had three home runs, 25 RBIs, a .325 batting average, an on-base percentage of .451 and a slugging percentage of .625, hitting in the third spot in the Orange batting order.
As a loyal friend, Coulson has supported Wambold the past two years by surprising her at a pair of Syracuse doubleheaders, one during Wambold’s freshman year on a brutally cold, rainy and windy New York City day at St. John’s University and on a hot and sunny afternoon last year at Georgetown University.
Wambold responded each time with home runs for her Little Sister.
The roles were reversed late last season when Wambold made it back from Syracuse to watch Coulson’s HHHS softball squad play twice in the district playoffs.
The results included an unexpected, extra-innings loss to Central Bucks East in the quarterfinals, one play away from a berth in the state tournament, when a line drive in the hole at short by Edwards was dramatically turned into a game-ending, double play.
But maybe Coulson will be able to hit a homer for her Big Sister during this year’s district, or state playoff runs?
As the Lady Hatters prepare for their season opener in a couple of weeks. Coulson has learned all of those lessons she gleaned from Wambold as a freshman.
Now a senior co-captain, battling for playing time on an extraordinarily, competitive squad, Coulson, long-time friend Edwards and senior South Carolina transfer Megan Hallock are guiding an HHHS squad that is expected to again make a run at Continental Conference, District One and State 4-A crowns.
And Coulson and Edwards are even having a Big Sister-Little Sister tussle over a freshman named Kylie Flagler. Sound familiar?
Coulson has been a vocal leader and role model for a team jammed-packed with ninth-graders throughout summer conditioning, fall and winter workouts and into last week’s tryouts. Wambold would be proud of how this one-time, intimidated freshman has emerged as her successor, at least in terms of leadership.
Last summer, Coulson even showed up at a softball tournament in Doylestown, that the local Banshees club team was competing in, to introduce herself to a pair of her future teammates, pitcher Brynn Griffith and Flagler, and welcome them to the Lady Hatters.
On Thursday afternoon, in the midst of a brutal week of games in the Carolinas, the travel-weary Wambold will visit Coulson’s hometown of Boone when Syracuse plays Appalachian State in a doubleheader.
Unfortunately, Coulson won’t be the crowd for this one. She won’t even be at Hatboro-Horsham’s practice.
Charlotte will facing a date with an oral surgeon to have impacted wisdom teeth removed as Wambold will be stepping in against ASU pitching.
But in keeping with this unusual friendship, don’t be surprised if Wambold doesn’t go deep again in honor of her Little Sister. That might just be the best pain relief possible.