The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Todd Stanford

April 20, 2011

Prodigal daughter returns home

Every time Andy Swanger went to the plate, you'd hear the same chant from one diehard Mifflinburg fan: "C'mon Andy, hit a dandy!"

On numerous occasions, Swanger did just that. The 2004 Mifflinburg grad was a four-time Daily Item First Team All-Star, and a key member of the team's 2004 Class AA state championship team. She was the first Mifflinburg alum to play at a Division I school, competing for St. Bonaventure (N.Y.) in the Atlantic 10 from 2005 to 2009 (she red-shirted with an injury her junior year).

Now she's back. For the second year in a row, Swanger is a volunteer assistant to Wildcats coach Steve Ross. She returned to the Valley last season to become a full-time health and physical education teacher at her alma mater.

"It's nice," Swanger says of her return to the diamond where she once starred. "You see people from the community who came to our games (who) still come to watch."

Watching the games is now part of Swanger's assignment as coach — one she doesn't particularly enjoy.

"It's a lot more nerve-wracking to coach than to play," she says. "It's so much harder when you're not the one playing. ... I wasn't expecting that."

During her last spring in New York, Swanger worked as an assistant coach at a school in Rochester. Although there was some talent there, it was a change from softball in the Central Susquehanna Valley, particularly in Mifflinburg.

"Most of the girls we're working with know (the basics)," she says. "You're not reinventing the wheel. ... That's the nice thing about Mifflinburg: You're not starting from the ground up."

Swanger is a big part of the Wildcats' history. In addition to the state championship, they won two District 4 titles and two Susquehanna Valley League crowns during her tenure there, as the team — then coached by Mike Beckley — compiled a 73-18 record during her four years. Swanger and her classmates, including pitcher Jess Vonada and third baseman Tiff Corliss, helped take Mifflinburg to another level. Swanger still keeps in touch with many of her old teammates, and she points out that nearly every starter on that 2004 team played at least one year of college ball.

"We were so united in what we wanted and our confidence in each other was high," she says. "Looking back, we had some good talent, but it was more about what we wanted than we were much more talented than everyone else."

The importance of the mental aspect of the game is something that Swanger tries to impart to today's players.

"These girls, after our first game (a win over favored Central Columbia), we told them they have to start believing in themselves," she says. "You can beat good teams if you believe it."

When asked if she hopes to be a head coach herself some day, Swanger says that she's not ready for that responsibility yet.

"I'm not looking to do it anytime soon," she says. "Right now it's nice being the assistant. You get to work with the girls but don't have to make the decisions."

— Sports reporter Todd Stanford covers high school softball for The Daily Item. E-mail comments to tstanford@dailyitem.com.

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