The historic playoff run of the 2019 Magnolia West season made way for an encore performance by a 2020 squad, which brought back many key pieces from the team that reached the region championship.
But the 2020 team barely scratched the surface in terms of how good they could be. The Mustangs won 8 of 10 games before the season was shutdown last March due to COVID-19.
Mustangs coach Justin Faltysek lost some key pieces from that team, but the program as a whole is ready and unafraid despite limited action at the varsity level for most of them.
Magnolia West isn’t taking anything for granted in terms of having a season in 2021.
“We talk about that everyday,” Faltysek said. “We have 11 varsity letterman who got their season taken away last year. They come with that mindset every day….don’t take anything for granted. We’re going to play not just each game, but we are going to practice each day like you don’t know what the future holds.”
Magnolia West has a pair of three-year starters back and a seven total players considered returning starters.
“We’ve got a lot of starters coming back off a team that went 8-2 last year and have high expectations of keeping the program going,” Faltysek said.
Seniors Mason Swidersky, a middle infielder and JP Ellwanger, a pitcher, are the only two regulars from the 2019 team.
The pair are among 14 total seniors who have played a key part in keeping positivity and hope alive going into a somewhat unknown season.
“I think senior leadership plays a big part,” Faltysek said. “Our senior leadership is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen because of what was taken away from them.”
Elsewhere in the lineup, the Mustangs return Trey Leggett (middle infield) and Mitchell Moore (third base) as well as Kade Dunlap (first base). Ethan Bourg (a transfer from Tomball Memorial) will challenge for playing time at second base and shortstop while Jayden Berryman will do the same at first base. Noah Huff, previously a backup, will be elevated to starting catcher.
Magnolia West returns two outfielders with experience in Brock Dalton and Caden Robertson. Jonathan Griffith and Greg Ferguson are pushing strongly for regular time in the starting lineup.
“We’ve got a lot of people,” Faltysek said. “We’re just trying to figure out that puzzle”
After 2019, the Mustangs lost their three best pitchers, including Connor Phillips, a Seattle Mariners draft pick last summer after a partial season of junior college ball.
Ellwanger, Ferguson and Dunlap return as the most experienced pitchers. But Faltysek was confident the pitching could be a big part of Magnolia West’s identity and success once again this year as 12 players will be on the staff.
“We’re deep in pitching this year,” Faltysek said. “That’s going to be our strength, I think. They can do it at the varsity level. They just haven’t had the chance to compete on that stage just yet.”
The Mustangs will be involved in the same challenging District 19-5A that they were with the past two season.
District play never even started last year, but Faltysek said he is familiar with a handful of the team has less knowledge of a couple of them like Waller and Katy Paetow.
“It’s a tough district,” Faltysek said. “Lots of talent and great coaching in our district. A&M Consolidated, College Station and Brenham will have talent all over the field. Magnolia, we know what they have and they’ll be right there in the mix and Coach (Taylor) Shiflett does a great job. I think (Bryan) Rudder is going to push some people as well and be in the hunt.”
For the Mustangs, it’s just a matter of accumulating important playing time as the season ramps up this week.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are varsity-ready but have not competed on the varsity stage yet,” Faltysek said. “We feel confident in what they can do.”