WARDSVILLE - Sharon Buschjost realizes the importance of getting to them early.
"I think there is an age that's too young, but for us, third grade has worked pretty well," the Blair Oaks head softball coach said Wednesday before the Lady Falcons' annual summer camp for grades 3-8 wraps up today. "I've always looked at that as kind of like the complete program."
With approximately 60 campers participating at the Falcon Athletic Complex, the softball program looks to be in good hands for years to come.
"The campers have been doing great," Buschjost said. "If you can say you like what you're seeing down to third grade, (you're in good shape)."
Buschjost wants to get the youngsters off on the right foot.
"It just comes down to your fundamental groups of the game," she said. "In terms of fielding, throwing, you try to get correct technique going early on, because, boy, those habits are hard to break by the time they get to high school. We've just been emphasizing some of those basics, but adding a little bit of fun in there."
With the varsity squad coming off a 23-8 season that culminated with a seventh straight district championship and a third-place finish at the Class 3 Final Four in Springfield, Blair Oaks has enjoyed the benefits of building a complete program.
"We have had players in our program, that by the time they get to high school, they are pretty good," Buschjost said. "That becomes their expectation as well. That is definitely our goal to get back (to the Final Four)."
Blair Oaks loses three second-team all-state selections in pitcher Michaella Forck, catcher Amy Dorge and center fielder Paige Kleffner. The Lady Falcons, however, do return first-team all-state second baseman Jolie Duffner, along with a a bevy of other talented starters.
"We have some of those same players in place that were there," Buschjost said. "It was nice to get that experience, because it had been 2009 and we only had one player who just graduated, Paige Kleffner, have that experience at the Final Four. So just to have another Final Four experience for a lot of the players, you hope will help if we're fortunate and lucky enough to get there this year."
To get prepared for another potential run in the postseason, Blair Oaks is playing in a summer league at Battle High School in Columbia, where the Lady Falcons will play doubleheaders one night a week for six weeks.
"We include our incoming freshmen through our seniors," Buschjost said. "It gives us a little bit of a head start. It gives coaches an opportunity to see some of the players they don't know as well, especially those incoming freshmen. And to take a look at where our needs are for the upcoming season and try to put people in those positions."
The league just kicked off earlier in the week.
"The group that played Monday night looked good," Buschjost said, singling out pitchers Payton Staggs, Blake Burks and Lindsey Kolb. "We had a mixture of incoming freshmen to seniors. It was a lot of fun. It's a lot more relaxed in the summer. That's what you need, you need to have fun with it. It can't be serious all the time."
Other than the summer league in Columbia, Blair Oaks is teaming up with Jefferson City High School to offer a body-pump class for the girls in June and July. A majority of the Lady Falcons are also playing in competitive travel leagues.
"They're in different places, some are playing a lot and some are playing a couple weekends a month," Buschjost said. "You kind of know who those players are. You can tell those who have been playing quite a bit up until now and then those that are kind of just getting it under way."