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High school softball: Duo helped turn Provo softball around

PROVO — When Megan Ventura and Taylor Allman looked forward to playing prep softball, there wasn’t much tradition to dream of joining at their neighborhood school — Provo High.

Just before their freshman season, the high school decided to hire a new softball coach. Both of their fathers applied with the agreement that whoever got the head coaching job would hire the other one as an assistant. Jose Ventura, who also teaches at the school, was hired, and he immediately made Shane Allman his assistant, and then the pair set about creating a new softball culture at Provo High School.

The first thing they needed to change was the way the program was viewed by student athletes.

“When I first got here, they just didn’t have a summer program,” Ventura said. “Softball was like a social event. If there was something else going on, like a birthday party or whatever it was, they skipped softball to go to that.” He said they discussed how “pitiful” the situation was before they applied, but resolved that together they could change it.

“We’ve worked together pretty well,” said Ventura. “It’s been amazing just watching the girls grow from their freshman year to where they are now at the top of their game.”

It helps, when turning around a program, to have an ace pitcher (Taylor Allman) and a versatile athlete (Megan Ventura) around which to build a solid program.

“They are so different personality wise, but they are both so committed to winning,” Ventura said. “They’ll do everything it takes to win. We’re talking about these kids playing 75 games in the summer, and they don’t miss a game for anything. They don’t miss practices. They are and they have been completely committed. And that’s really why we’ve gotten so much better.”

The leadership of these two seniors has created a culture where winning is the expectation. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 3 in 4A and are tied for first in a tough Region 8 battle. Allman is 12-6 as a pitcher, and Ventura (who pitched one game — a win) leads the team in extra base hits with eight doubles, three triples and three home runs.

They’re both quick to recognize the contributions of their teammates, but there is no doubt that their leadership and hard work over the years has set a tone for the program.

“It feels good that all that work paid off that Taylor and I put in when we were little,” said Megan Ventura.

Added Allman, “We didn’t build it, but we definitely played a part in it. We had expectations; the coaches had expectations; and that helped everyone else have high expectations. It’s been really fun to see the girls grow and stuff. It’s fun to see how the girls just fall in love with the game. It changes their lives; they become like a new person.”

Allman now plays with her two younger sisters — sophomore first baseman Emily and freshman utility player Kacie.

“I love it,” Taylor said of playing with her sisters and for her father. “It’s a blast. We help each other out, so it’s a lot of fun.”

Both girls said the sky is the limit with this year’s squad.

“We definitely have a groove going,” said Taylor with a giggle. “I know they’re going to do everything they can to win region and go really deep in state. We’ll give it everything we have, and I think we’ll make it happen.”

It isn’t just a lackluster history that Megan Ventura faced when she decided to devote herself to softball. She battles a heart defect that has slowly sapped her energy.

Her father said that every year they make a trip to Primary Children’s Medical Center to see if they need to have surgery. And every year they tell her to come back in another year.

Yet, as she’s grown older, playing multiple sports has become too taxing.

“She’s been able to do everything all her life,” Jose Ventura said of his daughter who played soccer, basketball, softball and danced. “The doctors have always been impressed at how good, how tough she is.” But last year she made the decision to focus on just softball because it was becoming more difficult to maintain the energy she needed for school and sports.

“She’d play basketball and then come home and pass out,” he said. “I couldn’t wake her. It was scaring me.”

The biggest issue was dehydration.

When she doesn’t have enough electrolytes, just staying away can be challenging.

“It’s been frustrating because I felt like I was just full of excuses,” she said. “It was hard to keep pushing through during practice, and then I would just go home and sleep.” She said giving up everything except softball and dance (she teaches in her own studio) was difficult.

“I love being involved in school in a lot of ways,” she said. “But I had to give up the other sports.”

She is grateful that she still has the reprieve of softball.

“I don’t know what I would do without it,” she said.

The players and coaches are grateful that the community and school has embraced the program and supported the efforts to make it one of the state’s best.

“It’s just been amazing,” said Jose Ventura of the change in the program in just four years. “It’s like night and day. I tell the kids, hard work pays off.”

And the players have proven that to be true.

“We were just used to losing,” he said. “In my first year, sometimes we’d be up by seven and then end up losing by 10. That doesn’t happen anymore. It helps that we have a very good pitcher in Taylor, but we don’t make the errors we used to make. And then, when you need a strike out, you can get it.”

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