At the start of the century, John Moody, with a lot of help from a tenacious and talented shortstop named Dawn Ross, led the Gray-New Gloucester softball team to a pair of Class B state championships.
Over a decade has passed, Dawn Ross is now Dawn Armandi, and this spring, the two are together again.
Armandi has replaced Robbie Ferrante as the Lions’ coach and she’ll be ably assisted this season by her former coach and mentor.
“We have the same philosophy,” Armandi said. “He gave me confidence. I had him four years in soccer too, so he became like a second father to me.”
“It’s fun,” said Moody, the who spent the last two years as Deering’s softball coach and was convinced to take the McAuley assistant’s job when Armandi told him he could coach third base. “It’s my first time as an assistant. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t have to call the shots. I’m happy to help her out.”
Gray-New Gloucester won Class B championships in 2001 and 2003, lost to Greely in the regional final in 2002 and was upset by Lake Region in the quarterfinals in 2004. Armandi was the shortstop for all four seasons, also excelled in basketball and played both sports at the University of Southern Maine.
As a senior in college, Armandi eschewed playing softball and instead coached the junior varsity softball team at Gorham High. She spent a second season there, then gave up coaching softball when she took a job at a oral surgeon’s office. After spending the past seven years as a key assistant with McAuley’s powerhouse girls’ basketball team (she’s also the Lions’ JV basketball coach), Armandi got her head coaching opportunity this spring.
“I’m fortunate to coach basketball here, so I know a few of the girls,” Armandi said. “It’s fun, but it’s been nervewracking. I love the school. I love being a part of this community. When the job opened up, I knew right away that I wanted to do it.”
Moody, who also previously coached at Southern Maine Community College, stepped down from the Deering job due to work demands and found that being an assistant fit best into his schedule. He feels that Armandi is a great fit for the McAuley program.
“(Dawn will) bring a good work ethic,” Moody said. “She’ll bring excitement to these kids. She has connection with the basketball kids and we have several on the team. She was a gutsy player. She did whatever I asked. She was never afraid.”
Armandi is also assisted by Kay Potter Maxwell, a former coach at North Yarmouth Academy, who still plays fast-pitch softball and will coach the outfielders.
Armandi’s thankful to have such a strong support staff.
“I feel like I have the strongest coaching staff I could ask for,” Armandi said. “Knowing I have them makes it a lot easier. To bring (John’s) experience that he has coaching third and his knowledge of hitting, I’m gaining a lot. I can bounce ideas off him. When I played, we were disciplined and aggressive. We ran all the time. I developed a lot of my bunting game playing for him.”
On the field, McAuley hopes to build on last year’s 8-9 mark. The Lions lost to Noble in the preliminary round, but snapped a two-year playoff drought.
Armandi has the luxury of relying on three pitchers: senior Taylor Whaley, sophomore Ashley Littlefield and freshman Anya Chase, the last of whom throws left-handed.
“To come in and have three girls who pitch is exciting,” Armandi said. “They throw year-round and have pitching coaches. Having a lefty, especially in Maine, is rare and might give us an advantage.”
Only a couple days into practice, Whaley was optimistic.
“I’m really excited for the new season,” said Whaley, a Southwestern Maine Activities Association second-team all-star in 2014. “All of the coaches are eager for us to do well. Coach didn’t know some of my pitches, but she researched them, which shows how passionate and dedicated she is.”
The Lions appear set behind the plate as well. Sophomore Ally Tillotson, a second-team all-star a year ago and one of the top hitters in the league, returns, and depth at that position might allow her to play in the field at times.
“I have four girls who have caught before,” Armandi said. “In practice, I have a catcher for each pitcher. I trust (Ally) behind the plate, but if I can find someone else that I’m as comfortable with, I can move her out into the field where she can be as effective.”
It all adds up to a promising campaign.
“I’m really excited,” Tillotson said. “It should be a good season. The communication is very open. There’s more energy, it’s more organized.”
“We have the pitching and we have the tools,” Moody said. “I think we can definitely make the playoffs. With our pitching, we could go deep.”
“My goal is to get to a Western Maine Final,” Armandi added. “They started something last year making the playoffs. If we work hard and continue what we started last year, the coaching staff has the experience to take them up a notch.
“I want to take the momentum of basketball and bring it to this team. I want people to know that basketball isn’t all that represents this school. We want to do that and have fun at the same time.”
In 2001 and 2003, Dawn Ross’ steady play at shortstop helped coach John Moody lead Gray-New Gloucester to the Class B state championship.
This spring, with Dawn Ross now Dawn Armandi, the two are reunited at McAuley, with Armandi as the coach and Moody as an assistant.