With 10 state championships in softball, the Tooele High softball program is tied with Bear River and Manti for the most softball titles in the state. Stepping in as a first-year head coach into such a storied program may feel intimidating for some, but not for the Buffs’ new coach, Lauren Frailey Spendlove. Spendlove, who played for four years in the THS program and just completed two years as an assistant on former coach Marissa Mendenhall Lowry’s staff, feels that she is the right person for the job at this time.
“As a freshman at THS in 2011, we took second at state. We got double dipped by Spanish Fork. Marissa [Lowry] and Whitney [Holt Burr] were seniors on that team. The next season when I was a sophomore, all of our seniors had graduated, and we had a young team and had to rebuild. I’ve been through rebuilding as a player, and I know the challenges. I feel like I am the right person to be at Tooele right now. We lost seven seniors to graduation last year after playing in the championship game in 2021. We got beat again, double dipped by Bear River. This time, Marrisa was the head coach, and I was an assistant,” Spendlove explained.
“We have a young team that has not had a lot of varsity experience. We’re rebuilding. It’s exciting and a challenge when program expectations are high. I’m so lucky to have such a strong network of support from all the coaches in the past and an amazing group of players.”
The Buffs earned their first state title in 1991 under Coach Susan Rydalch, the second year the sport was sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association. In 1992, they won a second consecutive title under Rydalch and claimed a third championship in 1998 with Coach Linda Kimball. Tooele dominated state softball from 2001-2011 appearing in championship games for 10 years and winning three consecutive titles in ‘03, ‘04, and ‘05 and two more in ‘07 and ‘08 under Coach Barry Pitt and another title under Coach Steve Snow in 2010. After a period with no titles, Lowry returned to coach in 2016 and led the Buffs to the 2019 title and the 2021 title game appearance.
Spendlove explained, “There has been a lot of success at Tooele in softball. It’s due to a lot of hard work and off-season prep on the part of the players. Just putting on a Tooele softball uniform is not magic. There is a lot of work that has to be done to be successful.”
Spendlove understands the work necessary to find success on the diamond. After graduation from Tooele High in 2014, she played two years at Salt Lake Community College and finished her notable college career at UVU were she was named Western Athletic Conference( WAC) Pitcher of the Year in 2017 and earned First Team All-WAC Honors. In 2017, she also married Joel Spendlove, a 2010 THS grad, who currently coaches Tooele’s girls’ wrestling team. After graduating from UVU in elementary education in 2018, she taught in the Alpine Schools and then returned to Tooele and taught at Willow Elementary in Grantsville until her daughter Max was born in 2021.
Spendlove shared that she and Joel are now living their dreams. “We are here to stay. I never dreamed that I’d be able to come back to Tooele and be the head coach. For both me and Joel to be able to come back and give back to the programs we love, it is a dream we never thought possible!”
Spendlove believes that her experience rebuilding as a player coupled with the support of her staff will help her young team “learn lessons now, so we can perform well in May.” She has assembled an all-star staff with Kelly Russell, Whitney Burr and Bailey Critchlow as assistant coaches. Russell has been with the Buffs for several years and coached Spendlove and Burr. “She brings a wealth of knowledge and years of experience,” Spendlove explained. Burr, who works as a counselor at Blue Peak, is a 2011 THS grad and played softball at SLCC as well. Critchlow, a 2015 Grantsville high product, played for two years at Pima Jr. College and completed her career at Embry-Riddle University in Arizona.
Spendlove is coming into the program with the idea “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “We’re keeping a lot of the same expectations, practice routines and meetings. I was taught, ‘The game doesn’t change. It doesn’t know who you are. Respect the game, and it will take care of you.’ I want my players to realize that they can get out of softball exactly what they put in regarding work and effort.”
With only two to three starters returning and two seniors on the squad, Spendlove and staff are excited to help the players develop individually and to find success as a team. Seniors Caitlyn Marshall, catcher, and Vanessa Rojas, third base, have “stepped into their roles well” according to Spendlove. “They are a strong emotional presence on the field.”
As a pitcher herself, Spendlove is thrilled to have a strong pitching staff. “A lot of times you have one dominant pitcher, but we have four girls who have already seen varsity this year: juniors Sadie Baker and Giovanna Villalobos and sophomores Aubrie Hansen and Allie Anderson.”
Other returning juniors are Ayden Fitch, center field, and Olivia Pater, shortstop. “Olivia is our lead-off hitter,” Spendlove explained. “She is ‘killing it;’ she’s rock solid, and Ayden has been hitting the ball really well too.”
She also reports that younger players Addy Laird, a freshman outfielder, and Emily Sheppard, a sophomore outfielder, have had “some quality at bats.”
“Tooele High has a legacy of softball success. We have giant shoes to fill, and I can’t name everyone who has contributed to this program. It takes a community to build and maintain success, and we have a good one,” she concluded.