Labette softball head coach Ryan Phillips has hired his fourth-ever assistant coach. Ashton Sangster, a four-year star outfielder from Arkansas Tech, was hired to replace the outgoing Emilee Vance.

Sangster, a native of Van Buren, Arkansas, was a four-year starter at Arkansas Tech. In her most recent complete season, Sangster’s junior year in 2019, she was a First Team All-Great American Conference selection and led her team with 50 runs, 17 stolen bases and seven triples. She hit .316 offensively while posting six outfield assists.

“She’ll ignite a little bit more of what we’re about,” Phillips said. “She loves to run and put pressure on teams. Ashton could hit as well at Arkansas Tech. They’re a great offensive team there. She’s passionate about opening up the short game.” 

Sangster’s senior season was cut short in 2020 after 24 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whenever everything happened, I didn’t really process it,” Sangster said. “There was no set answer to anything, and there still really isn’t. I was shocked in a way. It was crazy. I understand what happened and why. But of course I wish it didn’t. I played my last game and didn’t even know it.” 

Sangster is the fourth assistant to serve under Phillips. Kim Alexander was Phillips’ first assistant and now serves as the head coach at Neosho County. 

Alexander was followed by Kae Lani Bryan, who now is the head coach at Fort Scott. Bryan was succeeded by Vance, a former All-American for the Cardinals. Vance resigned shortly after the spring season was cut short. 

“Coaching is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Sangster said. “I just want to help younger players. This is why this job is such a good route. I want to help kids get to the best spot they’re able to get to.” 

Because Sangster traveled from Arkansas to move to Parsons and take the job, she is currently quarantining at the dorms.

“Being in quarantine is something else,” Sangster said. “It’s not fun by any means. But I have my dog with me, so I’m not completely by myself. They’ll let me go out to the field and work as long as I’m not around anybody. I’m easing into it all.” 

Like Sangster’s senior season at Arkansas Tech, Labette’s softball season was cut short by the coronavirus. Labette will return one sophomore, Grey Holland, while the rest of the roster will be freshmen. First-year players from 2020 were not charged a year of eligibility, while second-year players will not count towards roster limits in 2021.

“I’m excited for the girls that are returning,” Sangster said. “I know they’ll be more focused and excited to be out there because the season got cut short. Everybody is adjusting and I’ll try to always be there to help them. We’ll have a great time.” 

On the recruiting trail, Sangster hopes to expand Labette’s reach.

“I want to go to different places than Ryan has normally gone,” Sangster said. “I want to hit Arkansas and Tennessee. I’ve been on the other side of recruiting as a player, so I know what these girls are expecting.” 

Phillips said Labette’s first priority in recruiting will remain on girls within the region, but that added reach will only help the program. 

“Having a bigger net will be very beneficial for recruiting,” Phillips added. “That extends our reach for better players. I’m always open to getting great athletes and I don’t care where they come from.” 

Sangster played with one former Labette player at Arkansas Tech, Alix Boulanger, who graduated from the Cardinals program in 2016 after back-to-back national tournament berths. Phillips reached out to Boulanger as part of his research into hiring a new assistant.

“I talked to Alix about how she was as a player, and she said that Ashton was the only player she played with that enjoyed going to practice every day,” Phillips said. “Finding athletes that enjoy practice is hard to find. So I hope she brings that passion and conveys that to our players.” 

Labette softball is currently on track to have a spring season in 2021. The NJCAA announced on Monday that nearly all sports would compete in the spring semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re all going to be in that boat all across the country,” Phillips said. “Nobody will have an advantage over others. Obviously she was a part of all of this. She felt what all the players have in some fashion. So she’ll have some compassion on that same level.” 

“I’m just really excited to have the opportunity,” Sangster added. “I’m more excited about going the JUCO route. It’s really good for players. We help them get to the next level. I’m excited to help younger players do that.” 

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