HVL SOFTBALL PREVIEW - If the coaches are correct, it's Winona Cotter in a landslide this spring in the Hiawatha Valley League. Practically every coach picked Winona Cotter to be the toughest team in the league.
"We lost a lot of power at the plate," said Ramblers coach Pat Bowlin, who carried a 192-62 career record at Cotter into this season. "We will need some players to step up. We'll rely more on little ball, of bunting and base running... (We) need many players who hit .250 area last year to step it up and hit .300 or better this year."
Who will challenge Cotter? Most coaches expect Zumbrota-Mazeppa and Pine Island to be Cotter's biggest foes. Byron and Lourdes, some coaches say, shouldn't be far behind, either.
One opposing team labels Pine Island's Steph Schroeder and Audrey Lenoch, "the best pitcher-catcher combo in the conference." Z-M returns eight of nine starters, so the Cougars will be near the top, too.
The HVL welcomes three new coaches to the league: Triton's Brent Haala, Lake City's Dan and Malia Schroeder, and Stewartville's Teri Simmons.
BYRON: The Bears return four starting position players and two pitchers from last year's team: Two-time all-conference shortstop Hannah Tvedt; second baseman Nicole Dewitz, who led the team last spring with a .420 average; first baseman Chelsi Nelson and outfielder Andrew Loosbrock. The two pitchers are senior Brianna Greene and junior Hannah Murray. When Greene starts, the Bears will field eight starting seniors. If Byron can improve its defense by maintaining consistency in the field, as well as receive solid pitching, the Bears will be a feisty team to face.
CANNON FALLS (9-11, 10-13): The Bombers like their 1-2 pitching punch of sophomore Mandy Langsdorf and freshman Erin Ripley. Langsdorf was 4-3 last season before she tore her ACL. Ripley, as an eighth-grader last spring, was 6-5 with a 2.15 ERA. All-conference second baseman Rachel Anderson, who led the team with a .338 average, returns and should lead the team in several offensive categories. Center fielder Abby Rapp will be a staple in the batting ordr as well. Rapp hit .295 with 18 hits and 18 RBIs last spring. The Bombers have nine returning letterwinners.
HAYFIELD: (9-3, 16-8): The Vikings think their pitching is strong, led by senior Amy Nelson and junior Cassie Kraetsch. Returning starters include shortstop Megan Woslager, catcher Crystal Stier, second baseman Michelle Emerick, center fielder Melanie Masching and left fielder Barbara Erath. Hayfield coach Jana Wagner takes a 119-100 career record with the Vikings. Wagner says experience is the team's asset, yet defensively, several of those players are playing different positions, which could be a liability early in the season.
KASSON-MANTORVILLE (4-2, 9-9): Two years ago, the KoMets junior varsity team was 15-1. Most of those players are on the varsity team now, and coach Duane Barton hopes he sees that experience of success at lower levels come to fruition. This is junior Jessica Larsen's first year of pitching at the varsity level, but she had a good preseason and she could be on course for a good year. Catcher Megan Dorschner is a four-year letterwinner and is one of the KoMets top players. Other top players are first baseman Amy Franke, third baseman Becky Gruhlke, shortstop Brooke Pearson and outfielders Bobbie Duke and Sonja Nesse.
KENYON-WANAMINGO (3-8, 13-13): Inexperience may plague the Knights, considering they return just four starters to this year's team. Senior Carrie Anderson, junior Jenna Maring and sophomore Kristina Lurken are all listed as pitchers and should see time on the mound for K-W. Maring was 3-3 with a 3.33 ERA last spring. Julianna Trost, a senior, was an all-section selection last year. Lurken was an all-conference honorable mention player, who hit .270 last season.
LAKE CITY (1-10, 3-15): The good news is Lake City has nowhere to go but up and coaches Dan and Malia Schroeder may approach the season that way, hoping to improve on a game-to-game basis. The Tigers have eight returning starters, which always serves as a plus in the HVL. Five of them are seniors, including Shannon Sprout, Paula Davis, Angie Brinkman, Ashley Roberson and Laura Settle. Junior infielder Kelly Mellgren is also a returning starter. The Tigers' pitchers are young-- sophomores Lindsay Krahn and Haley Dollar.
LOURDES: After finishing near the top of the HVL last year, the Eagles have their work cut out. Coach Tracy Kidd's team lost four starters to graduation from last season, and six seniors total. In Lourdes' favor is they have a veteran pitcher. Mary O'Connor, a right-hander, is in her fifth year as a starting pitcher. She had an ERA that hovered around 1.6 last season. The Eagles also got good leadership and play from first baseman Ellen Hake and shortstop Megan Miller. O'Connor and Hake each hit around .300 last year.
PINE ISLAND (9-2, 14-5): The Panthers' battery of pitcher Steph Schroeder and catcher Audrey Lenoch is a good place to start, when expecting success from this team. Schroeder, a sophomore, was an all-conference pitcher last season, posting a remarkable 0.53 ERA while striking out 208 and walking just 17 hitters. Offensively, Schroeder hit. 328. Lenoch, a senior, is a three-time all-conference player. She hit .492 last year. Third baseman Missy Larson is another solid contributor; she had a .938 fielding percentage last spring. Other returning letterwinners include outfielders Teren Eddy, Laura Bergren, Rebecca Pike and Kiley Clementson.
STEWARTVILLE (5-6, 10-12): Junior pitcher Laura English returns to the mound this year and may share the duties with Liz Gehrking. Offensively, English was stellar with a .411 average last spring. Other returning starters are outfielder Angie Rogers, who hit .250 last spring; catcher Kara Sinn, who hit .250; and infielder Danielle Mullenbach, who hit .224. Infielder Katie Reeves and outfielder Amy Roeder should be key players as well.
TRITON: Junior pitcher Julie Berge has been pitching on varsity since her freshman season and Krystal Katra has seen varsity action since her eighth-grade season, so that should be one of the Cobras' greatest strengths. Triton did not graduate any starter last season. Because of that, coach Brent Haala thinks experience will be a key. The team should be led by catcher Nicole Ryan, third baseman Amanda Nelson, shortstop Casey Langworthy and right fielder Jackie McKittrick. Solidifying team defense will be vital to Triton.
WINONA COTTER (10-1, 21-8): The Ramblers return five starters from last year's Section One, Class A champion team that finished third in the state tournament. Cotter is expected to be near the top again this spring. Success in softball starts with pitching, and Cotter has that returning from junior Toni Kujak. Ninth-grader Bethan Wolvington compliments Kujak well and gives Cotter a 1-2 pitching punch few HVL teams can match. The key for Cotter will be to find strong players at third base and second base to replace Kayla Luehmann and Kelly Kukowski, who moved to shortstop. Other top players for Cotter include right fielder Danielle Bowlin, DH/infielder Leah Troke, center fielder Kelly Klein, catcher Jessica Weisbrod, first baseman Becky Hefte and outfielder Tina Cordes.
ZUMBROTA-MAZEPPA (14-11): The Cougars return eight of nine starters, which naturally excited coach Kevin Nelson, who thinks this may be the deepest team in his tenure there. Z-M may be inconsistent at the plate, but with solid pitching the Cougars should be able to compete with any team in the HVL. Junior pitcher Jessica Huneke was 12-8 last season and gives Z-M experience where it needs it the most. Shortstop Stacy Borschatz, a three-year starter, batted .384 last season. Left fielder Kara Rude, a two-year starter, hit .329 in 2001. Center fielder Monica McNamara, a two-year starter, hit .314 last spring. Sophomore right fielder Annalisa Frank hit .354.
TUESDAY, APRIL 16
Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Cannon Falls, Pine Island at Stewartville, Hayfield at Lake City, Winona Cotter at Triton, Kasson-Mantorville at Byron, Lourdes at Kenyon-Wanamingo
THURSDAY, APRIl 18
Byron at Stewartville, Kenyon-Wanamingo at Hayfield, Cannon Falls at Pine Island, Lake City at Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Winona Cotter at Lourdes, Triton at Kasson-Mantorville
TUESDAY, APRIL 23
Hayfield at Cannon Falls, Lourdes at Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Kasson-Mantorville at Winona Cotter, Pine Island at Triton, Byron at Lake City, Stewartville at Kenyon-Wanamingo
THURSDAY, APRIL 25
Lourdes at Pine Island, Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Hayfield, Triton at Byron, Winona Cotter at Stewartville, Cannon Falls at Kenyon-Wanamingo, Lake City at Kasson-Mantorville
MONDAY, APRIL 29
Byron at Winona Cotter
TUESDAY, APRIL 30
Cannon Falls at Lake City, Kenyon-Wanamingo at Triton, Pine Island at Kasson-Mantorville, Hayfield at Lourdes, Stewartville at Zumbrota-Mazeppa
THURSDAY, MAY 2
Kenyon-Wanamingo at Kasson-Mantorville, Winona Cotter at Lake City, Triton at Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Cannon Falls a Lourdes, Byron at Pine Island
FRIDAY, MAY 3
Stewartville at Hayfield
MONDAY, MAY 6
Lourdes at Triton, Kasson-Mantorville at Cannon Falls, Lake City at Stewartville, Hayfield at Byron, Pine Island at Kenyon-Wanamingo, Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Kasson-Mantorville, Cannon Falls at Stewartville
TUESDAY, MAY 14
Lake City at Kenyon-Wanamingo, Byron at Cannon Falls, Pine Island at Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Kasson-Mantorville at Lourdes, Stewartville at Triton, Hayfield at Winona Cotter