2016 area softball conference previews


BYRONhopes to make a push for a top-four finish in the conference behind the leadership of four seniors and six other returning letterwinners. The Bears (14-8 last season) will be led by senior three-year letterwinners Emma Nelson, Kayla Richardson and Heidi Zamzow, as well as classmate Bri Rutgers. Other top players back include sophomores Abby Thalacker, Haley Hines, Carley Tesch, Allison Connelly and Kelsey Howard, and freshman Erika Smith. "Our team chemistry is fantastic," coach Gary Prantner said. "We will focus on scoring runs; we need our leaders to step up when they have RBI opportunities. If we pitch and play defense well, we could be in the upper third of the conference."

CANNON FALLS— No information was received for this report.

GOODHUEcoach Malinda Vogel welcomes back six letterwinners from last season's 8-13 team, including three starters: Senior infielder and captain Kate Stehr, sophomore catcher Autumn Lindblom and sophomore shortstop Emily Benrud (.295 batting average). Junior captains and outfielders Alissa Bien and Cassie Voth are returning letterwinners, as is sophomore infielder/pitcher Haley Evans.

HAYFIELDgot a taste of the Class A state tournament last spring and would like another this year. The Vikings have seven starters and four other letterwinners returning from last season's 21-6 team, with three seniors leading the way: catcher Grace Mindrup, pitcher Jackie Sanvick and outfielder Nikki Cortez. Other returning starters are sophomores Olivia Matti (third base), Carrie Rutledge (shortstop), Kate Kruger (first base), Maggie Streightiff (outfield/pitcher) and Alexis Dudycha (outfield). They'll have to replace starting shortstop Kyal Heydt, who is out for the season with a knee injury. Sanvick also spent most of the winter sports season healing from a stress fracture in her back, and Mindrup underwent off-season foot surgery. "We have some players learning new positions," coach Jana Wagner said, "but we have the leadership and desire to compete with teams in our class."


KASSON-MANTORVILLEhas won two consecutive Class AA state championships, but has some big spikes to fill in its lineup, as catcher Cori Kennedy (Minnesota State Mankato) and state strikeout record-holding pitcher Maddie Damon (Purdue) have graduated to high-level college ball. On top of that, the KoMets have a new head coach this season, as Paul Mann takes over for Jeff Fague, who retired after last season. The cupboard is far from bare, though. The KoMets will still have a formidable pitcher in the circle, as Chante Thome will take over the pitching duties. Thome would have started for many teams in the state over the past few years. Six other starters are back, including sophomore catcher Addie Murry, seniors Stephanie Meyer, Kendra Powers and McKenzie Hemann; and juniors MiKayla Grant and Maddie Bigelow. "Our first two weeks of practice have been great," Mann said. "The girls are working hard and we're excited to play games. We will improve with each failure and hope to put ourselves in position to make a strong, deep run late in the postseason."

KENYON-WANAMINGOhas four seniors back from its team that was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the West Subsection 1A playoffs last season. The Knights, under coach Rich Kincaid, will be led by those four upperclassmen: Outfielders Courtney Thompson, Kayla Knott and Kaitlin Knott, and pitcher Sarah Sahl.

LAKE CITYis led by three returning starters who are all underclassmen. That group includes junior CF Laura Heitman (.345 average, 19 hits, 8 runs); junior 3B Anna Burdis (.304, 17, 9, 9 steals); and sophomore C/P Kasi Cronin (.267). Junior Jade Cedar is expected to take control of the pitching duties for the Tigers. "We have hard workers who want to understand all aspects of the game and play with a lot of enthusiasm," Lake City coach Mike Johnson said. "We hope to compete with all teams and our goal is to go .500."

PINE ISLANDis looking to improve on last year's finish, when it fell to Byron in the opening round of the West Subsection 1AA playoffs, in one of the deepest and toughest subsections in the state. Head coach Kim Jones has a relatively young squad loaded with sophomores and just three seniors, outfielders Molly Shelton and Kaylee Drazan, and shortstop Summer Cavallaro. The Panthers have a tough start to the season, opening against two-time state champion Kasson-Mantorville, followed by games against Jordan and Byron, and one against defending Section 1A champion Hayfield a week later.

STEWARTVILLEexpects to be one of the stronger defensive teams in the HVL this season. That starts with junior pitcher Kara O'Byrne, who will pitch a vast majority of the innings for the Tigers. Stewartville also has seven seniors back, including infielder Tara Rogers (.358 batting avg., 6 HR, All-HVL, All-Section) and catcher/outfielder Amanda O'Connell (All-HVL, team's most improved player). Senior outfielder Erin Fischer is also a returning starter for coach Curt Hughes' team. "I look for our team to improve every single day," Hughes said. "We are a relatively inexperienced team, but their athleticism should be helpful. We return three starters from a year ago, and we expect them to work hard to bring the other players up to their standards."

TRITONhas five starters back from last season's team that went 9-12 overall. They're led by senior captain Ella Blaisdell, who is the team's top returning hitter (.320 average) and fielder (1.000 pct. in 17 games). Fellow seniors Kayla Dostal (.256) and Candi Utech (.222) are also captains. Junior pitcher Tatyanna Bond (1.67 ERA; .208 average, 3 HR) and sophomore catcher Allissa Hallaway (.269) are also returning starters. "I am excited to see how our young team takes on the challenge of a very competitive conference and section," coach Laura Strandell said. "We hope to be competitive in each game and in the conference. The most important thing is for the girls to enjoy the sport, compete with confidence and try their best."

ZUMBROTA-MAZEPPAhas five starters back from last season's 21-win team that was just one win shy of reaching the Class AA state tournament. That group is headlined by senior pitcher Morgan Olson, a three-time First Team All-State pick who has a career record of 45-9 with a 1.56 ERA. Senior outfielder Kellie Nordquist and junior Tara Matuska were both honorable mention All-HVL picks last season. Seniors Kat Hodgman and Laura Drackley are also returning starters. Z-M lost six talented seniors to graduation, including four-year starting catcher Tayler Mort, so the Cougars will have some big shoes to fill. Those six graduated seniors combined to hit .392 with 25 HR and 119 RBIs last season. "We won't have as much power in our lineup as we have in the past, but we will have one of the fastest teams we've had in some time," coach Kevin Nelson said. "We have many players eager to fill open positions on varsity and show what they're capable of."

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CALEDONIA/SPRING GROVEis coming off a 17-8 season in which it finished second in the TRC East Division and won the East Subsection 1AA championship. Coach Michelle Anderson returns for her 26th season and has eight letterwinners, including four multiple-letter winners, back. C/SG will be led by senior Sophia Augedahl, a three-year letterwinner and an All-TRC and All-Section 1AA player last season. Seven other seniors give C/SG an experienced lineup: 3B/OF Jordan Anderson; SS McKenzie Denstad (All-TRC); OF Mariah Schmitz; C Olivia Schmitz (All-TRC honorable mention); P/2B Abby Hoskins (All-TRC, all-section); 1B Carrie Schoh; and OF/3B Olivia Adamson. "We have two senior pitchers and some talented others who will be relied on to handle the pitching duties," coach Anderson said. "We have most of our lineup returning, but will need to execute in game situations. We are counting on getting great leadership both on and off the field from our seniors and juniors."

CHATFIELDhad a strong postseason run a year ago, capturing the East Subsection 1A championship before its season came to an end in the Section 1A final four. The Gophers will be led by seniors Sydney Gould (catcher), Megan LaPlante (third base), and outfielders Kaylie Bernard and Hailee Stock.

DOVER-EYOTA— No information was received for this report.

FILLMORE CENTRAL/LANESBOROhas five starters, all seniors, back from a 20-win team of a year ago. The Falcons will be led by those veterans: C Shelby Ebner (.260 avg., 3 doubles, 2 triples, 10 RBIs); IF Gabby Brazee (.342, 11 RBIs, 14 steals); IF Megan Hendrickson (.244, 4 doubles, 19 RBIs); OF Taylor Sprenger (4 doubles, 19 RBIs); and junior IF Haley Polin (2 doubles, 1 HR). Senior pitcher Caitlyn Walsh (1-1, 17 strikeouts, 2.86 ERA) also returns. "Our returning starters are quite experienced," FC/L coach Tris Tollefson said. "We have some unknowns. We feel they have the potential to do good things. We hope to be competitive with all our opponents."

GMLOKfinished .500 (10-10) a year ago, but has a young team this season, with just one senior listed, captain Rio Landers. It also has nine juniors and a pair of sophomores among the players expected to contribute on the varsity. "We're going to be very young, but athletic," coach John Fenske said. "As the season moves along, we should become a solid team that will be very competitive."

LA CRESCENThas eight letterwinners and 10 seniors back this season. Among those returners is the team's battery, senior pitcher Hailey Peterson and catcher Sydney Brezany. "We have a good group of seniors and upper class student-athletes," coach Jim Clark said. "We have six starters back and additional players back who have a lot of playing experience. We believe we have the talent to be very competitive this year and we look forward to proving that."

LEWISTON-ALTURA— No information was received for this report.


PLAINVIEW-ELGIN-MILLVILLEwent 14-10 a year ago and will be led this season by four top returning starters, including three underclassmen. P-E-M's veterans include senior OF Bethany Anderson; junior IF Paige Gudmundson (.450 average, 17 steals); sophomore P Hayley Dessner (5-2, 3.31 ERA; .357 average); and sophomore IF Mallory Newcomb, a returning starter who recently tore her ACL. "We have great team chemistry and a bunch of athletic girls," coach Ben Peter said. "We have depth at every position. Our pitching will be what our team is built around. We have two very good pitchers in Hayley Dessner and Heidi Wolf. We will be more athletic than last year's team. We can compete with every team in our conference."

RUSHFORD-PETERSONis looking to take a big step forward after a 2-18 season a year ago, and the Trojans have plenty of experienced players to help that cause. R-P has nine letterwinners back, including five seniors. That group is led by senior center fielder Laren Hadley (all-TRC) and junior pitcher/infielder Savannah Skalet (honorable mention All-TRC). Other letterwinners back include seniors Tatyanna Bronk (catcher), Morgan Vitse (shortstop), Brooke Johnson (pitcher) and Indy Hermanson (outfielder); and juniors Alli Oian (infield), Ashley Keenan (outfield) and Andrea Larson (first base). "We return all of our starters. We have a lot of players who started and played a lot," coach Jeremy Tesch said. "The hope is we can build off those experiences and continue to improve as a team."

ST. CHARLEShas three All-Conference players back from last season's 13-10 team, and the Saints have a veteran-laded roster with seven seniors. They are led by senior shortstop Ty Thoreson and senior outfielder Amber Escobedo. Both were All-TRC and All-Section 1AA last season. Senior pitcher Jenna Ihrke was also an All-TRC selection. "This will be a solid season for us," head coach Mike Buringa said. "We hope to improve game by game and play our best ball at the end of the season. We think we can make a run at the conference title."

SOUTHLAND— No information was received for this report.

WABASHA-KELLOGG— No information was received for this report.

WINONA COTTER— No information was received for this report.

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HOUSTONhas five starters returning from a team that went 6-12 last season. Cortney Johnson was starting pitcher for 10 games. She also had a .377 batting average. Amber Chapel hit .333. Alyssa Rostad had a .953 fielding percentage while catching 103 of 110 innings.

LYLE/PACELLI— No information was received for this report.

MABEL-CANTONhas six starters back from last season's 7-10 team, including three who hit better than .300. The Cougars will be led by senior CF Emma Wathier (.418 average, 23 hits, 20 runs, 11 steals); freshman OF Lexi Thorson (.533, 24 hits, 11 runs, 16 steals); and junior SS Coranda Vickerman (.317, 19 hits, 10 RBIs, 14 steals). Junior C/1B Courtney Graves (.281, 16 hits); freshman 1B/C Maddy Michels (10 runs, 6 RBIs); and junor P Kayla Patterson are other returning letterwinners. "Our players are experienced at the varsity level and at many different positions," coach Kati Bergey said. "If our pitchers can throw strikes, our defense is strong. Our outfield is very quick and can cover a lot of ground."

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BLOOMING PRAIRIEfinished 11-11 last season and was the runner-up in West Subsection 1A. The Blossoms lost three all-section players, but coach Ali Mach returns for her 13th season and welcomes back eight letterwinners. Junior OF Bria Baldwin has anchored the outfield for three seasons, while classmate Elly Strunk returns as the team's starting pitcher. She was 9-9 last season and hit .423. Other top returners include seniors Abby Wayne, Kalyn Naatz and Anika Nowlan; and sophomores McKenna Hein, Linnea Sunde and Emma Christianson. "This team has a lot of potential," Mach said. "They have been working hard in practice and really want to improve on previous years' results. Our juniors and seniors will have the biggest impact on the team. Their leadership and work ethic will influence the rest of our players."

RED WINGcoach Jon Bohmbach has seven key players returning from a 5-16 team, including freshman pitcher Hannah Rodgers. The Wingers expect to be led by senior catcher McKenzie Cota (All-Big Nine) and senior infielder Jenna Peterson (honorable mention All-Big Nine). Other top players back are seniors Becca Swenning (infield), Molly Goranson (outfield) and Hanna Kuhl (infield/outfield); and junior Natalie Boxrud (infield).

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