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High school softball: Hiawatha Valley League outlook

HIAWATHA VALLEY LEAGUE SOFTBALL OUTLOOK

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Byron senior Vanessa Anderson has hit 23 home runs the last two seasons.

HIAWATHA VALLEY LEAGUE SOFTBALL OUTLOOK

Byronis coming off a solid season in which it finished better than .500 in the HVL (7-6) and overall (11-9). The Bears are led by three-time All-State third baseman Vanessa Anderson, who will play Division I college ball at North Dakota State beginning next season. Anderson hit eight home runs last year as a junior and slugging 15 as a sophomore. Fellow senior Takota Tierney is a three-year letterwinner, a co-captain and the anchor of the Bears' outfield in center field. The Bears have eight total letterwinners returning, including juniors Emma Nelson, Kayla Richardson and Heidi Zamzow. "We have a positive attitude; our girls really like each other. They have great team chemistry," coach Gary Prantner said. "If we pitch and play defense we could be in the upper half of the conference."

Cannon Fallsfinished 11-7 last season, beating Byron in the opening round of the Section 1AA West playoffs before falling to eventual section and state champion Kasson-Mantorville in the subsection semifinals. The Bombers are an experienced team, with eight seniors on the roster.

Goodhuewas knocked out in the first round of the Section 1A East playoffs last season by Chatfield. The Wildcats are a mixed roster of veterans and young players, with four seniors -- Lexie Kennedy, Kate Lexvold, Brittney Ryan and Bailey Kreisler -- and seven freshmen out for the team.

Hayfieldreached the Section 1A final four last season before being knocked out by Chatfield and having to say goodbye to five outstanding seniors, including Jessie Foster and catcher Dani Wagner, who is playing at the University of Minnesota. The Vikings' cupboard is far from bare, though, as seniors Bhrett Zahnle (second base) and Lezlie Sorenson (outfield), and junior catcher Grace Mindrup all return as varsity regulars. "Bhrett and Grace have the most experience and will have to be positive leaders with our young team," coach Jana Wagner said. "We are young and athletic. They will have a learning curve, yet they have the energy and desire to make our team top-notch."

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Kasson-Mantorvillecouldn't have been more dominant last season. The KoMets won the first state softball championship in school history and did so by allowing just nine runs in the entire season. Much of that is due to their dominant pitcher, Maddie Damon, the state's all-time strikeout leader (she ended last season with 1,260 career strikeouts). She is a five-year starter and a multiple-time All-State pitcher. A big loss to the KoMets lineup comes behind the plate, where senior catcher Cori Kennedy was lost to an ACL tear during the state basketball tournament. K-M has five of its top hitters back from last year's 28-0 team, including Dana Rasmussen, a four-year starter at second base. She will play Division I hockey at Ohio State next winter. Other top returners include senior Linnea Holmes, junior shortstop McKenzie Hemann and junior pitcher Chante Thome.

Kenyon-Wanamingohas a new head coach after advancing to the state tournament for the first time last season. Rich Kincaid has taken over for Matt Nelson as the Knights' head coach. Kincaid will rely on eight seniors — including key returners Ellyn Beulke and outfielder Megan Quam — to lead the way for the Knights.

Lake Cityis looking to become competitive with a team that finished winless last season, but gained some experience playing in one of the most difficult conferences in the state. The Tigers have four letterwinners back, including starters Megan Schramski (infield/outfield) and pitcher Madison Marien. Senior Carley Cronin and sophomore Anna Burdis are back after lettering last season. "We're young with a lot of inexperienced players who haven't played together," coach Mike Johnson said. "We need to build confidence in ourselves and realize that hard work will pay off."

Lourdesis coming off a 10-11 record a year ago and was 6-6 in the HVL. Coach Becky Macken has compiled a 53-33 record in her first four seasons as the team's coach. This year's team will be very young with three seniors and one junior on the squad. Four key players return in senior shortstop Melissa Carlson, senior catcher Rosemary Rogers, freshman third baseman Eleanor Plager and sophomore second baseman Grace Rogers. Eighth-grader Ashley Krom and freshman Clara Radloff will share the pitching duties.

Pine Islandcoach Kim Jones welcomes back seven starters and 10 letterwinners from last year's 6-14 team. The Panthers have plenty of experience, which is helpful in a conference that is tough to play against from top to bottom. The Panthers will be led by four senior captains, catcher Candace Uhde, pitcher/third baseman Taylor Schroder, outfielder Kaitlyn Champa and first baseman Ashley Westlake. Three junior starters are also back, shortstop Summer Cavallaro and outfielders Kaylee Drazan and Molly Shelton. Sophomore Haley Bauman, a catcher/utility player, also returns.

Stewartvilleis led by one of the top pitchers in the state, senior Caitlyn Hughes. She went 12-2 last season for the 14-7 Tigers, with a 0.71 ERA and 172 strikeouts, with just seven walks. She also batted .400 with two homers and 16 RBIs, and was named honorable mention All-State. The Tigers are a veteran group. In addition to Hughes, they have eight starters back, including senior infielder Meghan Schmitz (.311 average, All-HVL, All-Section 1AA) and senior pitcher/infielder Jena O'Byrne (.311, 4 HR, 14 RBIs, All-HVL, All-Section). Junior infielder Tara Rogers is another returning starter who provided some pop at the plate, with two home runs and a .246 average. "Pitch selection and patience will be the keys to our success," coach Curt Hughes said. "We will be competitive in the HVL. We look to finish near the top of the conference."

• With a young team on the field, Tritonwill turn to some new faces at multiple positions this season, including pitcher. That's where senior captain Katie Rosenau will take over. Coach Laura Strandell said Rosenau "has been pitching on our JV for a few years because we had a dominant pitcher starting most varsity games the past few years." Senior shortstop Mateah Lamoree (.203 batting average) is also a team captain and a returning starter. Senior second-baseman Serena Jensen is another returning letterwinner, while junior center fielder Ella Blaisdell (.250, .957 fielding percentage) is back after starting last year. The Cobras lost six starters to graduation, but "I look for the returners to step up and help the team continue to be successful," Strandell said.

Zumbrota-Mazeppaonce again reached the final four in Section 1AA last season and it expects to challenge for a section championship again this season. The Cougars have the firepower, the pitching and the defense to push the other top teams in the HVL and the section. It starts with their battery, senior catcher Tayler Mort (.455 average, All-HVL, All-State) and junior pitcher Morgan Olson (17-3, .489 batting average, All-HVL, All-State). Mort will play at Wisconsin-Eau Claire next season while Olson has committed to North Dakota State, where she'll begin her college career in 2017. Z-M has plenty of depth, too, including senior first baseman Alyssa Quam (.303), senior second baseman Jackie Matuska (.234) and senior shortstop Rachel Mensink (.226). Senior Cait Heitman, junior Kat Hodgman and sophomore Tara Matuska are other returning letterwinners. Coach Kevin Nelson said Z-M will be strong up the middle, with its pitchers and catchers, middle infielders and outfielders.

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Stewartville pitcher Caitlyn Hughes compiled a 12-2 record with a 0.71 ERA and 172 strikeouts as a junior a year ago.

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