Fast-pitch softball preview

 Andover
Coach: Connie Huberty, second season
Outlook: Andover made it to the Section 7AAA final four but came up short against Duluth East 4-3 to finish the season with a 12-9 record.

Andover softball returns with several key contributors, including starting catcher Lauren Hein, left.

Andover softball returns with several key contributors, including starting catcher Lauren Hein, left.Photo by Bill Jones

The Huskies see the return several key contributors, including junior Maddie Rooney, junior Jessica Burlingame, junior Julia Buffington, sophomore Sidney Portner, junior catcher Lauren Hein, senior pitcher Brianna Davis and sophomore pitcher Haley Tomberlin.

Coon Rapids
Coach: Zach Nienaber, first season
Outlook: New head coach Zach Nienaber made the move from assistant coach on the baseball side to the top job with the Cardinals softball staff this spring.
Nienaber, a 2001 Coon Rapids High School graduate, said biggest change for him came in pitching. “But after putting in some work I am now able to throw fastpitch,” he said. “I have a good longtime assistant who has been a major help with the finer points of the game.”
The infield will be a strong point of the defense that will support an all-new pitching staff.
Senior captain Shayla Huffman will provide leadership across the field and in the dugout as a four-year starter. The second baseman hit .311 last spring and will be joined in the infield by captain Rosie Grainger at third base and sophomore Alyssa Hansen at shortstop. Hansen also made the switch from baseball to softball this spring.
Look for freshman Kayla Thone and juniors Sam Anderson and Kelley Besst to split time in the pitching circle.

Legacy Christian
Coach: Jesse Martens, first season
Outlook: Jesse Martens steps in as head coach after two seasons as an assistant coach for the Lions team that finished 9-2 last spring and lost in the section quarterfinals to Mounds Park. Top pitcher and batter Marie McLaughlin returns to share captain duties with Lexi Kane and Laurel Shelton. Martens said the season is full of question marks after several position changes, coaching changes and new equipment.

PACT
Coach: Matt Zimmerman, first season
Outlook: Zimmerman steps into his first varsity head coaching position after coaching at every level at Delano High School (seventh-junior varsity) in the early 1990s under longtime coach Charlie Gross. Zimmerman has been active in the Monticello Girls Fastpitch Association coaching 10u-16u and served as president for four of the six years he coached.
The Panthers were 1-7 in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association Conference.
Senior pitcher Abby Rickenbach returns to the team after missing last season and will be the key to a successful campaign.
Captains include Alyssa Shulz, Brenna Day and Annelise Parten, whowill lead a group of experienced seniors that also includes Kelsey Field.
The Panthers only have 17 players in the program and everyone will play on the varsity team because of the low participation numbers.
Zimmerman said hitting is the biggest question mark for the team, which he  hopes will manufacture runs and hold leads with a solid defense behind Rickenbach.

Spring Lake Park
Coach: Lori Lightbody, 14th season
Outlook: Spring Lake Park returns with six starters from a team that posted an 11-6 record, 6-3 in the North Suburban Conference but lost in the second round of sections to prematurely end a promising spring.

Spring Lake Park junior shortstop and captain Maddy Wallraff, left, will help anchor what should be a very strong team this spring with several returning starters.

Spring Lake Park junior shortstop and captain Maddy Wallraff, left, will help anchor what should be a very strong team this spring with several returning starters.
Photo by Bill Jones

The Panthers return the pitcher/catcher battery of junior Alexis Reynolds and senior catcher Alyssa Jones, who are also sisters, with junior shortstop captain Maddy Wallraff, sophomore infielder Maddy Iskierka and junior firstbaseman Kati Thunborg.

St. Francis
Coach: Jen Close, second season
Outlook: St. Francis returns with many of its key players from a year ago while adding younger players that can play multiple roles on the team.
A tougher schedule, including a move to the Mississippi 8 Conference, will challenge the team and as Close described, “prepare our team for our tough section.”
St. Francis returns all-conference senior pitcher Caitlin Luby. Close notes the way she controls her pitches to keep hitters guessing.
Junior shortstop Abby Marron earned all-conference honors as one of the top shortstops in the conference. “Abby is a major part to our success,” Close said. “She leads the team by example and has a very high IQ for the game of softball. She has the ability to make the big plays on both sides of the field and is one reason we should compete for both a conference and section title this season.”
Senior pitcher and second baseman Aimee Cottrell also returns to the team. The all-conference honorable mention honoree has tremendous range on the right side of the infield and provides stability as another pitcher. “[Cottrell] has shown some good power with her swing this winter and early spring, so we will look to have her work on driving in runs,” Close said.
Senior designated hitter Danae Douville returns after an all-conference season swinging away for the Saints. “[She] was our go-to power hitter last season,” Close said.
Senior outfielder and second baseman Emily Deobbert returns an all-conference honorable season run last season. What made the spring special was that she sat out the previous season with an injury. “She was a key to our defensive game as well, being able to play both infield and outfield,” Close said.
Junior outfielder Sam Jochum started every game last spring as a sophomore. “She covers ground very well and has a great arm to be able to throw out players trying to get an extra base,” Close said.

Anoka
Coach: Toni Jesinoski
Outlook: Coach did not respond to requests for information.

Blaine
Coach: Don Bross
Outlook: Blaine isyoung team with a bright future since Coach Don Bross estimates as many as nine underclassmen will be in the starting line up this spring. Third baseman Erin Krieger is the lone senior on the team with an all-junior battery of catcher Abby Vogel and Liv Mortenson pitching. Freshman duo Taylor Bross behind the plate and pitcher Malorie Stone will gain a lot of experience as well. Blaine also returns with three starters in first baseman Amelia Luckow, shortstop Annamarie Cassidy and outfielder Kalli Doyle.

Jason Olson is at
jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

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