Panthers expecting another winning season
Producing winning seasons has become a tradition for the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team.
Head coach Marion Goeden is expecting this year's team to continue that trend.
Last year, the Panthers compiled a 9-3 record in Mid-State Conference play and a 14-9 overall record. That was the 11th time in the last 12 years that Park Rapids had produced a winning season.
With five starters returning, Goeden is counting on the Panthers to once again challenge for the conference title and make a run in the Section 8AA playoffs.
"We will set our goals high," said Goeden, who begins her 20th season as the Panthers' head coach. "We have advanced to section play often over the last 15 years and I expect us to again this season. I see our returning players not accepting it any other way than to shoot for a strong finish in the section."
The Panthers have five starting spots to fill in pitcher Cady Clinton, catcher Danielle Dent, left fielder Maria Goetz, right fielder Morgan Kelly and first baseman Brittany Gartner. Clinton and Dent received all-section honors and joined Goetz and Kelly as all-conference players.
Clinton went 23-17 with three saves and a 3.98 ERA and hit .350 with 58 runs scored and 46 RBI during her four-year varsity career. Dent batted .383 with 75 RBI during her four-year varsity career. Kelly (.262 average, 20 RBI) and Gartner (.258 average, 21 RBI) played varsity two seasons. Goetz hit .343 with 15 RBI last season.
Providing the leadership for the Panthers this season are the five returning starters: seniors Jenny Palm, Leeza Tostenson, Brie Warne and Shelby Weckwerth and junior Alyssa Carlson.
Tostenson started 23 games at third base and earned all-conference honorable mention honors after hitting .432 with 24 runs scored, 24 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Tostenson had 34 hits, including eight doubles, three triples and two home runs. Tostenson will move to catcher this spring.
Warne went 6-5 with two saves and a 3.94 ERA in 17 pitching appearances. In 71 innings, Warne allowed 78 hits and 21 walks while striking out 93. Warne allowed 57 runs, including 40 earned runs. Warne also hit .361 (26 for 72) with 12 runs scored and 14 RBI. Warne had four doubles and one triple and stole five bases. When not pitching, Warne will play first base.
Palm returns after starting all 23 games at second base. Palm batted .273 (18 for 66) with five doubles, eight RBI, nine stolen bases and 13 runs scored.
Weckwerth will solidify the outfield by returning to centerfield. In 23 games last season, Weckwerth hit .222 (4 for 18) with five runs, three stolen bases and two RBI.
Carlson started all 23 games at shortstop and hit .291 (16 for 55) with two doubles, 14 runs scored, 13 RBI and five stolen bases.
Also returning with some varsity experience are juniors Ashley Domino, Anna Grimes and Taylor Ondracek. Grimes (18 runs) and Ondracek (four runs) served as courtesy runners while Domino played in four games at first base. Those three will contend for starting jobs in the outfield and at first base. Domino will also pitch and Ondracek can fill in at catcher.
Looking to fill the other starting spots are juniors Amber Sunram (third base), Carson Lee Christenson (right field), Leah Meinert (outfield/third base) and Lizzy Vaudrin (catcher/infield) and sophomore Olivia Vaadeland (first base/pitcher).
"Having Brie back on the mound with her experience and abilities will make a huge difference this season. I see us pulling together several wins with her ability to throw strikes and the movement she is able to put on the ball. The heart of our field is back at shortstop, second base and centerfield. Defensively I am looking for us to be strong and have the ability to limit the runs scored against us," said Goeden, who will be assisted by Ken Tretbar. "We will work new players in behind the plate and on the right and left lines. We need to play like seasoned veterans in those positions to have the season we hope for."
Starting the season on junior varsity and C squad are juniors Kelsey Adolphson, Desiree Roach, Jessica Johnson, Nathanya Jones and Kassie Smith; sophomores Bonnie Baumgartner, Allison Belfiori, Alexis Burlingame, Allie Girtz, Erika Jerger, Katie Just, Brittany Kinkel, Tina Niemela, Taylor Wheeler and Taylor Yliniemi; and freshmen Emily Grimes, Bobby Gully, Katelyn Hilmanowski, Caitlin Isaacson, Heather Kniss, Beth Nichols, Kaitlin Olson, Nicole Price, Raven Rock, Heidi Schaum, Sarah Schultz, Natasha Shaiabaish, Ashley Thelen and Taylor Thompson.
The Panthers will join Crookston, Detroit Lakes, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, East Grand Forks, Roseau, Thief River Falls and Warroad in the north half of Section 8AA. The south consists of Breckenridge, Fergus Falls, Ottertail Central, Pelican Rapids, Pequot Lakes, Perham, Staples-Motley and Wadena-Deer Creek. OTC is the defending section champ and W-DC is the defending conference champ.
If the new players can fill their roles, Goeden expects the Panthers to have another winning season and challenge for both the conference and section titles.
"Offensively, we still have questions as to how we will be. We do have some quick runners and we need to run more aggressively this season and take advantage of our speed. If we hold strong on our defense, I feel our bats will be strong enough to carry us through," said Goeden. "Whether we can play as a unified team and put what's best for the team ahead of all else will be important in meeting our goals. I would like to see at least a repeat of last season's record if not better. Despite having five new positions on the field, I expect us to have a strong season."