Panthers look to keep winning tradition going
Over the past 13 seasons, the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team has posted a winning record 12 times.
Head coach Marion Goeden is counting on the Panthers to continue that winning tradition this spring.
Fulfilling that goal could be a challenge since the Panthers return only four starters from last year's team that finished with an 18-7 overall record, including a 9-3 mark for runner-up honors in the Mid-State Conference standings.
Leading the Panthers this spring will be the four returning starters: seniors Alyssa Carlson, Ashley Domino and Anna Grimes and junior Olivia Vaadeland.
Carlson, an all-conference honorable mention player, returns for her third season as the Panthers' starting shortstop. Carlson started all 25 games and was fourth on the team with a .345 batting average (29 for 84). Carlson had two doubles, stole 14 bases, scored 24 runs and drove in 18 runs.
Domino also played in all 25 games and hit .111 (4 for 36) with five runs and six RBI. Domino will start in the outfield.
Grimes hit .344 (11 for 32) with 22 runs, 15 stolen bases and three RBI last season in 22 games. Grimes will be vying for a starting spot in the outfield this season.
Vaadeland returns at first base after batting .354 (29 for 82) with 21 runs and 23 RBI in 25 games. Vaadeland was second on the team with 10 extra-base hits (five doubles, three triples and two home runs) and also stole five bases. Vaadeland also went 4-2 with a save in eight pitching appearances. In 15 1/3 innings, Vaadeland allowed 14 hits and eight earned runs while striking out 22 for a 3.65 ERA.
Rounding out this year's varsity roster are juniors Bonnie Baumgartner, Lexi Burlingame, Erika Jerger and Katie Just; sophomores Caitlan Isaacson and Ashley Thelen; and freshmen McKenna Brand, Bailee Jerger and Lauren Naeve.
Baumgartner played in 17 games last season and hit .214 (3 for 14) with 11 runs and three RBI while Isaacson played in 10 games.
Bailee Jerger is expected to handle the majority of the pitching duties while Naeve will start the season as the starting catcher. Brand and Isaacson will round out the infield positions with Baumgartner, Burlingame, Erika Jerger, Just and Thelen competing for starting outfield spots and providing depth in the infield.
Those players will be counted on fill the spots left by the graduation of second baseman Jenny Palm (.164 average, nine runs, nine RBI), catcher Leeza Tostenson (.462 average, 14 runs, 38 RBI), center fielder Shelby Weckwerth (.328 average, 19 runs, eight RBI) and pitcher Brie Warne (.275 average, 11 RBI, 16-6 record, 2.29 ERA).
In addition, four seniors - CarsonLee Christenson (.394 average, 25 runs, 12 stolen bases), Taylor Ondracek (.241 average, five runs, six RBI), Amber Sunram (.138 average, three RBI) and Lizzy Vaudrin (.500 average, five RBI, eight runs) - who played last season decided not to play softball this spring.
Starting the season on the junior varsity will be juniors Allie Girtz, Brittany Kinkel and Taylor Yliniemi; sophomores Bobby Gully, Katelyn Hilmanowski, Heather Kniss, Katilin Olson, Nicole Price, Heidi Schaum and Natasha Shaiabaish; and freshmen Nakkita Buckanaga, Morgan Dean, Abby Fischer, Ashley Hocking and Shania Johnson.
"I expect this team to be a completely different team by the end of the season than we are at the beginning. We need to gain immensely by perfecting and modifying our skills and by understanding the game," said Goeden, who will be assisted by Ken Tretbar, Aarin Galzki, Kelli Schweigart and Jackie Griffin. "I see our defense as our strongest area. We have some quick runners and we need to take advantage of our speed. We will need to find players who can produce at the plate at all nine hitting positions. This is a focused and hard-working group of athletes. This group can do it."
Last year, Ottertail Central defeated Warroad for the Section 8AA title while Detroit Lakes won the conference title with an 11-1 record. The Panthers finished second in the Mid-State standings for the third year in a row.
This year, Goeden is looking for the Panthers to win the conference title for the first time since 2003 and make another run in the section tournament.
"I think we can challenge for the conference title. We have been in the race to take the conference several years in a row, but a single night of ball has kept us from that. I hope to break that trend this season. I expect us to advance to at least the semifinals in section play this season. I see our returning players not accepting it any other way than to shoot for a strong finish in the section," said Goeden, whose team opened the season with a conference doubleheader at Staples Tuesday. "I will need to continue to challenge this team every day so we can be where we want to be by playoffs. We are young and we will need to become a unified group and find where we fit best on the field. We look to be one of the better teams in the section when playoffs roll around. We have set some challenging goals for ourselves. If we take care of the little things and continue to support each other, we will have a fun and memorable season."