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Paynesville Press - March 29, 2006

Dogs ready to go on softball diamond

By Michael Jacobson

The PAHS softball team lost seven senior starters to graduation last spring, but they return five seniors and have five sophomores who have been playing organized softball since sixth grade.

This year's sophomores are the first PAHS class that played in the grades 4-6 softball program. (This year's eighth graders are first ones to play three years in that program.)

While this year's team may be lacking varsity experience, they have played "more games than anybody" before reaching varsity, said coach Tim Woehler.

Woehler called the team a very competitive group. "They've all been playing together all summer," he said. "We played pretty good this summer," he added.

Practice began this spring on Monday, March 13, with 23 girls out for softball in grades 9-12. Through Friday, March 24, the team had been outside only one day and spent most of their practice time indoors.

Varsity players this year include: seniors Jess Engler, Allyson Klenke, Mel Mages (who is returning to the team after not playing last year due to a knee injury), Emily Mohr, and Amanda Skalicky; juniors Chelsey Kalkbrenner and Rebekah Kerzman; and sophomores Chelsey Hansen, Kayla Lieser, Ashley Ogdahl, Laura Schaefer, and Carissa Utsch. (A couple of these players are expected to split time between varsity and junior varsity in order to play regularly.)

Keys for a successful season are to throw strikes and to play good defense, said Woehler. The pitching staff this spring is expected to be Engler, Ogdahl, and Mohr.

On defense, the Dogs will have new players at three key positions: catcher (where Schaefer is expected to start, replacing Ashley Spanier, who earned All Conference honors last year); shortstop; and centerfield (with Mages and Utsch expected to alternate between shortstop and centerfield).

The Dogs, who finished 10-8 last year (5-5 in WCC North), hit .294 as a team last year, but Kim Hess, who was named the conference MVP and All State last year, hit .621 (36 of 58) last spring. Without her, the team hit only .253 last spring. Hess, now playing at Luther College, also accounted for 27 percent of the team's runs (35 of 128) last spring.

"We've got to become a better hitting ball club," said Woehler. "That's our weakness right now."

Skalicky hit .392 last year for the Dogs (second to Hess's .621) and led the team with six doubles. She also was second on the team with 15 RBIs (behind Spanier with 21) and second with 14 bases on balls (behind Hess with 15).

LPGE and Cathedral are the conference favorites, according to Woehler, while you can never count out Melrose. The Dogs will play 14 conference games this spring with the addition of Minnewaska and New London-Spicer to the West Central Conference North. (This adds two games against Minne-waska and one with NL-S, whom the Dogs beat in a nonconference game last year.)

The Dogs also will go to Morris for a tourney on Saturday, April 22, instead of hosting a tourney.

In their subsection, the Dogs lost Annandale, which went to state last year, but their section still includes strong programs like Delano and Rockford.

The Bulldogs were scheduled to have a scrimmage over the weekend and another early this week.

They will play their first games next week. They are scheduled to play at Kimball on Monday, April 3, to host Eden Valley-Watkins on Tuesday, April 4, and to host Long Prairie-Grey Eagle in their first conference game on Friday, April 7.

"The first week will tell us a lot," said Woehler. "It's going to be a fun year."

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