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Paynesville Press - March 31, 2004

Softball team has high hopes for spring season

By Michael Jacobson

With a junior-dominated lineup, anchored by pitching and defense, the PAHS varsity softball team will open its 2004 season on Thursday, hoping to improve dramatically from last year's 6-14 squad.

"I have high hopes. I hope they're realistic," said coach Tim Woehler. "I think we could scare people."

The Bulldogs lost five seniors to graduation last year, including three-year starter Ann Stalboerger and two-year starters Trisha Chevalier and Ashley Mackedanz. And the team only has one senior this year (Alisa Schmidt).

But Woehler, who is still trying to put the pieces together for the varsity lineup, is confident that an athletic junior class will find success on the field.

Heading that junior class is Kim Hess, ready to start her fourth varsity season, having earned All Conference honors the past two years; Kayla Mackedanz, who earned honorable mention honors in the conference last year; and a trio of pitchers, Val Callenius, Amber Chevalier, and Leah Spanier.

Woehler said all three pitchers are good and throw strikes, though no one is overpowering. Having three quality pitchers is almost too much in softball, where a pitcher can throw frequently and depth is not as important as, say, in baseball.

While Hess will start at shortstop or in the outfield, Mackedanz will start in the outfield, and whoever is not pitching from that trio will likely start in the infield, the rest of the lineup is still up for grabs. Except for catcher, where junior Ashley Spanier is expected to see the bulk of playing time.

Other top candidates for varsity time are junior Ashley Karger in the infield and Schmidt, junior Katie Nelson, and sophomore Melanie Mages in the outfield.

Woehler believes that the team will play good defense this year, having no holes in its lineup, however it turns out. He also believes they will have solid pitching, which leaves offense as his main concern. Last year, the Dogs hit .281 as a team, but that was led by its top four hitters (Hess, both Mackedanzes, and Stalboerger) all hitting .370 or better.

This year, Woehler plans to have Kayla Mackedanz hit first (since she has more power) and have Hess hit second (since she is a better contact hitter). Both hit .407 last year, with Hess leading the team in walks (19) and on-base percentage (.568) and Mackedanz leading the team with six extra-base hits.

A key to success this year for the softball team is have productivity throughout the lineup, said Woehler. Last year, only six players topped .240 in batting average. Also, the top four hitters accounted for 67 percent of the team's runs scored and the top six accounted for 84 percent of its runs batted in.

This year, the team needs to have better balance and must be able to get key hits in clutch situations, according to Woehler, who also plans to manufacture more runs.

The team has worked hard since starting practices on Monday, March 15, and has a fun attitude. If that continues, Woehler thinks the team has an outside shot at the conference title, though St. Cloud Cathedral and LPGE are the favorites in the West Central Conference North.

Last year, team chemistry hurt the Bulldogs, said Woehler, but this year it could be a strength of the team, which Woehler expects to finish in the top half of the conference.

The Bulldogs will open their season on Thursday at Holdingford. They will also play at Rockford on Monday, April 5.

In all, the softball program has 29 players in grades 9-12. Dawn Knoll returns as the junior varsity coach. Paynesville will not have a ninth grade team this year as no coach could be found.

In the junior high, the softball program has 37 players with Ross Engelstad coaching the eighth grade team and Rick Houske the seventh grade team.

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