Willmar softball and boys tennis season previews
Head coach Jim Anderson, starting his second year as head coach, is assisted by Laura Klein, also his helper in girls tennis.
Returning are seniors Preston Peterson, Tom Niles-Melchert and Austin Linbo; juniors Juan Contreras, Nick Courtney, Brandon Engelkes, Peter Rozendaal and Issac Yoakum; sophomores Alec Bateman, Teman Miller and Alex Reynolds; and freshmen Drew Corneil, Tate Hovland and Jarod Swoboda.
Graduated are Jackson Burton at 2-singles, Jimmy Unger at 3-singles, Shane Christenson/Sam Murphy at 1-doubles and Mitch Johannes/Austin Hilding at 2-doubles.
Numbers are down five to 24 this year. Anderson blames that partly on the absence of a middle school program for a time. The revived middle school boys tennis is back now in its second year with 18 boys coached by Bill Gabbert.
The weather has kept the team inside working on serves and volleys with the help of nets and two ball machines. Two matches already postponed with the prospect for home match on Thursday iffy. On Saturday, the Cards are scheduled to host a triangular with Hutchinson and New London-Spicer starting 9 a.m.
“Will miss players the six starters but the openings create a nice incentive to work hard and earn a spot,” explained Anderson. “Our strength will be in singles side while we rebuild in doubles.”
Despite the discouraging wet fields, cold, sleet and some snow, the Cardinal softball team is geared up for another competitive season.
Shannon Cayler begins her second-year as head coach after a decade-long apprenticeship as an assistant under Guy Nelsen and then Brent Pederson. She has two senior starters back — Heather Horning and Kassy Linbo. Pitcher Leah Ruter, now a sophomore, was pressed into action early and often with Horning limited by a shoulder injury.
MerriAnne Werder is joining her as the varsity assistant. Andrea Banks continues as the JV coach and Justin Brown has the ninth-graders.
Horning is recovering from a knee injury sustained at the end of the basketball season. Other seniors are Leah Ramon and Elle Steinessen.
“Heather finally started to pitch a little last week and will hopefully be full strength by the time the weather warms up,” commented Cayler.
Linbo is expected to take charge of the defense from behind the plate. Center fielder Ramon is the leader in the outfield. Ramon can bat left and slap hit to make the most of her speed. Steinessen, also an outfielder, has shown some power at the plate.
The junior class will have to come up big. Cayler will be looking for contributions from Jordan Martins, MacKenzie Hastad, Sarah Stadem, Kylie Kessler-Gross, Courtney Hoffman, Megan Rudnick and Jolissa Thram.
Shortstop Martins is coming back from a broken foot suffered in a January basketball game. Hastad can play most any position well and is a good base runner, said Cayler. Stadem is a strong infielder, currently nursing an ankle sprain. A good hitter, she could fit into the middle of the lineup, when healthy. Kessler-Gross, Thram and Rudnick are slated for outfield duty while Hoffman is a first-baseman, though she too can be used in the outfield.
Ruter threw a lot of innings last spring facing many of the conference’s top teams, some in twin bills. She shows the potential to be a dominating player, Cayler believes, and has gained strength which will also help her hitting. If not on the slab, she can be used in the outfield.
Ally Roehl is another sophomore-to-watch. She displays strength and quickness which will make her an infield asset, likely at third or short.
“Our schedule will be tough as it is sure to be another compact season trying to get in all the postponements before sections,” Cayler stated. “We hope not to replay the 2011 season when we played 15 games in three weeks, but we will suit up for whatever we need to do. I am hoping the extra time in the gym will let the injured girls heal so that we can use each of them to the best of their ability.”
Previews on boys tennis and girls fast-pitch conclude the Willmar spring previews today. Track and field, golf and baseball were previewed in Tuesday’s paper.