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Prep Softball: 2017 Area Previews

BOLD second baseman Katie Buchtel fields a throw during a recent practice in Olivia. Jake Schultz / Tribune

ACGC

Falcons

West Central Conference

Head Coach: Brad Nelson (8th year, 48-79)

2016 Records: 4-15 overall, 2-12 WCC, 0-1 Section 4A

Key Players: Rylie Wilner (Jr. CF), Micayla Hobson (Sr. 1B/P), Miranda Lang (Sr. SS/2B), Maree Lee (Sr. 3B), Madison Denton (Jr. LF), Shauna Wehking (Sr. C), Taryn Reinke (Sr. P)

Keys to the Season: ACGC brings back six seniors but it's junior Rylie Wilner who will likely lead this team. She posted a .538 batting average with a 1.441 OPS as a sophomore and looks to bring her team back to winning ways. The Falcons' offense looks to be strong this season but seniors Micayla Hobson and Taryn Reinke will be tasked with taking control in the pitching circle and improving on last season's 10.1 runs against average.

BBE

Jaguars

Central Minnesota Conference

Head Coach: Carl Williams (2nd year, 2-17)

2016 Records: 2-17 overall, 0-15 CMC, 0-1 Section 6A

Key Players: Cassandra Tensen (So. P), Jordyn Steffensen (Sr. 3B), Kendra Schmitz (Jr. IF)

Keys to the Season: Second-year head coach Carl Williams is looking to turn things around this season for the Jaguars who struggled to keep opponent's run totals low. Sophomore Cassandra Tensen will be the pitcher tasked with keeping batters guessing in 2017. Jordyn Steffensen will be one of the few experienced veterans on the young team as a senior at third base.

Benson

Braves

West Central Conference

Head Coach: Barb Schwarz (2nd year)

2016 Records: 6-14 overall, 3-11 WCC, 1-2 Section 3AA

Key Players: Kaitlyn Knutson (Sr. OF), Nicole Berens (Sr. 2B/SS), Presley Gonnerman (Sr. 2B/SS), Grace Lee (Jr. 1B), Danielle Himley (Sr. C), Megan Amundson (Sr. OF)

Keys to the Season: Benson and Hancock unpaired this season but the Braves still return six starters from last year's squad including Nicole Berens and Presley Gonnerman, a pair of seniors who create quite the tandem up the middle. The biggest question mark comes in the pitching circle as they lose the services of Addie Forbord who pitched 114 of 125 possible innings last year. Juniors Makenzie Kurkosky and Emily Miller will battle on the rubber as senior Danielle Himley moves from outfield to behind the plate.

BOLD

Warriors

West Central Conference

Head Coach: Melissa Sagedahl (5th year)

2016 Records: 22-6 overall, 11-3 WCC, 6-2 Section 3A (section runner-up)

Key Players: Morgan Flann (Sr. P), Elsa Skeie (Sr. C), Sierra Weis (Sr. 1B), Taylor Sagedahl (Jr. SS/P), Emily Sheehan (Jr. OF), Katie Buchtel (Jr. 2B)

Keys to the Season: The Warriors got the taste of the section final last year and they're on the right track to get back there this year with two All-Area first teamers returning to the starting lineup in Morgan Flann and Elsa Skeie. The duo creates arguably the strongest battery in the area with plenty of pop. Flann hit at a .490 clip with with eight home runs and 12 doubles while scoring 52 runs with 29 RBI. Her .560 on base percentage was impressive but couldn't top Skeie's .598. The catcher went error-free last year and batted .559 with 10 home runs, 16 doubles and finished with 48 RBI and 34 runs scored.

Dawson-Boyd

Blackjacks

Camden Conference

Head Coach: John Nevins (12th year)

2016 Records: 7-12 overall, 7-11 CC, 0-1 Section 3A

Key Players: Mary Bothun (So. P), Ashley Borstad (Jr. P), Amelia Olson (Fr. C), Lily Olson (Sr. OF), Christina Novy (Sr. OF)

Keys to the Season: Dawson-Boyd remains a young team despite losing only a pair of seniors to graduation in 2016. Lily Olson and Christina Novy are the lone seniors for the Blackjacks in 2017 and they'll lead from the outfield while the infield will be comprised of a strong sophomore class including pitcher Mary Bothun. Freshman Amelia Olson will take her spot behind the plate yet again and manage the pitching staff.

KMS

Saints

Camden Conference

Head Coach: Eileen Suter (25th year, 417-150)

2016 Records: 21-3 overall, 18-0 CC (champions), 2-2 Section 3A

Key Players: Sam Gjerde (Sr. P/SS), Molly Jeppesen (Sr. P/1B), Alexis Lamecker (Sr. RF), Tori Everson (Sr. SS/2B), Hannah Rosenboom (Jr. LF),

Keys to the Season: A perennial powerhouse, the Saints reload looking to replicate last season's regular season success and improve in the playoffs. Head coach Eileen Suter has eight players back who started games on last year's team that opened the season with a 19-game-win streak before closing out the season on a 2-3 skid. Andrea Olson, a 2016 All-Area first teamer, earned her cap and gown last season leaving a hole at third base but senior pitcher and shortstop Sam Gjerde is back to cement her legacy as an all-time Saints great. She's joined by a strong lineup from top to bottom as well that has a good chance to repeat as Camden Conference champions.

Lac qui Parle Valley

Eagles

Camden Conference

Head Coach: Janet Larsen (1st year)

2016 Records: 13-8 overall, 11-7 CC, 0-1 Section 3A

Key Players: Kylee Larsen (Sr. P), Taniah Tosel (Sr. 3B), MaClay Wollschlager (Sr. 1B), (Jenna Burkleo (Jr. CF), Kelsea Lund (Jr. SS), Maddy Patzer (Jr. P), Gretchen Rademacher (Jr. C), Laura Schlieman (Jr. OF)

Keys to the Season: The Eagles finished the 2016 regular season with a six game win streak and they're looking to carry that momentum into this season with new head coach Janet Larsen at the helm. Senior Kylee Larsen returns to pitch and play third base for the high-scoring Eagles who averaged 8.5 runs per game last season. She'll likely pitch a bit more than last season's 50 innings pitched but she'll be joined by fellow pitchers Maddy Patzer and Haley Wollschlager in the pitcher's circle.

Litchfield

Dragons

Wright County Conference

Head Coach: Luke Braaten (4th year, 6-49)

2016 Records: 2-18 overall, 2-14 WCC, 0-1 Section 5AA

Key Players: Jasmin Estrada (Jr. SS), Madison Larson (Jr. P), Kyndra Beavers (Sr. 3B), Bella Meyer (Jr. CF), Maddy Benson (Sr. C)

Keys to the Season: Jasmin Estrada is back for her junior season and she's ready to lead the charge for the Dragons to rebound from a tough team season in 2016. Estrada earned All-Area first team honors with some gaudy numbers last season and she'll look to replicate that in 2017. The Dragons struggled in close games last year, losing nine by one or two runs. Junior Kristin Jones will be back to help this season in the outfield after missing 2016 with an elbow injury.

MACCRAY

Wolverines

Camden Conference

Head Coach: Nancy Thoma (39th year)

2016 Records: 11-11 overall, 10-8 CC, 1-2 Section 3A

Key Players: Ellie Hultgren (Sr. CF), Jordan Aker (Sr. 1B), Sage Mecker (So. P/IF), Keyanna Niesen (Fr. IF)

Keys to the Season: The Wolverines are rebuilding this season after graduating seven seniors from the 2016 squad. The three returners were strong last season, though. Seniors Ellie Hultgren and Jordan Aker each batted above .350 and Hultgren will move back to centerfield after spending last season at shortstop. Sophomore Sage Mecker is the third returning starter and she'll spend time pitching and elsewhere in the infield. What the Wolverines will lack in experience and power they'll make up for with speedsters up and down the lineup.

Minnewaska

Lakers

West Central Conference

Head Coach: Steve Hoffmann (32nd year, 485-178)

2016 Records: 10-11 overall, 7-7 WCC, 0-1 Section 3AA

Key players: Morgan Hess (Sr. P), Bayley Pooler (Sr. CF), Carley Stewart (Sr. SS), Abby VerSteeg (Sr C), Rachel Erickson (Jr. P)

Keys to the Season: Health is the biggest factor for the Lakers this year as seniors Morgan Hess and Bayley Pooler return after missing nearly all of last season with knee injuries. Hess pitched in only five games last season while Pooler, a centerfielder, missed the entire season with a torn ACL. They are healthy heading into this year's season, though, and they'll be joined by fellow seniors Carley Stewart and Abby VerSteeg who led the Lakers offensively last season. Stewart, a shortstop, earned All-Conference honorable mention honors last season while VerSteeg excelled defensively as a catcher and dominated with a .410 batting average. Rachel Erickson did most of the pitching last season and she should factor into this year's squad as well.

Montevideo

Thunderhawks

West Central Conference

Head Coach: Kyle Goslee (16th year)

2016 Records: 15-11 overall, 9-5 WCC, 4-2 Section 3AA

Key Players: Breanna Welling (Sr. P), Ashley Mckee (Sr. C), Abby Olson (Sr. IF/OF) Rachel West (Sr. 1B), Kaylee Glomstad (Sr. OF)

Keys to the Season: Montevideo should be a threat in the West Central Conference once again this season as they return seniors at high-impact positions. Breanna Welling started all but one game last season on the rubber and she's back once again to cap a strong career. Her battery mate Ashley Mckee also returns to follow up last season's All-Area first team honors. Abby Olson also returns as an ultra-utility player. She joins Mckee and Welling as the three T-Hawks to log a batting average above .400 last season.

Morris/Chokio-Alberta

Tigers

West Central Conference

Head Coach: Mary Beth Holmberg (37th year, 531-244)

2016 Records: 17-6 overall, 13-2 WCC, 2-2 Section 3AA

Key Players: Brooke Gillespie (Sr. P), Bailey Marty (So. C), Nicole Solvie (Sr. OF), Piper Gibson (Sr. OF), Ashley Solvie (P)

Keys to the Season: The Tigers will have one of the best batteries in the West Central Conference as 2016 All-Area first teamer Brooke Gillespie returns for her senior year in the pitching circle and she'll be throwing to sophomore catcher Bailey Marty who earned a spot on last year's honorable mention squad as a freshman. They will look to improve on a strong 2016 regular season with a potent offense.

New London-Spicer

Wildcats

Wright County Conference

Head Coach: Melissa Bergeson/Tracy Coahran (4th year, 17-33)

2016 Records: 8-13 overall, 4-10 Wright County, 1-2 Section 3AA

Key Players: Olivia Christopherson (Sr. P), Jordin King (Sr. OF), Shea Oman (Jr. OF)

Keys to Season: NLS has a trio of three-year starters looking to make an impact on the Wright County Conference this season. The Wildcats will look drastically different from last year's squad that graduated a strong crop of seniors including shortstop Mya Rohman, catcher Lindsay Vagle, first baseman Kara Jacobson and third baseman Espi Austvold who earned spots on the All-Area honorable mention team. The graduation allows for a new group of underclassmen to take the reins and show their talents.

Paynesville

Bulldogs

Central Minnesota Conference

Head Coach: Tim Woehler (17th year, 198-144)

2016 Records: 9-14 overall; 5-9 CMC; 2-2 Section 5AA

Key Players: Not available

Keys to the Season: The Bulldogs will be a young team this season looking to bounce back after a pair of losses to Maple Lake in the Section 5AA tournament last year. Paynesville showed flashes of offensive talent last year with a number of games where they scored double digit runs and they'll look to replicate that in 2017.

Renville County West

Jaguars

Camden Conference

Head Coach: Tim tanner (10th year, 72-114)

2016 Records: 5-16 overall, 4-13 CC, 0-1 Section 3A

Key Players: Carli Krogman (Sr. P/SS), Brooke Harder (Sr. 3B), Brooke Engstrom (Sr. C), Delilah Angeles (Sr. 2B), Emma Rice (Jr. P/1B)

Keys to the Season: Six seniors will carry this Jaguar team this season as they're spread around the diamond at key positions. Carli Krogman will split time with junior Emma Rice in the pitcher's circle and they'll be at shortstop and first base respectively when they are not pitching. Brookes Harder and Engstrom will also be an important duo at the hot corner and behind the plate. Head coach Tim Tanner, now in his tenth season with the Jaguars, says he wants his team to be an aggressive hitting team with a focus on scoring runs early and often.

Willmar

Cardinals

Central Lakes Conference

Head Coach: Shannon Cayler (6th year)

2016 Records: 12-10 overall, 9-5 CLC, 0-2 Section 5AAA

Key Players: Lexi Kopacek (Sr. P), Anna Backes (Sr. P), Addie Erickson (Sr. C), Amanda Zuidema (Sr. C), Heidi Sellmann (Sr. OF), Jordyn Swoboda (Jr. IF), Grace Culshaw (Sr. P), Karina Rice (Sr. OF), Emma Culshaw (Sr. IF), Hannah Johnson (So. IF)

Keys to the Season: Willmar returns all nine starters from last year's team, a first for head coach Shannon Cayler in her 30 years of softball. Lexi Kopacek and Anna Backes will be two of the leaders in the circle for the Cardinals. The team will have a total of 11 seniors on the team but Cayler said everyone has a chance to crack the gameday lineup. "The complete infield and outfield defenders are returning," Cayler said. "So we are looking to see who has matured in their offense and their mental game. We are going to see who has confidence in themselves and in this team."

Yellow Medicine East

Sting

Camden Conference

Head Coach: Jen Sneller (5th year)

2016 Records: 0-21 overall, 0-18 CC, 0-1 Section 3AA

Key Players: Ali Miller (Sr. OF), Raelin Enstad (Sr. U), Ali Ator (Sr. IF/C)

Keys to the Season: The Sting will try to rebound from a difficult 2016 season with a trio of seniors and young depth. Ali Miller will command from the outfield while Ali Ator will spend time all around the infield including behind the plate.

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