Seven returning players with plenty of varsity experience are back for the Iola-Scandinavia softball team.
That has longtime coach Tom Anderson hoping to improve on last year’s third-place finish in the Central Wisconsin 8 Conference.
“We are returning seven players who saw a significant amount of playing time for us last year at the varsity level,” he said. “They include seniors Jessica Faldet (left field), Brianne Huettner (pitcher), Kylie Johnson (third base), Jane Oligney (catcher) and Brooke Phillips (shortstop); junior Jayden Podgorny (second base/left field); and sophomore Kendall Johnson (center field/shortstop/pitcher).”
Huettner, Oligney and Phillips made the CWC-8 all-conference first team as juniors, while Johnson earned second-team honors. Oligney was named the CWC-8’s player of the year and was named to the all-state third team. Phillips also received honorable mention to the all-state team.
The Thunderbirds were 18-8 in 2014 and posted an 11-3 mark in conference play, but finished in the standings behind co-champions Shiocton and Stevens Point Pacelli.
“Our strength lies with the varsity experience our seven returning starters give us offensively and defensively,” Anderson said. “We have three solid pitchers returning with Brianne Huettner, Brooke Phillips and Kendall Johnson and all three can play solid defense when not pitching. Our pitchers will be in good hands with Jane behind the plate and Kylie will continue to provide solid play at third base. The four seniors can hit for average and for power.”
The T-Birds have to replace second baseman/left fielder Mariah Oppor and first baseman Karina Welch.
“Mariah and Karina were leaders on and off the field,” Anderson said. “They excelled in the classroom, graduating near the top of their class and earning academic all-state honors from the high school softball coaches association.”
Prospects for the rest of the varsity team include juniors Kaylin Ellioff, Baleigh Fuhs, Lexi Hitchcock, Karly Honken, Jayden Podgorny and Megan Thulien; and sophomores Brooklyn Podgorny and Sadie Schustek.
Freshmen out for the team are Brenna Bonikowske, Erin Charles, Lindsey Frank, Quinn Hoyord, Kyanna Knutson and Makenna Stalter.
“Our concerns defensively is to find a starting first baseman for the first time in three years,” Anderson said. “We also need to improve our outfield play. Offensively, we need to see improvement from the bottom half of our batting order.”
The T-Birds are scheduled to open the season Tuesday, April 7, at Wittenberg-Birnamwood. The home opener is Thursday, April 9, against Manawa.
“Our goal is a conference title and to advance far in the WIAA tournament,” Anderson said. “Our conference, especially with Shiocton and Pacelli, is so tough from top to bottom and we realize we will need a lot of things to fall our way, but we certainly have the talent and desire to compete.”
He said returning all-conference players include Amherst’s Kelsey Holderman and Sam Yenter; Bonduel’s Jenni Dowden, Kaylee Rynish and Lexi Reinke; Manawa’s Sammy Johnson; Pacelli’s Sami Kay Shafranski, Hannah Raflik, Kaylee Krostag and Sydney Alery; Shiocton’s Sydney Wilcox, Kari Williamson, Kiana Williamson, Samantha Schmidt, Carmen McCarthy and Hannah Guyette; Weyauwega-Fremont’s Karissa Akey, Miranda Potratz and Jordan Krause; and Wittenberg-Birnamwood’s Jessica Anderson and Siri Zeinert.
“This year’s conference race should again prove to be very interesting, with several teams possibly in contention for the title,” Anderson said. “I would consider Shiocton the favorite to win the championship this year. Shiocton is returning their first team all-conference pitcher and second team all-conference catcher. What makes Shiocton so good is they have very good hitters and play solid defense at all positions.
“Pacelli is always very strong and should compete with Shiocton for the title,” he added. “The Cardinals are always solid offensively and defensively from top to bottom. I see ourselves, Weyauwega-Fremont and Bonduel also very good, but probably not as complete from top to bottom, so success will depend on the development of the younger players for each of those teams. Amherst, Manawa and Wittenberg-Birnamwood struggled with younger players last year, but should be much improved this year.”