NEW ULM - The New Ulm softball team climbed to the top last year, winning its first ever state championship and finished the season with a 24-3 record.
While winning the title was the icing on the cake, this year's group is cautious. The Eagles know that they have to put their state championship behind them and set new goals this year, and that will hopefully lead to big things for the Eagles once the June portion of the schedule rolls around.
Back this year for the Eagles is senior shortstop Brittany Hoffmann and senior pitcher Sydney Schuck, who shared pitching duties with Kelsy Kannegiesser a year ago.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Senior Brittany Hoffmann will be a key offensive player for the Eagles this season.
The Eagles relied on Kannegiesser and Schuck last year to get them through a tough Section 3AA playoff road. That duo was sharp again at the state tournament as the Eagles brought home the state title for the first time ever.
Schuck went 13-0 last year with a 1.08 ERA and 73 strikeouts.
Head coach Kristi Andersen Loose knows that Schuck is a different pitcher than Kannegiesser was. While Kannegiesser had the ability to blow it by anyone, Schuck is more about hitting her spots.
"She's a different pitcher than Kelsy, she's a movement and placement pitcher and Kelsy was a power pitcher," Andersen Loose said. "She gets that, she knows that, and she looked great in the scrimmage."
Schuck said she's ready to take over as the ace.
"I'm ready for it, because I'm ready to take the bull by the horns and just get it done," Schuck said.
If Kannegiesser was the ace of the staff last year, Schuck was 1B on the team. But pitching may come naturally to her because she spent some time behind the plate while growing up.
"I used to be a catcher, and everyone used to have to pitch when we were in 8-and-unders," Schuck said. "I didn't like pitching when I was younger, so I was a catcher and I decided that I wasn't going to be good enough to do that."
Of course, being a catcher helped her in later years in the pitcher's circle.
"It helps to know both positions and my dad, he really helped me to watch the game and he taught me how to set up strike pitches," Schuck said.
Like last year, the Eagles aren't set on many positions around the diamond. Pretty much everyone on the team is able to play in multiple spots, giving the team options everywhere.
"It's nice to have experience and this year we're building with people at different positions," Schuck said. "We have people at different positions that we haven't had for a while, so we're ready."
One key spot the Eagles haven't figured out yet is the catcher position. Last year's catcher, Kristen Forstner, graduated, so the Eagles will have to find someone to replace her.
Seniors Maddie Kral, juniors Kali Denn, Shantel Donner and sophomore Briana Sieve are all in the mix to play behind the plate for the Eagles.
Hoffmann is the main bat coming back this year. She hit .333 with nine home runs last year along with 28 RBI in the middle of the order. The future University of Sioux Falls softball player has been a member of the team since her freshman year, so she's hoping her final year will be another one to remember.
"It's kind of sad, but it's been good," Hoffmann said. "Last year was a lot of fun and we had a lot of good memories, but it'll be sad leaving the team."
Like Kannegiesser did last year, Hoffmann knows it's her turn to take charge.
"I just want to make sure that I'm a leader for this team, being that I've been here for four years, I want to help out the team to be successful because I know we can do that," Hoffmann said.
The Eagles are loaded with juniors and seniors this year, and many players have valuable experience from last year.
Seniors Hope Capp (OF), Hoffmann (SS), Kral (C/OF), Sarah Nelsen (1B/OF) and Schuck (P) will take charge with a solid junior class behind them.
The juniors include Hannah Backer (P), Denn (C/OF), Donner (C/3B/OF), Katie Forst (1B/OF), Patty Gruber (OF), Ellie Schneider (3B/2B/OF) and Rachel Strandmark (2B/OF). Sophomores Abby Kamm (3B/OF) and Sieve (C/3B/2B/OF) round out the squad.
While the Eagles are currently trapped inside the gymnasium for practice, they're still positive and ready to go for 2013.
"They're coming in with a lot of excitement and a lot of energy, which is obviously fun," Andersen Loose said. "I wouldn't say it's any different than any other year's excitement and energy, we're getting a lot of gym work in because we realize we're going to be inside a bit yet. It's tough to keep that enthusiasm going, but you can see they're still excited to be here."
The competition amongst the players has been high, making it more fun too.
"That just means that there are a lot of options, and there still are," Andersen Loose said. "It's a dogfight out there and they're pushing for a starting spot or a role for them that will be perfect for this team."
While a lot of teams set a high goal of getting to the state tournament or winning the state tournament, the Eagles keep their plans simple and gradual.
"It's just improvement every day," Andersen Loose said. "Come to practice, get out of your comfort zone and improve every day. If we aren't improving every day, we aren't going to get to any of the goals that we've set."