By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican
It’s always crunch time getting ready for the first high school softball games, with the earliest start schedule of all Longhorn teams.
With its first double-header on Tuesday next week already, Chase County Coach Denise Smith says having 21 girls out for the team this fall certainly helps.
“Any time you have numbers, you have depth and that helps,” Smith said.
She and fellow coach Jason Speck are still working on nailing down starting positions and the batting order.
That will take some work, she noted, with the loss of six graduated seniors, five of whom were infielders. Two of those infield losses were pitcher and catcher Anna Bauerle and Ally Vrbas, along with first baseman Cassie Burpo, shortstop Abbi Vetter and third baseman Jodi Koellner.
Last year’s other four starters are back this season, but the coach said most of them may be at new positions. Of the entire 21-player team, 13 are back from last season.
This year’s roster includes six seniors, two juniors, eight sophomores and five freshmen.
This is the team’s second full week of practice, which followed a week of conditioning first.
Smith said they are working a lot on the basics this week, but trying to finalize positions and the batting order.
“It may be a bit rough and bumpy for awhile,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t have the talent, we just need to get used to each other.”
Smith is happy with the progress of sophomore pitcher Josie Peterson, who has increased her pitch speed about six to seven m.p.h. since last year. She’ll likely be the varsity starter this season.
Right up there at the No. 2 spot is sophomore Katelyn Wheeler, who also did some work this spring and will be strong on the mound, too, Smith said.
Other pitchers working at it are Megan Engbrecht, Emma Bauerle and Jessica Hartman.
Two catchers, Brittanie Benge and Andrea Page, will have to fill that spot behind the plate for the varsity and JV games, although Peterson can also catch, Smith said.
The team is dealing with one injury. Senior Claire Kuenne was hit in the temple with a ball at practice last week. She is out for two weeks, but may be ready to return the end of next week, Smith said.
Last season, the Lady Longhorns finished as district runner-up with a 12-15 record. That probably would have been a winning record, but seven varsity games last fall were cancelled due to weather.
Smith said they’d like to finish as well this year, but noted Cozad has dropped from Class B to C this year, and will be in Chase County’s District C-6. Gothenburg, also in the same district again, and Cozad are the two biggest schools in the Class C softball division this season.
Other team’s in the C-6 District are Blue Hill, Chadron, Minden and Southern Valley/Alma.
Gothenburg will again host the district tournament Oct. 9-10.
The season schedule is the same as last year with no new tournaments or contests.
In addition to Tuesday’s 4:30 p.m. MT double-header with So. Valley/Alma and Blue Hill, the Lady Longhorns will return to So. Valley for another double-header on Thursday, Aug. 28, which includes GI Central Catholic. Those games have a 3:30 p.m. MT start.
Chase County’s home opener at Schroeder Park is Friday, Aug. 29, when Perry, Okla., is in town for JV and varsity games starting at 3 p.m.
Here is the team roster, listed by class.
Seniors—Emma Bauerle, Claire Kuenne, Makenna Wallin, Jessica Hartman, Faith Reinke, Emma Mollendor.
Juniors—Shelby Bigham, Jasmine Laird.
Sophomores—Sarah Allen, Brittanie Benge, Megan Engbrecht, Mikaela O’Brien, Josie Peterson, Destiny Reinke, Brittany Simeon, Katelyn Wheeler.
Freshmen—Jade Allen, Whitney Hopp, Stevie Johnson, Andrea Page, Syndey Vetter.