Minnesota West softball: Lady Jays have positive vibes
WORTHINGTON — After making a positive splash in last year’s postseason Region 13 tournament by finishing third, Minnesota West Community and Technical College’s Lady Jays softball team has plenty of momentum they will carry into this season. But they’ll have to do it with a gathering of a lot of new faces around the diamond.
The Lady Jays lost a pair of all-state players a year ago in Alayna Hall, an infielder from Glenville-Emmons, and infielder Stephanie Behrens of Worthington. As a result, nearly all of the team’s infield, except its pitcher, will be new this spring.
“It ended up to be a fantastic year last year with an exciting finish. Our sophomores will have that experience and taste of success to bring back, but we also lost quite a bit,” Minnesota West head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka said.
“It’s a learning curve right now,” she added. “It will take us a little while, but it’s a situation where we had a great season last season and we’re hoping to repeat a little bit of that this season.”
A key returning piece will be the team’s returning starting pitcher, sophomore Christine Kazemba of Round Lake.
After playing her high school softball career in Eau Claire, Wis., Kazemba started 24 of her team’s 25 games last season as a collegiate freshman and had an ERA of 3.60 in 161 innings pitched. At the plate, Kazemba hit a team-leading .482 and drove in 23 runs on 40 hits.
While she was the team’s only pitcher a year ago, Kazemba felt good about what she and the Jays got done through last spring. This season, she’ll have available relief in first-year pitcher Jurnea Harberts from Sibley-Ocheyedan.
“It was a little rough on my arm, but other than that, it went alright,” Kazemba said of last season. “My accuracy was good last year. We have a whole bunch of new players this year and I’m excited to see how we turn out and work together.”
Another sophomore is utility player Kari Suby of Worthington. Listed on last year’s roster as an infielder, Suby actually played much of the season as an outfielder.
Suby hit at a .358 average last spring and is pleased with how her team’s practices have gone so far.
“I play wherever but played mostly on first base in high school. I like to think I’m speedy,” Suby said. “I feel like we’ve been getting the hang of it and are getting to know each other as players. That’s really important.
“We all click really well. We’ll have two pitchers this year, so that will help switch things up a little bit,” Suby added. “We have a lot of strong hitters and people are picking up infield really fast.”
West played three games last weekend, losing to Kirkwood Community College, Marshalltown Community College and Iowa Central Community College — all larger schools from Iowa. One of the weakest points for the Lady Jays last weekend was their hitting. The team hit .345 last year but graduated four of its top five hitters from that team.
“When you have two pitchers that are really solid, that will be key. Pitching is so huge in this game,” Hayenga-Hostikka said. “We’ll have to rely on our pitchers for a little while. We really struggled at the plate (last weekend).
“We probably faced four of the best pitchers we’ll face all year, but I think it was good for us to get live at-bats. We had quite a few strikeouts, so we’ll have to put the ball in play and also manufacture some runs,” Hayenga-Hostikka added. “I like to play that way, anyway, so we’ll be OK.”
Minnesota West’s season continues with a game against Itasca Community College at the Rosemount Dome Thursday morning.
“When it’s 30 degrees outside, we’re fortunate in softball to have the domes. We actually know for a fact that we’ll get 11 games in the dome,” Hayenga-Hostikka said. “We can bank on having 11 games in before our division games. We keep telling the kids those are all learning (experiences). We have a lot to work out with a lot of new faces.”