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MW SOFTBALL: Lady Jays ready for season

WORTHINGTON -- Turn weaknesses into strengths. That's what Minnesota West head softball coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka is hoping to do this season. "Last year, I thought our defense was really solid, but we just never got the big hits," the coach...

MW's Christensen
Aaron Hagen/Daily globe Minnesota West's LoRel Christensen connects on a base hit during a game last season. Christensen is one of the top returning players from a year ago.

WORTHINGTON -- Turn weaknesses into strengths.

That's what Minnesota West head softball coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka is hoping to do this season.

"Last year, I thought our defense was really solid, but we just never got the big hits," the coach said. "We could never get the runs across. We left so many runners on base. I'm hoping this year, we can kind of put the two together where you can keep the teams down, but get some of those runners in that we left on base all the time last year."

The Lady Jays finished 13-24 a year ago, but were on the brink of many more victories.

"I really think we're going to be able to produce some runs this year," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "I hope that we have some kids that understand base running and understand moving themselves around the bases so we can create some opportunities that way, too. I'll be disappointed if we don't have some pretty good run production."

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MW is off to a 2-7 start after its annual trip to Arizona.

"I'm excited about how we hit the ball in Arizona," the coach said. "I think we really do have a pretty talented team. We're not deep, but we never are here. What we have is what we work with."

The Lady Jays return five sophomores this season and mixed in six newcomers to round out the roster.

Sam Lynn, Kaitlin Banck, Emily Ebbers, Katie Hadler and LoRel Christensen return for their sophomore season.

Erin Ebbers, Steph Maras, Alyson Drooger, Katherine Kazemba, Kayla Vander Veen and Kelsey Wolthuizen round out the lineup for the Jays, who will look to improve on last year's .295 team batting average.

"Our team speed is down a little bit from what we've been in the past, but I think we're going to be able to hit the ball," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "That was one of our Achilles last year. We just didn't hit the ball very well. We played good defense. This year, our infield is very solid. We have four pitchers and three that will be in the main rotation, so that's nice. We have a little bit of depth and options there."

Not so long ago, MW relied on one pitcher throughout the entire season.

Now, Hayenga-Hostikka has more than she knows what to do with.

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"In Arizona it was just awesome because we could rotate and we didn't have to worry about them getting tired," the coach said. "Emily is the kind if her speed is not there, she hits her spots very well. She has a good changeup. You bring her in and then you can bring Steph in, who throws real hard or Katie is right in the middle where she can move it around a little bit. We kind of have four options, but we'll use Erin in the outfield a little bit more."

Maras threw 18 innings in Arizona, while Hadler tossed 17. Emily Ebbers had 14 innings pitched. Erin Ebbers also saw game action and will add more depth for the Jays.

"It's just wonderful," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "I was just loving it.

"You can never have too many pitchers. I've never had more than two, and two, I thought was a luxury," she added.

Hadler led the Lady Jays with nine victories a year ago, while Emily Ebbers led MW with a 3.50 ERA.

Lynn returna as one of the top hitters for MW. She will also anchor the defense from her shortstop position.

"Sam is our leadoff hitter right now," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "We put her at leadoff and she batted .433. She wasn't real fired up about that because she's always been a three or four hitter. But she has been getting on base like crazy. You kind of struggle with, do I want her there so she's not typically getting runners in, but yet she's setting it and getting on. She's our best base stealer, so she's getting to second most of the time with eight steals in nine games. We put her there and she did great and she's not getting out of it now."

After Lynn at the top of the lineup, Hayenga-Hostikka is excited about the rest of her order.

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"Steph Maras is going to be right up there and she's a real solid hitter and Katherine Kazemba is probably is our best contact hitter," the coach said. "Then you go LoRel and Kaitlin and Alyson. So right there you have some kids that are capable of triples, doubles and making contact. If we get the bottom of the lineup on base with some speed and get back to the top, I think we'll be able to produce some runs. We'll probably still mess with the lineup, but that's what we ended up with in Arizona."

Banck hit .345 a year ago and led MW with eight triples. Christensen finished with a .311 average and had a team-best 14 doubles and two home runs.

Banck (third) and Christensen (first) will round out the infield, while Emily Ebbers and Kazemba will see time behind the plate. Hadler and Maras will both play at second, in addition to their pitching duties.

Drooger, Erin Ebbers, Wolthuizen, Vander Veen and Emily Ebbers will all see time in the outfield.

With players like Maras, Lynn, Drooger, Christensen and Vander Veen making the transition from basketball to softball, Hayenga-Hostikka -- who was an assistant basketball coach -- hopes the success transfers from the hardwood to the diamond.

"Anytime you have success, then you want to be successful in the next one or you kind of get a little bit of confidence in yourself. Everyone of those basketball players are great athletes," the coach said. "I think it always carries over. Winning always carries over. I think sometimes you can get complacent with losing and it gets to be a habit. If you can win, that gets to be a habit and you expect to be successful, you expect to be good. I'm hoping we can really bring that attitude along with them to the softball team."

West will continue its season Wednesday at the Rosemount Dome. The Lady Jays will play games against Vermillion, Hibbing and Rainy River.

MW will then travel to Anoka-Ramsey on Friday before having its home opener Saturday against St. Cloud Tech.

"I'm excited," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "I think we'll be pretty solid and be in the mix in the Southern Division. I really think we will be."

Related Topics: SOFTBALL
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