Resilient West softball program is back again
The Minnesota West women's softball program, under the direction of Jeff Jager, returns after a promising 2021 season
WORTHINGTON -- When he took over the Minnesota West women’s softball team before the spring of 2020, Jeff Jager thought it might be only for a one-year term.
But things happened.
The 2020 season was canceled shortly after official practices began due to Covid-19. It was a big disappointment for Lady Jay softball fans, because the program was just getting kick-started again after being suspended for 2018 and 2019 due to a lack of player depth.
Jager was determined to stay on board after that 2020 non-campaign.
Then in 2021, things continued to happen.
The season happened, in fact, even though four players left early because they weren’t confident that a season was going to occur at all. But the Jays that remained went on to produce a solid 11-9 record.
Not that it was easy. Jager had a team that barely contained enough players to continue. In fact, to complete the roster some players had to be added who had virtually no experience with softball.
And yet, Jager took a nine-player team into Region 13 competition, which included four All-Southern Division players Steph Kazemba, Grace Suttle, Bri Ihnen and Emily Wilke.
Jager’s glad to be back for another year.
“The girls kind of grow on you,” he said this week. “It comes down to the athletes.”
Minnesota West’s new softball crew has been practicing for about a month, with its scheduled opener to occur April 1 and 2 in an indoor tournament at Rochester. Kazemba, Suttle and Wilke return for their sophomore seasons along with proven veterans Mallory Thorson and Shelby Christensen.
There are also several talented freshmen. Julia Schumacher, who’s attending cosmetology classes in Jackson, is a strong pitcher who can hurl both ends of doubleheaders, which frees up the team’s other top pitcher, Kazemba, to play shortstop where she is an outstanding defender. Torrence Clelland, from Canada, is a very good catcher. West basketball players Dannyn Peterson and Jayden Zebe also play softball. Emily Dunlap and Catrina Ihnen figure to be two more capable freshmen.
“We’re going to be pretty good this year. I think we’ve got some real talent,” Jager said.
Jager, a northwest Iowan, is not always able to be at every practice because of his other duties across the state line. But besides having solid players, he has a solid assistant coach, Jordan Kruse, who’ll help keep the Lady Jays in playing shape.
“I do believe our conference will be much tougher. They went through a lot of things that we went through last year,” Jager said. “You know teams are going to be better. But we should be much better.”