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College softball: New Lady Jays coach already looking ahead to next year

WORTHINGTON -- The renewal of Minnesota West softball was close. So close.

But despite the fact that several girls could be seen practicing at the college in March, and more recruits seemed to be on the way, the season didn’t happen.

For the second year in a row, the Lady Jays are not fielding a women’s fast-pitch softball squad this year. The good news, however, is that hope is high for next year.

Eight players have indicated a strong desire to play for the college in 2020, and first-year head coach Tanner Gunnink is maintaining her efforts to bring in several more.

“I have a whole ‘nother year to get more knowledge under my belt. I have a whole year to get to more high school games, and to keep recruiting,” Gunnink said on Wednesday inside her Minnesota West office.

Gunnink, a former Minnesota West softball player herself, was hired to coach the 2019 team on July 30. The hiring came fairly late on the college softball calendar, but she was excited to get started.

“I was super fired-up to get girls in here,” she said.

Early-season optimism at the college was such that, despite having to cancel a few early games, it was assumed that the team would come together in time. There were six girls Gunnink said she could count on, and a few more who seemed close to entering the fold. In the end, however, there weren’t enough.

“Just to build a competitive team was not quite there,” Gunnink said. “If someone were to get hurt, it wouldn’t be good for the program. If I had nine solid girls, if one of them were to get hurt, it wouldn’t be enough.”

Now without a team to manage, Gunnink has more time to attend the high school games of girls who have indicated a desire to play next year. Several of next year’s expected recruits hail from area schools, like Edgerton/Southwest Christian, Luverne, Jackson County Central and Harris-Lake Park. Gunnink keeps in contact with them, and she has already seen a few of their high school games.

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