Young Lady Jays softball squad set for 2008 campaign

WORTHINGTON -- With its Minnesota Community College Conference opener slated for March 31, a young, inexperienced Minnesota West softball team needed to get into some game situations, on a real diamond, in a hurry.

WORTHINGTON -- With its Minnesota Community College Conference opener slated for March 31, a young, inexperienced Minnesota West softball team needed to get into some game situations, on a real diamond, in a hurry.

Since taking over the program three years ago, head coach Rosalie Hayenga has found it imperative to find an outdoor venue to get her team ready for the short, compact MCCC season.

"We can't be ready for the season by having practices in the gymnasium, it's a real disadvantage," Hayenga said. "You're taking grounders off the hardwood or the cement, which is quite different from playing on the dirt. So, we've headed down to Florida the past three seasons. Down there, we get to practice in game situations, which are crucial to getting ready for the season."

Not only does the annual trip help the Lady Jays hone their skills on the field, but it also allows the players a chance to bond and come together as a unit.

"Outside of getting to play on dirt fields, the trip gives the players the opportunity to develop some team camaraderie," Hayenga said. "They get to know each other and appreciate each other. The hard part of it all is earning the money to take the trip."


The Lady Jays have sold candles, sent out fundraising letters and delivered the "Yellow Book" to earn the money necessary to foot the bill.

"It's been a lot of work, but the ladies know it's worth it," Hayenga said.

After financing the trip, the rest was gravy.

"It was a great trip," Hayenga said. "We all learned a lot and had some fun. We have some new faces in some new positions, so we struggled early -- something we knew would happen. All the games were unofficial, which gave us the opportunity to move players around.

"We also had a chance to practice specific game situations, where we started an inning or a game with runners on first and third," Hayenga added. I was glad for that, and I think that helped us work some things out. We improved a lot, but we still have a long way to go."

With her top pitcher not returning to school this year, Hayenga and the Lady Jays quickly had to find an ace.

Freshman Melanie Anderson, out of Yellow Medicine East, will get the nod for the Lady Jays to begin the season. Hayenga said the right-hander will take the mound 90 percent of the time and will be a key to the success of the Lady Jays this year.

"Mel is not an overpowering pitcher; she's not going to blow it by too many players," Hayenga said. "But she has good control, and she's getting her changeup down. Hitting her spots will be a key. We can't afford many walks."


Behind the plate, freshman GP Vaske will don the catcher's mask for her second season of athletics -- having played on the Lady Jays' basketball team this winter. While Vaske doesn't possess a rocket of an arm, Hayenga is confident in her ability to play a consistent game behind the plate.

"GP has a good arm, but she's not a fireballer," Hayenga said. "She'll throw some kids out, but some will still run on her. She's a hard-nosed kid and does a good job behind the plate."

Dani Jo Thorson will open the year at first base. The freshman out of Leroy-Ostrander is solid on the bag and has good speed on the base paths. Slated to hit fifth in the rotation, Thorson's bat will be needed to knock in crucial runs for the Lady Jays.

"Dani hit the ball well in Florida," Hayenga said. "She's was particularly effective in clutch hitting situations. Once she gets comfortable at first, she'll be a great asset."

Sophomore Marie Pavelko will shift from third base to second base for MW this year. While the move will take some getting used to, it is Pavelko's bat that has Hayenga excited.

"Marie is a great bunter, and she'll hit in the second slot for us," Hayenga said. "The great thing is, if she doesn't bunt, she can put the ball into play; she hits well."

Sliding into Pavelko's former position at third is freshman Amanda Meyer, who played for the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Buccaneers last season. Meyer is quickly developing knowledge for the position and really came around near the end of the Florida trip.

"Amanda has a great arm from third," Hayenga said. "Third base is all instincts, and Amanda is starting to get a sense for the position."


An outfielder for the Red Rock Central Falcons last year, freshman Ashley Neperman (also a basketball player) will change gears -- opening the season as the Lady Jays' shortstop and a backup pitcher. While playing on the infield will be a challenge, Hayenga is confident Neperman will excel at third.

"Ashley is perhaps the most athletic player on the team," Hayenga said. "She has good power (hitting in the four slot) and speed, and I think she will have no trouble making the adjustment."

With speed to burn, the outfield will be a strength for the Lady Jays this season. Dani Moore (sophomore centerfielder), Ashley DeBates (sophomore left fielder) and Cassie Miller (freshman right fielder) can cover a lot of ground in a hurry, and each possesses a strong throwing arm to go along with a potent bat.

"Ashley was a first team All-American last year and has high expectations this year; she hit .500 last year and has been working on slap hitting this season," Hayenga said. "Dani will be our lead-off hitter and has moved to the left side of the plate -- also developing a slap. She'll get on base a lot, and hopefully, we'll get the hits to move her around the bases. Cassie has a gun from the field and will give GP a break behind the plate in some of our doubleheaders."

Serving as utility players throughout the year will be sophomore Rosie Lewis and freshman Ashley Schettler (Fulda), while Worthington product Hayley Lutterman will see some time at first base.

"Rosie and Ashley will do a lot of pinch running for us this year," Hayenga said. "Hayley is a good first baseman and has a good bat when she connects. We're working with her on making contact, because when she hits the ball, it goes a long way."

Hayenga sees the Lady Jays' team speed as a strength on her club, while inexperience at the infield positions is a weakness. And, of course, pitching will be a key.

"We can do a lot with the top of the order; we have good bats and good speed," Hayenga said. "With our pitching situation, we're going to have to score runs and be aggressive on the base paths. The infield will come around as we play more games and the girls become confident in their positions."


The Lady Jays will open their season on the road with a doubleheader against the Rochester Yellowjackets March 31. Game 1 is slated to begin at 3 p.m.

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