Preview: HHS softball team has high goals despite losing key players
Coming off a state championship having lost four key players, you'd think the Hastings Raiders would be in one of those rebuilding kinds of years. Judging by the team's goals for this year, though, you can tell that isn't the case.
"We want to try to repeat as conference champs, and try to end the season strong and make it to the state tournament," coach Dean Robinson said.
Hastings has six returning starters this year, and scoring runs shouldn't be much of a problem for the team, which boasts all kinds of power and all kinds of speed. Hastings has built a tradition of excellence when it comes to softball, and the team has won three straight conference titles and four straight section titles.
"The big thing is, we want to be sure the players realize that the teams we have had in the past have worked for everything they got," Robinson said. "That's the big thing - that they realize they have to earn it. They can't be back on those teams from the past. They have to earn it with the players we have now. We have a lot of new players here, and this is the first year without some players who have been with us for four or five years. It's a different feel. A different look."
Hastings opened its season with a scrimmage last week. That, Robinson said, was an important learning experience.
"That opened the player's eyes on a few things," Robinson said. "That was definitely good for us."
Captains for Hastings are Kaitlin Stark, Lori Bauer, Kelsey Nelson and Michaela Mills.
Stark is a senior right fielder. She is strong defensively and really came on at the plate last year with multiple home runs, including one during the state tournament.
"We're expecting a huge year out of her," Robinson said. "She's going to do a nice job of stepping up and filling that leadership role."
Bauer is a senior who plays third base. She's solid defensively and is a terror at the plate. She hit nearly 10 home runs last year.
"She's really solid at that hot corner, and led the team in home runs," Robinson said.
Nelson plays second base and is a senior.
"She's a great team player," Robinson said. "She's always willing to learn, and is always willing to get better. She shows a lot of hustle, too."
Mills is a sophomore who is a utility player. She's got great speed and is versatile at the plate.
"She's just very athletic," Robinson said. "She's so tough to get out at the plate. She's a great bunter. A great slapper. She can hit away. The pitchers don't know what to throw to her next - they don't know what she's going to do up there."
Behind the plate, expect to see second-year starter Rachel Thomas. She is a sophomore.
"She'll be the captain of our defense," Robinson said. "We're expecting a big year from her."
Pitching for Hastings this year will be Courtney Van De Velde, a sophomore.
"She's been impressive this year," Robinson said. "She's been a bright spot. She looks very, very solid in the practices and the scrimmages.
"She's very coachable. All she wants to do is get better."
At first base will be Kaylynn Johnson, a junior. She saw some varsity time last year and played a lot of junior varsity.
Nelson will be at second and Mills will see a share of the time at shortstop. Shelby Wassink will see time at shortstop, too. She is a sophomore. Wassink did a lot of pinch-running last year.
"She's going to do a great job at shortstop." Robinson said.
Bauer will be at third.
In left field will be Jordan Marshall, a senior, who saw limited varsity action last year.
Hailey Lundquist will play center. She is a junior who will also be the team's leadoff hitter.
"We're expecting huge things out of her this year," Robinson said. "She's willing to step it up and go all out this year. She can really track a lot of those fly balls down out there, and she threw a lot of runners out at home last year. It's fun to watch her fly around out there."
Lundquist hit for power last year, too, including a few home runs.
"She's got great bat speed up there," Robinson said.
Stark will be in right field.
Also expecting to see some varsity time are senior Nicole Human and sophomore Mikayla Minnaert.
Robinson expects to see a balanced Suburban East Conference this year. Forest Lake figures to be good again. Stillwater and Mounds View will fare well, too.
The section tournament will include good teams from Farmington and Rochester John Marshall, to name a few.
Robinson's assistant coaches are the same this year: Heather Maier and Mary Sobiech.