One rock solid piece of South Tama County softball will be missing from the diamond this summer, but coach Chelsea Ahrens hopes her experienced squad can overcome the loss.
Jenn Maus, former starting pitcher for the Lady Trojans, graduated last year and left a void on the mound after years of pitching for STC. Maus and designated-hitter Sarah Holtz were the only seniors from last year's improved Lady Trojans squad. With the rest of the team back and one year old, Ahrens and her players are hoping for another successful season, which begins Monday. The first game will be a home contest at 6 p.m. against South Hardin.
"We're always excited," coach Chelsea Ahrens said. "It means school is coming to a close. I wish it wouldn't come so early, but we'll just have to deal with it. The reason we're starting so early is the band trip to New York City and it will affect six of our girls. So we moved up a few of our games out of that week."
South Tama will be starting junior Samantha Holtz on the mound. She filled in for Maus during a few games last year. She is the Lady Trojans most experienced pitcher, but freshman Kallie Hala and sophomore Julie Wise should also see time on the mound this summer.
"Jenn will be hard to replace," Ahrens said. "We talked about this last year. There is no replacing her. She was a part of South Tama for five years. That will be our weaker spot and we are aware of that. The good news is Sam (Holtz) does have some experience and she threw some games last year. She will be primarily our starter this year.
"We also have Kallie Hala and Julie Wise who will contribute and help out on varsity," she added. "We know that's going to be a struggle, but they have put in a lot of work in the winter to try to make up for that. The key is throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters."
Most of the South Tama infield and outfield should be the same from last year. Behind the plate will be senior Riley Craun once again.
"It's great to have her back as catcher," Ahrens said. "She is experienced and she's shown me that she is a great leader."
At first base will be junior Trisha Walz, with junior Madison Baack at second and junior Hailee Weiss at short stop. The spot for third base is not locked in yet and it could rotate between several younger players. The other open spot is left field. Senior Jade Rohach will once again play center field while Tori Appelgate returns to right field for the Lady Trojans.
"It's great to have those girls back," Ahrens said. "Those girls have had three or four years at that position playing varsity. They know what to expect and they've done a nice job for us over the years."
Some other younger team members who played last year and should contribute this year are sophomore Catie Collins, freshman Dani Stubbs, freshman Belle Tyynismaa, Hala, sophomore Naomi Hoskey and freshman Madie Bacon.
"Catie Collins has been a role player for us the past couple of years," Ahrens said. "She has filled in and played a lot of different positions. We look for her to be someone that might contribute. Dani Stubbs spent some time at third last year. Belle Tyynismaa spent some time in the outfield and at third. Kallie Hala might pitch or play other positions. Madie Bacon is another one that might play and Naomi Hoskey. Those six girls will be in the mix there. They bring experience to the field. I know they're eager to play and they've shown that these two weeks."
South Tama began practicing two weeks ago and has been going most mornings since then. Although it's been rough in the mornings, Ahrens has been proud of her girls for coming and working hard, despite most still being involved in spring sports.
"Our state track participants haven't been to as many," Ahrens said. "We haven't had a single practice where we've had everyone there yet. We've got 21 girls out and we haven't had everyone out yet, but I think that's a state-wide problem.
"Things are going really well," she said. "We have a lot of experience. Even our freshmen have played middle school ball. So they come in and already know how we do things. They're used to the practices and our drills. There isn't as big of a learning curve, because they've been around me and this is my fifth year here. The kids know what's going on."
South Tama finished the 2012 season 10-22, which was seven more wins than it earned the year before. This year's squad would like to improve that once again and finish with a record above .500.
"Last year, we had a successful season and I know they want to build on it," Ahrens said. "I think the other thing with this team is we've very cohesive. We get along pretty well and the girls like each other. Part of that is we have five juniors who start on varsity and they are a great group of girls."
The Lady Trojans will play two of their first three games at home before a three-game road stretch. After two of three at home, they will be back out on the road for four-straight games early in June. They will once again be competing in the tough North Iowa Cedar League.
"I think Ackley might win the conference this year," Ahrens said. "They have a really good pitcher. We all know that pitching and defense make a difference in softball. West Marshall, East Marshall and BCLUW will also be really good. They have all have good pitching."