NEW ULM - Happy days are (hopefully) here again for the Minnesota Valley Lutheran Chargers softball team.
Coming off a tough 4-14 2011 season, head coach Dave Biedenbender sees experience and improved defense as a plus for this year's Chargers.
"I think we'll be pretty decent," Biedenbender said. "I think we'll be .500 or better. Every softball coach wants to have a sound pitcher and catcher and having (pitcher) Carlie Maasz and (catcher) Charlotte Pfingsten not afraid to talk is a plus."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Minnesota Valley Lutheran senior Emily Wessel is back for the Chargers this season after missing last season.
This is Maasz's third year as starting pitcher. Still only a junior, Maasz has already gained a ton of experience in game situations and maturity as a pitcher. Last year, she threw 155 of MVL's total 156 innings, striking our 155 while walking 60, but defensive lapses behind her often gave opponents more than three outs.
This season, the return of senior Emily Wessel to the starting lineup at shortstop after missing last year due to ACL surgery should shore up the infield defense, while the outfield of junior Marisa Kroells, senior Tracy Flygare and junior Rachael Kuck will have a year of playing the swirling winds at the Chargers' home field under their belt.
Wessel is already savoring her return to the field.
"Last year with the rehab was no fun at all," Wessel said. "It'll be a year in April since the surgery. I'm just excited about being outside and playing the sport. It's giving me encouragement to play the best that I can and make up for last year."
As a sophomore, Wessel was named Honorable Mention All-Tomahawk Conference. She has taken steps to regain her old form.
"I've been doing some strength training and I'm feeling good about hitting," Wessel said. "I feel stronger than when I was a sophomore. When I went out for the first practice, I felt like I hadn't missed anything."
While the return of Wessel is crucial to MVL's success, pitching is still the dominant position in softball, and Maasz feels ready to improve.
"No new pitches this year, it's all about consistency," Maasz said. "I've been working on a different kind of fastball, but I've also been doing some strength training and in summer ball, my hitting came around and I feel stong with the bat. I think I hit about .420 last summer.
"I'm excited for this year. I hope to improve my walk to strikeout ratio."
Third base belongs to junior Mikyla Weilage, who Biedenbender credits for having "a great arm," while junior Keri Fischer returns to second base and senior Jeanna Birr comes back to play first base. Besides being captain behind the plate, Pfingsten returns as the Chargers' leading hitter from 2011, when she batted .468 and had a slugging percentage of .629.
The Chargers open their season on Monday, April 9, when they host Springfield.