By Andy Westra
Journal Sports Writer
NEW ULM The Martin Luther College softball team is coming off one of the best seasons in program history, and MLC hopes to continue that success in the 2014 season.
The Knights finished with a program-best 21 wins last season as they finished in third place in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference postseason tournament, and six starters return from that team for the Knights this season.
MLC returns its ace from last year to the pitcher's circle in sophomore Kathryn Marquardt. Marquardt recorded team bests in innings pitched (122.2), ERA (5.65), wins (10) and strikeouts (40).
Junior captain Emily Waldek and freshman Kelli Doell could also provide some valuable innings for the Knights.
Senior Captain Andrea Biedenbender returns behind the plate at catcher for MLC, and is the lone 2013 All-UMAC performer returning for the Knights. Biedenbender started all 36 games for the Knights in 2013 and led the team in multiple categories at the plate including batting average (.453), runs (35), slugging percentage (.651) and walks (17).
"Emily (Waldek) and Andrea (Biedenbender) have a very good knowledge of the game and are great motivators and leaders on and off the field," MLC head coach Barbara Leopold said.
Waldek and junior MacCartney Mendolla also each hit above .300 last season and will be forces for opposing pitchers to reckon with. Along with Biedenbender, they will be an important part the lineup.
"Our team has shown that we are going to be a strong hitting team," Biedenbender said.
MLC returns its right side of the infield in Morgan Kumbier and UMAC All-Defense team member Mendolla, but it faces the challenge of replacing Amber Krause and Amanda Fogle on the left side after they graduated.
Shortstop could be occupied by Mendolla after she played second in her first two seasons. Newcomers Caitlin Seastrand, Kelli Doell and Emily Wessel look to provide depth at the other open spots in the infield.
Waldek and sophomore Maggie Schultz return to start in the outfield. Returners Kate and Sara Willems along with freshman Sarah Couture will round out the outfield.
The Knights started off their season on Thursday and Friday at a tournament in the Twin Cities held at the Plymouth Creek Dome. They went 5-0 in their games there to start the season on a strong note. Much of their success is attributed to how well the team is coming together early in the season.
"The team is getting along great," Leopold said. "The positive communication on and off the field really helps the outcome of our play."
Waldek confirmed the strong bonds which have quickly formed between the players.
"Our team has a great camaraderie," Waldek said. "It's blessing to play with each of these girls."
MLC was picked to finish fifth in the UMAC pre-season coach's poll, but the Knights think they have what it takes to finish in the top four and make it back to the postseason tournament.
"If we keep up this confidence, I believe we will play very well and be competitive in UMAC play," Leopold said.
MLC will play again next Saturday against Loras College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.