Greyhounds prep for state with stories to tell

File photo by Travis Rosenau New Ulm Cathedral third baseman Lily Brennan prepares to throw to first during the first game of the Section 2A softball finals with Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s on June 1 at Caswell Park in North Mankato.

NEW ULM — Each member of the 2023 New Ulm Cathedral Greyhounds softball team has their own unique story to tell and drive to succeed.

Some players have no prior state tournament experience, while some were old enough to just sit on the bench and cheer the last time a Greyhounds softball team went to state.

It hasn’t exactly been that long ago, however, as Cathedral made repeat trips to the Class A State Softball Tournament in 2018 and 2019.

But this year is different for many of the older players on the team, as most of them were in seventh or eighth grade the last time the Greyhounds were representing Section 2A at the state tournament.

After defeating the then-undefeated and top-seeded Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Knights last week twice in the Section 2A finals, the Greyhounds earned their way back to the state tournament.

This year, the unseeded Greyhounds (17-6) will first take on third-seeded Moose Lake/Willow River (21-3) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato.

While the team shares a close bond already, some Cathedral players share an even closer bond.

Megan Haala and her younger sister Madelyn Haala are two sibling starters on the team this year, while senior third baseman Lily Brennan and her younger sister Ava Brennan are another set.

Ava Brennan is a sophomore utility player that has worked hard to get back on the field this season after missing last year due to injury.

“Last season during softball I was out because I had double shoulder surgery, so it was kind of just a setback for me, but the comeback’s always better,” Ava Brennan said. “As far as state appearance-wise, I am really grateful because my older sister plays, so getting to experience this with her as a senior is really special to me.”

Ava Brennan is hitting .234 for the season, and her RBI double in the first game of last week’s Section 2A finals ended up being the game-winner for the Greyhounds. After that key at-bat to fend off elimination and force a second game, the Greyhounds carried their momentum into a 10-0 shutout win in the second game.

In that second game, Megan Haala allowed just three hits and was aided by her defense and team’s hot bats to earn the win.

Megan Haala was an eighth-grader the last time the Greyhounds softball team was at state, and she’s looking to make this year’s trip more memorable. Part of making this year’s trip more memorable will be aided by the Greyhounds’ determination.

“We never give up,” Megan Haala said. “We always try out best, we’re motivated all the time and we have each other’s backs all the time.”

This season, Megan Haala’s pitched 113 innings with a 1.86 ERA and 87 strikeouts. She is also leading the team in RBIs (23) while hitting .342.

Madelyn Haala is hitting .275 this season as the team’s starting first baseman. She’s also pitched 37 innings for the team and has an ERA of 1.16.

Kiah Helget’s solo homer in the third was one highlight of the second game of the section title game last week, while Sydnee Helget’s two-run single in the fourth was another.

Sydnee Helget, a senior, said coming back to beat the Knights and advance to state as a senior was an amazing experience.

“This is such an amazing moment for us,” Sydnee Helget said. “All through our years, this is what we wanted and I think we’ve fallen short the past, like, two years now. So now that we finally got this our senior year, being the underdogs and just pulling through here at the end [of the section tournament] as well as we did, I am so proud of everyone, and it’s just amazing to us.”

Sydnee Helget is hitting .264 this season with 15 RBIs, while Kiah Helget is hitting .397 with a team-leading four home runs. Catcher Jaylin Hartness is hitting .311, while Lily Brennan is hitting .284 and Alexa Hornick is hitting .304.

Never one to pass up the chance to steal a hit away in center field with a diving catch, junior center fielder Jenna Hotovec was the Greyhounds’ top hitter last season with a .506 batting average. While her batting average is down this season (.263 BA), her leadership, skill and effort are not.

This season, Hotovec has been playing in memory of her late father, who died this past April.

“I just knew that my teammates and my coaches are always there for me, and I think that was the best part,” Hotovec said. “And I know that my dad would be proud of me, along with my mom and brothers, but I just knew I had to do it for them.”

Hotovec also has three homers and 17 RBIs this year.

Head coach Jamie Kuehn was a Portner the last time she helped lead Cathedral to the state softball tourney back in 2019. This year, she’s married to her husband, Kyle, and is eight months pregnant.

Kuehn has coached down the first base line this season due to her pregnancy. She said while she misses coaching at third and looks forward to being back there next season, her assistant coach Paige Simon has done a nice job at third and has been very helpful.

After a 3-2 win over Martin County West started the section tournament and a pair of wins against St. Mary’s capped it off, the Greyhounds have not been without grit this season.

“We’ve been talking about grit all year,” Kuehn said. “That you can never give up on yourself and you have to keep believing that you can do it. Like I said, Martin County West proved that to us, and this game [with St. Mary’s] proved it even more. It’s nice to see what we’ve talked about all year finally come to fruition.”

While there are many more stories to tell, the next story any member of the Cathedral softball team will be hoping to tell will be about winning a state championship. In order to get that state title, however, the Greyhounds must first deal with last year’s state champion runner-ups in the Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels, the Section 7A champions.

The Rebels return their hard-throwing starting pitchers from last season in senior right-hander Alexis Hoffman (.69 ERA) and senior lefty Sarah Christy (1.05 ERA). The top of the Rebels’ batting order is led by sophomores Hallie Klavu (.513 BA) and Sandra Ribich (.560 BA), while Kristy is hitting .494 with a team-leading 30 RBIs.

With the Rebels bringing that much talent back from last year’s second-place finish at state, the Greyhounds will be more than just Greyhounds on Thursday, they’ll be underdogs.

But being an underdog in this year’s section tournament didn’t stop the Greyhounds, and they will be looking to ride that underdog wave to the top at this year’s state tournament.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper?


Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today