After a rough 2019 campaign, the Elcho Hornets softball team had high hopes entering this spring.
With just one senior lost to graduation, and a good group of five ready to take the next step in their high school career, head coach Jamie Robrecht felt the program was on the upswing.
“I’m very depressed we didn’t get to play this year,” she said. “I had some really high hopes, I have an amazing group of players who work very hard and have lots of talent, many of my players have been working in the off season, improving not only their skills, but their ability to play together as a team.”
The Hornets’ only loss was second team All-Northern Lakes Conference performer Kaitlyn Paulsen, a dependable performer in the field at both first base and pitcher.
Of the five seniors returning, three earned all-conference honors a season ago. Included is shortstop Carissa Belland, who was also a second team performer. Belland was Elcho’s leading hitter in 2019 with a .298 average, while also topping the team in hits with 14, runs with 16 and in stolen bases, swiping 10 bags on the year.
More big things were expected from her.
“When Car joined the team as a freshman she had many of the skills needed to be a good player, but over the years she has become a great player,” Robrecht explained. “She works hard during the off season getting in the batting cage as much as she can, when she is at shortstop, she is our leader on the field, trying to be involved in every play. When she needs to pitch, she has a hard time switching gears and staying in the circle.”
Belland was expected to take the mound when needed, but the top pitcher from a year ago was returning to the Hornets in Anna Schilling. Schilling made 14 starts, but despite winning just a lone game, showed much promise and was named an honorable mention all-conference selection.
Schilling’s earned run average was a respectable 5.64, while striking out 39 over 75 2/3 innings of work.
“Pitching takes hard work and dedication which Schill has taken to a new level,” Robrecht said. “She spends hours working at her trade, not just on different pitches and placement of those pitches, but the mind game and how to work through those hard situations.”
Katelyn Slowik was set to back up Schilling behind the plate, after also earning an honorable mention all-conference nod in 2019.
“Katelyn has turned into an amazing catcher,” Robrecht said. “With her speed and athleticism she very rarely has a passed ball, but when she does she will make up for it by throwing out a runner. Her knowledge as a catcher has helped her learn how to use her speed on the base paths.”
Big things were also expected from senior outfielder Kiara Murphy. A consistent hitter with speed on the base paths, Murphy was likely destined for the number three spot in the lineup.
“Murphy has turned into a powerful hitter, she has fast hands and gets her bat on the ball,” Robrecht explained. “We have taken advantage of her speed over the years and have made her into a great outfielder.”
The final senior, Kelli Paulsen, was likely headed toward being a key utility player.
“Throughout the years I have moved Kelli from position to position,” Robrecht said. “She has taken it all in stride, keeping her head up and in the game no matter where she is placed, she knows and understand the game which allows me to do this.”
The lone junior on the roster was Erica Manka, who batted .239 a year ago and drove in seven runs.
“When Manka first started she hoped to play infield, but the way she reads the ball and her strong arm makes it hard to keep her out of the outfield,” Robrecht noted. “She is always working hard and has a strong bat, she more than likely would have been our clean up hitter this season.”
A total of four sophomores were on the Lady Hornets’ roster, three of which were returnees to the team in Lily Reinke, Roxanne Russell and Greta Wheeler, while Emily Siemers was a first year player.
Reinke spent most of her time as the Hornets’ designated hitter last season, but was likely going to push for a spot in the outfield.
“Lily was becoming an excellent slapper at the end of last season,” Robrecht described. “With speed like hers you don’t need to hit the ball hard, just put it in play, and it’s great to have speed like that in our very large outfield.”
Russell saw some time at DH in 2019, as well as the outfield and was to be a contributor again.
“Roxanne put the ball into play during some very important situations,” Robrecht added.
Wheeler was looking at a utility role in the field, but perhaps a five spot in the batting order.
“I could put Greta anywhere, she reads the ball well in the outfield and has a quick release to play infield,” Robrecht said. “Powerful bat, makes contact majority of the time, probably a good five batter.”
Other newcomers to the roster outside of Siemers included freshman Kailey Kupfer and Emily Moore.
The potential was certainly there for the 2020 edition of the Lady Hornets, but we will never know in another season lost.