Sans ace pitcher, Blaze softball’s high expectations remain
The Burnsville softball team has spent the better part of the past decade ranked in the top 10 in Class AAA, winning state titles in 2004, 2005 and 2010.
No matter who graduates and who comes in, the expectations are always the same.
“‘The Tradition Continues’ is our little motto,” senior Danielle Wolk said. “We’re just trying to do our best. It’s a new year, we’ll see how it goes – one pitch at a time.”
The success in the past decade has rubbed off on this year’s players.
“I felt so honored as being part of the program coming up as a sophomore when we won the state title,” senior Abby Harazin said. “You really realize how hard you work and how hard the coaches push, that there’s a reason for that. We try to be the best team in the state. We’re known to be a good ballclub.”
The 2012 version of the Blaze will miss a key part of its success for the past three seasons. The team’s ace, Kelsey Anderson, has graduated, leaving a vacancy in the pitching circle. Anderson was named the 2011 Gatorade Minnesota Softball Player of the Year and Ms. Softball, but now she’s throwing for Winona State University.
“(Our new pitchers) are going to be consistent and throw strikes,” assistant coach Jen Burke said. “Are the (opponents) going to hit the ball a little more? Yes. You don’t get a Kelsey Anderson every year.
“It’s a new year. If you do (try to replace her), you set yourself up for failure.”
One thing the team can expect is more balls to be put in play, so the Blaze has turned its gaze toward improved defense.
“We’ve really got to push ourselves on defense and make the plays,” Wolk said. “We still have our hitters and we still have our speed. We’re going to have to play more defense.”
The players have already put an emphasis on defense after the pitching rubber was moved back three feet in 2011.
“It was honestly with Kelsey, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout,” Harazin said. “But even last year with Kelsey, we saw a lot more balls on defense. It will be a totally different game this year.”
Abby Johnson will pitch this season with some help from Erica Belter and Shannon Callanan, after Callanan recovers from an injury. The players and coaches have full confidence in Johnson’s ability to step in.
“She’s got a good head on her shoulders,” Burke said. “She’s pitched a lot when she was younger. I think she’s anxious to show what she can do.”
Burnsville didn‘t just lose Anderson.
Lauren Smith and Megan Lehnen, two other key components on a 19-win team, also have graduated.
But several core play – Laura Nadeau, Megan Threlkeld, Callanan, Belter, Johnson, Wolk and Harazin – make up another potent lineup ready to contend with Bloomington Jefferson, Eastview, Eagan, Lakeville North and all the other powerhouse programs in the south metro.
The early spring thaw has been a pleasant surprise with the team practicing outdoors for weeks now.
“We’re not so worried about seeing the ball off dirt for the first time instead of watching it bounce around in a gym,” Burke said.”We’re able to practice a little more in the field this year.”
The players are hoping it stays that way.
“It’s been so good in March. We’ve never really had this,” Harazin said. “We’re worried that we might pay for it in April with rainouts.”
Andy Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sunthisweek.