Youthful Panther softball team starts season 10-1
Lakeville North is off to best start in years
The Lakeville North softball team has the makings of the best sophomore-laden team in the state.
Armed with a roster of underclassmen, the Panthers have showed varsity teams across the metro that age doesn’t matter if the players can throw strikes and average about seven runs per game.
With sophomores Erika Rozell, Michaela Zins, Jessica Meidl, Tera McKenney and Katherine Parker, the team’s potential is off the chart.
“I’m excited because I think we can be even better,” pitcher Zins said. “I’m not really surprised by our success. It could have gone both ways. I was excited for the season to start. I had confidence in myself, but winning has certainly helped build everyone’s confidence.”
It’s been a trifecta of positives for the Panthers. Zins has been throwing strikes and the defense cleans up behind her. At the plate, the Panthers usually take an early lead and never look back.
“Michaela has been pitching great and the defense has done well behind her,” head coach Sean Hall said. “We usually score a few runs early, so that’s a good recipe for success.”
The girls have defeated senior-laden teams from Chaska, Rosemount, Lakeville South, Edina, Eagan, Apple Valley and Burnsville – last year’s conference champion.
One of the most satisfying victories came on April 26 against Prior Lake, one of the South Suburban Conference leaders.
“The whole week was leading up to this game,” Rozell said. “It was a big win for us.”
The victory put the Panthers in a two-way tie for first in the conference with Bloomington Jefferson, the top ranked program in Class AAA.
But the trophies haven’t been handed out yet.
“I knew with what we had we had the potential to be good,” Hall said. “There’s still a lot of areas we need to improve. We are not focused on how great we’re doing. I would say the tougher part of the schedule is coming up, so we get a chance to see how good we can do.
“We need to get better at hitting, especially later in our lineup. We’re not getting a lot of bunt downs. Michaela is pitching great, but even she can get better, and that’s exciting.”
Against another top conference rival, Eastview, the Panthers were again victorious, 10-2, on Monday. The Lightning, led by University of Minnesota recruit Paige Palkovich, started the season 6-1. The eight-run loss margin was the largest for Eastview this season. The Lightning had losses of one run to Bloomington Jefferson and two runs to Prior Lake.
The win put the Panthers’ record at 10-1. The last time Lakeville North reached double digit victories was in 2010, but it wasn’t until playoff time.
The Panthers will welcome teams from Bloomington Jefferson, Lakeville South, Prior Lake, Eden Prairie, Farmington, Mankato West, Wayzata and Chaska this weekend for their home tournament at Aronson Park.
The girls may not reach all of their goals in one season, but that doesn’t mean they never will.
“With the program being young, I think they can only benefit from playing a lot now,” Rozell said. “We’ll only get better.”