Last season the Perry softball team finished 18-12-1 overall and 6-7-1 in the Raccoon River Conference, their best record in over a decade. Along the way the team pounded out 16 home runs and 41 doubles while slugging .404, far and away the best power numbers in recent memory.
Three long-time starters have been lost to graduation, but with more than a few talented players returning, head coach Tina Kenney’s team is eager to prove 2014 was no fluke.
“Every kid has been been around the program for a few years and knows what we expect of them,” she said. “What I am hoping is that they now expect things of themselves and I think they do.”
Perry scored 157 runs and allowed 158, but over one-third of the runs scored against the Jayettes were unearned. Both earned and unearned, many of those runs also came late in games and on rallies in which there were already two outs in the inning. Perry also had trouble holding runners, as 25-of-26 attempted steals were successful.
“All those defensive things are about mental toughness,” Kenney said. “We need to learn not to relax so much and not let up. We do not want to be too tense, either, but we have got to understand that we have to battle each pitch, contest every play.”
Replacements will have to be found for first baseman Julie Diw, second baseman Lindsey Kunch and catcher Kylie Brandt, all multi-year starters who brought plenty of experience into the dugout.
Brooke Huntington will step in behind the plate, with Johanna Diw at first base and Sidney Vancil at second. Buena Vista-bound veteran shortstop Katelyn Whelchel returns, with Maddy Jans to play third. The outfield remains intact, with Alyssa Kruger in left, Victoria Hegstrom in center and Rachel Kinney in right.
Sophomore Emma Olejniczak (18-11, 3.34 ERA) returns for her third season in the circle. She allowed 196 hits in 207 innings last year, striking out 175 and walking 89 while allowing the opposition to hit just .219.
“She pitched quite a bit as an eighth grader then had a tough freshmen year where she had to grow up pretty fast,” Kenney explained. “That first full year was an eye-opener for her, but Emma’s work ethic is incredible — she works really hard at it and I have full confidence in her.”
Vancil, who threw but 12 innings last season, will pitch in some tournament games and could spell Olejniczak at times, giving Kenney a luxury that was almost entirely unavailable last summer.
The defense, Kenney said, was not set in cement, as Grace Marburger and Maddie West will likely see time in the event changes are made.
While it is unlikely Perry will reproduce the power numbers of 2014, Kruger (3), Hegstrom (3), Olejniczak (2) and Vancil all left the yard last summer and are certainly capable of a big blast.
“I am sure we will hit some (home runs) but I think where we will do the most damage is in just getting base hits,” Kenney said. “We hit almost .300 last year and I think we will top that this year.”
The conference is widely considered the toughest in Class 4A and, Kenney noted, nothing is expected to change this year.
“We have to play Carlisle and Winterset twice each, plus Ballard and Boone have talent and Bondurant-Farrar has been good, and … you just don’t get a break,” she said. “But nobody is feeling sorry for us and we can’t either. What we want is to get to where the other teams are saying ‘oh boy, we have to play Perry twice.’ It is a slow process, but you can see we are getting there.”