More growing pains plagued the Mayer Lutheran softball team in the 2014 season, as the Crusaders worked with their third new head coach in three seasons, after resurrecting the program just a few years earlier.
Regular girls’ basketball coach Kris Gustin stepped up when the Crusaders needed a coach and, with little softball coaching experience himself, spent just as much of the year growing and learning as his team.
“Obviously (we’re) a young team,” he said. “We kind of said going in we wanted to just be able to get better over the course of the season and we certainly did that.”
One of the team’s biggest struggles this season was out of its control: the weather. With only a handful of practices outside, players were thrown into live game situations they’d never encountered before.
“There’s only so much you can do in a gym,” Gustin said.
The Crusaders finished the regular season with a 4-15 record, including their first conference wins in three seasons, pulling off a doubleheader sweep of Sibley East on May 15. Mayer Lutheran also defeated Southwest Christian and Trinity School.
The season ended in the play-in round of the Section 2A tournament, in a 6-1 loss to Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart in New Ulm on May 20.
The Crusaders lose just three seniors this year, but crucial parts of their lineup. Catcher Krianna Boelke and shortstop Josie Peters, who both have picked up All-Conference honors in recent years, will leave big holes in the infield and behind the plate, as will Kim Hafemann who played both first base and pitched for LHS.
Underneath the departing senior leadership are a host of younger players set to return in 2015.
“I think getting some younger girls on the team is going to be better in the long run,” he said.
Regular starting pitcher Rachel Zittergruen will return for her third varsity season as a junior next year, along with Sophie Flucas, who entered the roster late in the season due to a spring injury but managed to knock down two home runs in her games back.
Sam Klatt will return to second base, while Kate Strehlke has found comfort in the outfield, Gustin said.
Mya Chmielewski, Simone Jopp, and Mallory Kuntz, who were all eighth graders this season, stepped up into varsity roles thanks to previous competitive softball experience.
“So many girls come here and maybe they’ve played a little community ed,” Gustin said, but haven’t faced a varsity-style competition level.
All the underclassmen will be led by to-be seniors Cailey Benkowski, Rebecca Gaida, and Lori Zacharias, who will continue to uphold the strong leadership set by this year’s senior class.
And now that Gustin has a year of softball coaching under his belt, he plans to push the Crusaders next season, working on more skill-specific elements of the game rather than fundamentals. He also plans to continue to recruit players to build the program.
“My ultimate goal would be to get a B team,” he said.
Boelke was this year’s All-Conference honoree, while Peters was All-Conference Honorable Mention.
Contact Melissa Marohl at [email protected]