OTTUMWA — Even before the first pitch was thrown, the 2020 high school softball season is certain to be a historic one.
That much was guaranteed at the end of last season, when Frank Huston announced his retirement after 52 seasons as a head softball coach. This season will be the 47th in the history of the Ottumwa High School softball program, and the first in which someone other than Huston has led the Bulldogs out on the field.
Ottumwa is one of several area softball teams to earn a preseason ranking. Several all-state, all-district and all-conference returning talent will be on the diamond hoping to make the 2020 high school softball season memorable for many more reasons on the field than off it this summer.
Coach — Mandi Moore (first season at school, second season overall, 3-31 record).
Last year’s record — 33-9.
Top players returning — Delaney Stevens, So.; Kacy Nickerson, Sr.; Josie Lemonds, Jr.; Madelyn Houk, Fr.; Anne Guest, Jr.; Kaylee Bix, Sr.; Carley Winn, So.; Hannah Huisinga, Sr.; Jillian Heaton, Sr.; Zoey Jones, Jr.; Ashton Brown, Sr.; Ashlynn Sheets, Fr.; Olivia Coram, Fr.; Amber Shotts, So.; Madalyn Jones, Sr.; Ella Allar, Fr.; Mya Lemonds, Fr.
Top newcomer — Chloe Bradley, So.; Faith Poole, 8th; Hallie Leonard, 8th; Sydney Rockhold, 8th; Hannalee Songer, 8th; Amelia Burton, 8th; Ellie Barnes, 8th.
Outlook — To say Frank Huston left the cupboard well stocked for former proteges, Mandi Moore, is an understatement. Only three seniors (Morgan Greiner, Abby Bowers, Sydney Schlarbaum) graduate from the 28th and final Bulldog team to qualify for state. Additionally, Guest split time with Schlarbaum last year in left field while Lemonds stepped in to play third base after Greiner suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the season. Add an multi-time all state pitcher in the circle in Nickerson and a trio of regular returning starting position players (Bix, Huisinga, Heaton) and you get a team that starts the season ranked fifth, the highest preseason mark since Moore's senior year at OHS in 2013.
Coaches — Darrin Hill and Jodi Dorpinghaus (second season, 27-6 record).
Last year’s record — 27-6.
Top players returning — Jena Lawrence, Sr.; Alex Beard, Sr.; Ellie Spurgin, Sr.; Makenna Ross, Sr.; Abigail Martin, Sr.; Abbey Griffin, Sr.; Jade Boland, Sr.; Danica Workman, Jr.; Mackenna Jones, Jr.; Allison Major, Jr.; Meghan Jones, So.; Lauren Bayer, So.
Top newcomers — Lexi Jones, Fr.; Aliya Myers, Fr.; Ashley Beary, Fr.; Addison Halstead, Fr.; Sydney Hoskins, 8th.
Outlook — Unfinished business. That's what Dorpinghaus described is on the agenda for the Lady Dees with one of the most successful senior classes set to graduate after this season. After making a surprising run as eighth-graders to the regional finals, Albia's talented Class of 2020, which includes all-state batterymates Lawrence and Beard, is gunning for a fourth straight trip to the state tournament. The Lady Dees made it all the way to the Class 3A state championship game in 2017, but has lost four straight state tournament games starting with a semifinal-round loss in 2018 to Roland Story.
Coach — Sabrina Morrison (fourth season, 26-60 record).
Last year’s record — 13-14.
Top players returning — Maddie Cloke, Sr.; Lydia Moses, Sr.; Rachel Lewman, Sr.; Kassidy Verrips, Sr.; Alexia McClure, Jr.; Elizabeth Lett, Jr.; Riley Bears, So.; Caitlyn Reber, So.; Josie Courtney, So.; Olivia Pilcher, So.; Ava Ferrell, Fr.; Kinsey Hissem, Fr.; Madison Diveley, Fr.; Ella Thompson, Fr.
Top newcomers — Ella Drish, Fr.; Mazy Leon, 8th; Emma Becker, 8th; Megan Ward, 8th; Kennedi Miller, 8th; Brinlee Ostrander, 8th; Skyllar Welch, 8th; Cynthia Albert, 8th; Nicoa McClure, 8th; Emily Ward, 8th.
Outlook — It had to be tough for Morrison in her first year coaching the Comets to just two wins in 2017, considering she was part of two state championship-winning teams with the same program in 2003 and 2004. Now, entering her fourth season, Morrison believes she finally had a team that has grown enough to believe they can succeed with three returning all-conference senior leaders. Not one senior graduated from a team that at one point won six straight games, took a winning record into July and had to rely on an eighth-grader stepping into the role of starting ace pitcher with just 10 games remaining in the season.
Coach — D. Merle Jones (second season at school, 15-16 record, 33rd season overall, 796-421 record).
Last year’s record — 15-16.
Top players returning — Lanie Moorman, Jr.; Mickey Stephens, So.; Claire Mathews, Jr.; Ysabella Berja, Jr.; Elizabeth Zintz, Sr.; Faith Ingram, So.; Teaghan Maxwell, So.; Emma Zintz, So.; Kathryn Carlyle, Sr.; Alyssa McElvain, Sr.; Tegan Seddon, Jr.; Allison Casteel, So.; Gracie Moorman, Fr.; Taylor Shinn, Sr.; Brecklyn Carney, Fr.; Rei Bennett, Jr.
Top newcomers — Madeline Schmell, Jr.; Zoie Sconzo, So.; Annika Lechtenberg, So.; Annika Lechtenberg, So.; Kerrigan Peel, Jr.
Outlook — It has been one of the strangest softball seasons for Jones, one of the rare coaches that is still actively coaching both high school and junior college teams at the same time. The 2020 spring campaign at John Wood was brought to a sudden end due to the coronavirus in mid-March while his second season at the helm of the Redettes will be truncated by COVID-19. The Redettes hope to build off a thrilling end to last season, dropping a 1-0 decision to defending state champion Louisa-Muscatine.
Coach — Zach Dunlavy (fourth season, 27-59 record).
Last year’s record — 11-18.
Top players returning — Morgan Petefish, Jr.; Brett Lough, Sr.; Briley Lough, So.; Maddy Lawson, So.; Macy Hill, So.; Sydney Henderson, So.; Jenna Marlow, So.; Sophia Young, Fr.; Madison Dunlavy, Fr.; Madeline Barker, Fr.; Caden VanLaningham, Fr.; Jalee Lough, Fr.; Taylor Kerby, Fr.; Rachel McFarland, Fr.; Jadin Bennett, Fr.
Outlook — Is this finally the year that several of the young stars that Dunlavy coached to district titles and very nearly to a pair of state Little League championships break through on the high school level? While the Mustangs will have to account for the graduation of seniors Bailey Yahnke, Ashton Madden and Shelby Motykowski, the Mustangs return five players that started over 20 games last year including Sophia Young who led Davis County with 32 hits and 46 total bases as an eighth-grader.
Coach — Tony Fenton (10th season, 226-89 record).
Last year’s record — 24-11.
Top players returning — Madysen Wade, Sr.; Eleanor Breon, Sr.; Emma Lenox, Jr.; Faith Roberts, Jr.; Brooke Shafer, Jr.; Peyton Deevers, Jr.; Emalee Davis, Jr.; Lillie Hynick, Jr.; Kristyn Corcoran, So.; Ruth E. Gutch, So.; Rylee German, So.; Whitney Klyn, Fr.
Outlook — Perhaps it's telling that EBF starts the year ranked 11th in Class 3A. Despite losing one of their top all-around players, Reina Taylor, the Rockets are once again a team with winning expectations. Taylor and Darian Johnson were the only players to graduate as the Rockets return a majority of their starters, including Emma Lenox who led EBF with seven home runs and 31 RBI last season.
Coach — Bob Bradfield (41st season, 1,017-650 record).
Last year’s record — 22-19.
Top players returning — Allison Rebling, Sr.; Shaylin Drish, Sr.; Destiny Gridley, Sr.; Bailey Hird, Jr.; Hannah Simpson, So.; Jenna Norris, So.; Delaney Breen, So.; Danielle Breen, So.; Brynley Allison, So.; Coty Engle, Fr.; Peyton McCabe, Fr.; Emersyn Manley, Fr.
Outlook — Fairfield has been a tough team to beat, even over the past two years when the Trojans have combined to produce a losing record, but have finished just one win short each time of qualifying for the state tournament. It would surprise no one if the Trojans were in Fort Dodge this July, entering the season ranked 11th in Class 4A with all-district standouts like Allison Rebling and Hannah Simpson returning. In a sign of how tough winning in the Southeast Conference might be, however, the Trojans are ranked just ahead of Washington, the latest winning team in a conference that features Burlington, Fort Madison, Mount Pleasant and Keokuk.
Coach — Kevin Fritz (third season, 37-26 record).
Last year’s record — 19-14.
Top players returning — Mikayla Fritz, Jr.; Anaya Keith, Jr.; Isabel Hanes, Jr.; Alexis McKim, Sr.; Ronnie Cormeny, Jr.; Callie Benjamin, Jr.; Elana Moreno, Jr,; Destiny Nathaniel, Fr.; Lauren Long, Fr.; Kjirsten Albertson, Fr.; Nieka Carranza; Fr.
Outlook — The junior class is absolutely loaded and should only continue to improve throughout the rest of their careers. The Mohawks also have a really nice freshman class, which should continue to keep Moravia's winning ways going over the next four years. Keith will step in to the role of being the Mohawks ace pitcher this season.
Coach — Jason Ogden (13th season, 104-206 record).
Last year’s record — 4-20.
Top players returning — Chelsey Boettcher, Sr.; Malorie Probasco, Sr.; Sydney Callen, Sr.; Jessica King, Jr.; Karsyn Sebolt, Jr.; Hannah King, So.; Grace Wood, So.; Lexi Smith, Fr.; Stephanie Leager, Fr.; Breanna Meredith, Fr.
Outlook — The one advantage to so many young players having to step right up to the varsity level is having a team with several experienced players returning year after year. Such is the case this season for M-U with every player back, which should help turn the Eagles into one of the most improved teams in the area. Having all three pitchers and a number of really good hitters in the line-up also doesn't hurt.
Coach — Shelby Atwood (second season, 19-14 record).
Last year’s record — 19-14.
Top players returning — Sami Greiner, Sr.; Cari Duwa, Sr.; Remi Duwa, Sr.; Kylie Davis, Sr.; Cate Roth, Sr.; Emilee Linder, Sr.; Faith Goudy, Sr.; Erika Coleman, Jr.; Allison Bainbridge, Jr.; Emi Zook, Jr.; Taylor Parmenter, Jr.
Outlook — Things happened quickly for the Panthers last season. Pekin went from having to play one of two first-round games in their regional tournament to hosting a regional championship game for the first time in program history. The Panthers were both an out and a hit away from advancing to state for the first time ever, the closest the program has come to making it to Fort Dodge, and return all-district infielder Emilee Linder to lead the way.
Coach — Shelly Streigle (17th season, 247-173 record).
Last year’s record — 18-14.
Top players returning — Megan Stuhr, Sr.; Dani Richards, Sr.; Kaylee Weber, Jr.; Raegan Rozenboom, So.; Emma Gilliland, So.; Reggie Talbert, So.; Madelynn Hornback, So.; Madi Richard, So.; Sophie Whitmore, So.; Hope de Regnier, So.; Courtney Hemsley, Fr.; Brookelynn Hemsley, Fr.; Macy Fisch, Fr.; Rain Barthelman, Fr.; Raegan Powers, Fr.; Ryleigh Van den Hueval, Fr.
Top newcomer — Carly Goodwin, 8th.
Outlook — Besides scoring 1,000 career points on the basketball court, Megan Stuhr is a pretty decent softball player for the Savages. The South Central all-district selection in Class 1A led Sigourney last summer in hits (54), runs scored (54), doubles (14), home runs (6), walks (19), batting average (.535), slugging percentage (.871) and on-base percentage (.612). What will Stuhr do in her final season as a student athlete for the Savages?
Van Buren County
Coach — Randy Smith (fourth season, 32-50 record).
Last year’s record — 15-12.
Top players returning — Lexi Jirak, Sr.; Chelsey Huff, Jr.; Isabel Manning, Jr.; Ella Jirak, Jr.; Brooklynn Cormier, Jr.; Kalyn Tuttle, Jr.; Hailey Brown, Jr.; Cala Smith, So.; Shea Scott, So.; Kadence Nusbaum, So.; Jaelyn Boley, So.; McKenna Caviness, So.; Ally Cambell, Fr.
Top newcomer — Annabell Cormier, 8th.
Outlook — It has already been a historic season in the history of Van Buren County High School athletics. The Warriors qualified for the state volleyball tournament for the first time ever and came within one win for the second straight year of qualifying for the girls state basketball tournament. Don't sleep on softball with all-Courier utility standout Chelsey Heff and all-district slugger Lexi Jirak, who's postseason grand slam lifted the Warriors to a 4-3 regional second round upset at Highland last summer.