MOUNTAIN IRON — The Mountain Iron-Buhl softball team had big plans for the 2020 season and also had ideas on how to build up the team for the future.
With COVID disrupting those plans, a mix of young players and experienced veterans will come together this season to see what the Rangers are made of.
Head coach Jesse White (second year at the helm, eighth with the program) says the enthusiasm within the program is peaking and that his squad came ready to play right from the first day of practice.
“Enthusiasm is at an all-time high,” White said. “There’s just a different feeling this spring compared to past years. The girls showed up ready to practice from day one. In the past, you’d have never found us practicing outside in 30 degrees and snow and rain, but that’s exactly where we’ve been most days this spring because they wanted to do it.
“They want to be on the field. They want to play the game they love. Team chemistry is also the best it has ever been. I would say losing last spring’s season was a ‘don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ type moment for them.”
MI-B is contending with three key losses in pitcher Abby White, second base Morgan Dircks and catcher Rylee Folstad. They return some older players, but only four of them have varsity experience. White cites junior third base Maleah Milton, freshman shortstop Desi Milton, senior center fielder Paris Pontinen, senior pitcher Cece Schneider and sophomore first base Sam Hoff as key retuners to the squad.
“Despite only returning four players with varsity starting experience, on the defensive side of the ball we do have a lot of game experience. Most of these girls have played together in the spring and summer since 12U softball and most of them can play any position at any time. On the offensive side of the ball, we have some big sticks in the lineup and some girls who can find their way on base a lot of different ways.”
Others expected to contribute for the Rangers include sophomore catcher Elle Otto, sophomore infielder Alix Swanson, freshman Jersey Yernatich, freshman Isabelle Ollila, freshman Libby Overbye and eighth grader Aaliyah Barfield.
The Rangers will need to make up some ground in the outfield. Pontinen will lead out there but the rest of the core is somewhat inexperienced after the loss of junior Ava Butler.
“Our outfield, besides Pontinen, is going to be young. We lost our junior starting center fielder Ava Butler to a broken finger before the season even started so we are scrambling to find a replacement amongst some girls who don’t have a lot of experience out there — particularly at a varsity level. But they’ve been working hard in practice and really want to step up.”
MI-B is also replacing a four-year starter in the circle in Abby White with Cece Schneider having some big shoes to fill at the spot.
“This will be Cece’s first year starting at a level where she doesn’t have much time. Obviously, she didn’t get to play last spring and she also missed summer ball due to a shoulder injury. So this will be a challenge for her, but we know she will work hard, like always, to get the job done.”
White says the mix of veterans and younger players will make for a challenging 2021 season, but is confident his team is ready to step up when it matters.
“We have some veteran leadership with experience, and we played about a dozen games last summer, so we sort of know what we are working with. Still, there will be a lot of tinkering with the lineup, trying to find the perfect combination. Our coaching staff is confident our girls will step up to the challenge because they love the game and the program. They are unselfish and play as a team so we have no doubt they will find success.”
Ultimately the Rangers want to win when it counts: the postseason. But White says Section 7A is stacked with many talented teams that all want to win including Cherry, South Ridge, Cartlton, Chisholm, Ely and North Woods.
“Our goal, like always, is to compete for the section title and win in the playoffs.”