Last year, Fort Dodge became the first large-class program in over a decade to qualify for the state softball tournament with a losing record.
The Dodgers have every intention of following the same path to the elite eight at Rogers Park this July. In the meantime, head coach Andi Adams' squad will do everything in its power to make sure this regular season heads in a much different direction than it did in 2011.
''From the difficult schedule to our inconsistent play, we were probably one of the last teams people were penciling in for the state tournament,'' said Adams, who sports a 384-159 record at FDSH and is 437-187 overall as a head coach. ''Once the second season starts, though, you never know. We got hot and came together at the right time.
—Messenger photo by Dale Wooten
Fort Dodge softball returning letterwinners are, front row (left to right): Emily Grell, Chelsy Krantz and Haley Rustvold.
Back: Madi Bodholdt, Lani Van Zyl, Maddie Egli, Mallory Killian, Taylor Messerly and Lexi Astor.
''Now the trick is to sustain the success. We have a lot of of potential, but we also have plenty to prove. I'm just so excited to see how this all unfolds, because of how unpredictable everything became late (in 2011). I will say this though: I have a good feeling about this group.''
Seven starters are back on the lineup card for the Dodgers, who earned a No. 10 preseason position in the newly-formed Class 5A ratings earlier this week.
''I see (the ranking) as a sign of respect, which is something that is very flattering and humbling,'' Adams said. ''With that being said, it means absolutely nothing once we take the field. It's up to us to prove we're worthy of the recognition. We can't let that steer our focus in the wrong direction, because even though we made it to state a year ago and have a lot of players coming back, we are still so far from where we can be.''
2012 FORT DODGE SOFTBALL
Seniors - Emily Grell, Chelsy Krantz, Haley Rustvold.
Junior - Taylor Messerly.
Sophomores - Lexi Astor, Madi Bodholdt, Maddie Egli, Megan Gibson, Jamie Haden.
Freshmen - Mallory Kilian, Lani Van Zyl, Cassie Tjebben, McKinna Teske, Rebecca Sunken.
May 25 - Des Moines Lincoln; 29 - at Indianola; 30 - at Carroll Kuemper.
June 2 - at West Des Moines Valley Invitational; 4 - West Des Moines Valley; 7 - at Mason City; 9 - at Waterloo West; 11 - Waukee; 14 - at Marshalltown; 15-16 - Fort Dodge Invitational; 18 - Amse; 19 - Des Moines North; 21 - at West Des Moines Valley; 22 - at Urbandale; 25 - Mason City; 26 - at Ames; 28 - at Waukee; 29 - at Dallas Center-Grimes Invitational.
July 2 - Marshalltown; 5 - regional tournament; 17-20 - state tournament.
Youthful experience is a theme around the horn for Fort Dodge. Mallory Kilian and Lani Van Zyl became program anchors last summer before attending a single class on the high school campus.
Kilian and Van Zyl will cover the left side of the infield at third base and shortstop, respectively.
''Mallory and Lani are only freshmen, but we're really going to depend on them to lead by example,'' Adams said. ''We have three strong senior captains, so it's a nice mix of veterans and younger players, but I'm not going to treat a freshman any different than a senior when it comes to expectations. I don't think the players would want it any other way.''
Sophomore Madi Bodholdt returns as a starter and will play second base. Three-year starter and Coe College recruit Emily Grell is a staple at first.
Junior Taylor Messerly takes over full-time behind the plate.
Sophomores Megan Gibson and Jamie Haden will be utility infielders. Haden will start at the hot corner when Kilian is pitching.
Kilian and Grell both hit over .330 and eclipsed the 20 RBI mark last season. Van Zyl stole 15 bases from the No. 2 spot in the order. She will now lead off, replacing all-state centerfielder Mackenzie Alstott.
Senior Chelsy Krantz and sophomore Maddie Egli are returning starters, and sophomore Lexi Astor was a valuable weapon a year ago as a courtesy runner. Senior Haley Rustvold moves from the infield to left, with Egli taking over for Alstott in center and Krantz remaining in right.
''As is the case with the team as a whole, we have a ton of speed in the outfield,'' Adams said. ''Every ballclub has to play to its strength, and ours, again, is quickness and aggressiveness on the basepaths.
''Chelsy and Lexi are threats to steal every time they're on base. Maddie is incredibly consistent for just being a sophomore. And Haley is really adjusting well to the outfield. She has good pop in her bat, and we know we can rely on her (as a three-year starter).''
The Dodgers swiped a Class 4A-high 125 bases in 2011, which was also a school record.
As just an eighth-grader, Kilian led the Dodgers past Top-10 roadblocks in Waukee and Sioux City East during regionals a year ago. She finished 11-9 with a 1.54 earned run average in her rookie campaign.
''Mallory's a rock,'' Adams said. ''She's so poised and mature for her age, and I think she's ready to take on the responsibility of being a player we can really count on in clutch moments.
''She's gained about four or five miles per hour on her fastball. Mallory showed last postseason that, with a consistent defense behind her, she can and will win big games at this level. The sky is the limit as long as she continues to work hard.''
Gibson - a co-captain - and freshman Cassie Tjebben are vying for the No. 2 spot behind Kilian in the rotation.
''Megan and Cassie are more about spin and placement, which can be just as advantageous to us as a power pitcher if they can hit their spots,'' Adams said. ''I think we can really put together a nice staff with these three before all is said and done.''
Conference and Coaches
Third-ranked West Des Moines Valley failed to reach the state tournament last summer, something that ''makes them even more hungry and dangerous this time around,'' Adams said. The Tigers were eliminated in a regional final by eventual state champion Des Moines East.
Ames welcomes back all-state pitcher Hunter Stohlmeyer, and Waukee's talent level is always ''among the best in the state,'' Adams said.
''Stohlmeyer has been more than just a thorn in our side; she has dominated us,'' Adams said. ''You know what Valley and Waukee are going to bring to the table. Mason City went to state in girls basketball; they have athletes who expect to win. Marshalltown has a new coach who has done good things at (Marshalltown Community College).
''We played 11 different state qualifiers last year and over 20 games against teams that were ranked, so we know we'll have to be ready for anything and everything. Those challenges, win or lose, mold you into who you are in the end. We won't ever walk away wondering what might have been if we'd only pushed ourselves more. We have that more than covered with our schedule.''
Adams is again assisted by Tonia Burrell and Marissa Kinseth. Katie Faro and Megan Risetter will be volunteer assistants.
Contact Eric Pratt at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at email@example.com