Containing the St. Edmond softball team this season will be an unenviable task for any opponent.
With a lineup featuring a blend of power and speed, the Gaels appear poised to contend for another North Central Conference title and state tournament bid.
After winning their second consecutive league crown and placing a program-best third in Class 2A two years ago, SEHS settled for a 14-16 overall record and 10-8 NCC mark last summer.
Messenger photo by Josh Meyer
Returning letterwinners for the St. Edmond softball team are, front row (left to right): Lexi Peed and Timmi Dencklau. Middle: left to right: Allie Oberg, Josie Heesch, Anna Yung. Back row: Cassie Sells, Jessica Kuebler, Jaci Stumpf, Brigid Hanley, Katy Bocken.
"We're really excited coming into this year and have a lot of talent," said first-year Gael head coach Paul Hunt, who is replacing his wife Kasey at the helm. "Last season, we put up some of the best offensive stats in 2A (the Gaels hit .348 as a team, belted 65 doubles, 22 long balls and averaged 8.7 runs per contest) and look to build on those. We only graduated one person (pitcher Elizabeth Miner), so I'm really fortunate as a first-year head coach to have the type of team coming back that we do."
A group of 10 letterwinners return to the deep roster for the green and white, including all-conference performers Allie Oberg, Josie Heesch, Katy Bocken and Timmi Dencklau.
"Our defense already looks like a whole different defense from last year to this year," Hunt said. "This was the first time we've had a full offseason workout program, and we had everyone showing up on a regular basis.
2012 ST. EDMOND SOFTBALL
Seniors - Lexi Peed, Timmi Dencklau.
Juniors - Katy Bocken, Josie Heesch, Allie Oberg, Katie Donnelly.
Sophomores - Cassie Sells, Jessica Kuebler.
Freshmen -Bree Wirtz, Jaci Stumpf, Clare Flattery, Brigid Hanley, Emily Johnson, Anna Yung, Amanda Lansman.
May 25 - Webster City; 29 - at Bishop Garrigan; 30 - at Humboldt; 31 - at Hampton-Dumont.
June 1 - Iowa Falls-Alden; 4 - Eagle Grove; 5 - Prairie Valley; 8 - Algona; 11 - at Webster City; 13 - Hampton-Dumont; 18 - Clear Lake; 19 - at Saydel; 20 - at Eagle Grove; 21 - Jefferson-Scranton; 22 - Bishop Garrigan; 25 - Humboldt; 27 - at Algona; 28 - Clarion-Goldfield.
"Losing to Jefferson (in a 2011 2A regional semifinal) really fueled our girls. Our team goals are to win conference and not only make the state tournament but to be competitive there."
Fort Dodge Senior High transfer Katie Donnelly and former Prairie Valley hurler Amanda Lansman supply Hunt with a reliable 1-2 punch in the circle. Donnelly, a junior, posted a 27-17 career record in 325 innings of work with the Dodgers, while the freshman Lansman went 5-5 in 15 outings with the Warriors last season.
"Katie's our No. 1 pitcher and had a really successful spring league," said Hunt. "Not only does she have great stuff, but she has the type of personality that attracts others to do well and work hard.
"Amanda's still awful young, but she'll be an excellent asset to our squad, too."
Heesch, a junior, could also potentially see spot duty here after notching 11 victories and holding opponents to a .190 batting average in 131 2/3 innings as a sophomore.
"Josie had a lot of pressure put on her last year," Hunt said. "I don't expect her to pitch much, but I told her to be prepared and fresh in case a situation does arise where we need her to step in."
Oberg, a junior, returns behind the dish after leading 2A and finishing fourth in the entire state in batting average (.596). In 29 starts in 2011, Oberg collected 56 hits, including 19 doubles, 6 home runs and 3 triples. She also drove in 51 and scored 40 times.
"Allie's coming back off just an unbelievable season," said Hunt. "She spent a lot of time in the cage during the offseason, and her swing looks even better now."
Back at first base is the senior Dencklau, who batted .359 with 37 hits, 32 RBI, 10 doubles and 5 long balls a year ago.
"Timmi looks tremendous and has been hitting the ball extremely hard," Hunt said.
The junior Bocken and freshman Brigid Hanley will each be counted on at second base, while freshman Anna Yung is penciled in at shortstop. Bocken managed a .360 average with 27 hits, 24 runs and 14 stolen bases in 27 games last season.
"A lot of our girls rally around Bocken," said Hunt. "Yung has a bright future for us, especially on the defensive side."
Filling the hot corner is senior Lexi Peed, who batted .327 with 34 hits, 32 runs, 18 stolen bases and 14 RBI in 30 starts as a junior.
"Lexi fits in well at third and has been swinging the bat great so far this spring," Hunt said.
Heesch (left field), sophomore Cassie Sells (center field) and freshman Jaci Stumpf (right field) will all patrol the grass for the Gaels.
Heesch delivered a .337 average, 34 runs, 31 hits, 22 RBI, 12 stolen bases and 10 home runs in 30 games last season and has went deep 14 times in her career.
"Josie has put a lot of energy and focus into her swing," said Hunt. "We expect her to embrace the role of cleanup hitter and driving in runs. She has a great personality and is a big believer in picking up everyone."
As a freshman, Sells tallied 26 runs, 20 hits and 13 stolen bases in 30 starts.
"Cassie was voted our top defensive player last year and sure hasn't lost a step," Hunt said.
Last summer in 30 games, Stumpf produced 30 hits, 29 runs, 23 RBI and 22 stolen bases.
"Jaci wants to steal a lot of bases and be overly aggressive this year," said Hunt. "She has the potential to do great things and is a very fast and smart baserunner."
Sophomore Jessica Kuebler contributed 19 hits in 48 at-bats in 2011 and will serve primarily as the designated player. A year ago, Kuebler blasted a clutch go-ahead home run - the first of her career - in St. Edmond's 6-5 2A regional quarterfinal triumph over Prairie Valley.
Despite all their promise, the Gaels will be without the services of sophomore Kenzie Hawley this season due to a shoulder injury. Hawley, an all-conference nominee as a freshman, batted .328 with 20 hits and 14 RBI last summer.
Reigning league champion Webster City (20-16 overall, 14-4 NCC a year ago) looks to be the odds-on favorite once again in the conference race.
"Webster City has a great pitcher in (junior 3A all-stater) Kaitlyn Biere and will probably be the toughest team in the conference," Hunt said. "Our girls are really itching to play, though, and are hungry. I feel they're going to try and come out and make a statement."
Humboldt (22-12, 13-5) is also ranked 11th in 3A.
Assisting Hunt this season will be his wife Kasey.
"Kasey and I have very similar beliefs, and the girls look up to both of us and know the knowledge of the game is there," said Hunt. "(Moving from assistant to head coach) has been a a nice and seamless transition."
Contact Josh Meyer at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org