Last season's final game is etched in the memory bank of the Fort Dodge softball team.
The Dodgers lost a 1-0 regional final to eventual state champion Ankeny - a painful outcome that has this youthful group more determined than ever.
"These girls are very driven to pick up where we left off last year,'' said head coach Andi Adams, who sports a 457-208 record entering her 13th season. "We know that we had a chance to win that game and that's our goal to get back to that point.''
Messenger photo by Josh Meyer
Returning letterwinners for the Fort Dodge softball team are front row, left to right: Maddie Bodholdt, Cassie Tjebben, McKinna Teske, Madi Bennett, Megan Gibson and Becca Sunken. Back: Jamie Haden, Lani Van Zyl, Maddie Egli, Taylor Messerly, Lexi Astor, Mallory Kilian.
With six starters back in the field, the Dodgers will lean on an expeirenced group and a strong pitching staff to lead them into a promising future.
"This group has a lot of team chemistry,'' Adams said. "They've done a lot in the offseason and I'm so proud to see how far they've come.
"They'll be fun to watch. They're a very stubborn, focused group. We've been working a lot on the bases and with the speed that we have, we're going to try and cause some chaos on the bases. They've been working hard on defense as well.''
2013 FORT DODGE SOFTBALL
Seniors - Megan Gibson, Taylor Messerly.
Juniors - Lexi Astor, Maddie Bodholdt, Jami Haden, Maddie Egli.
Sophomores - Lani Van Zyl, McKinna Teske, Cassie Tjebben, Mallory Kilian, Becca Sunken, Toryn Pederson, Brielle Ulrich, Riley Hartman, Molly Matthes.
Freshmen - Madi Bennett, Liza Hatcher.
Eighth Grader - Meagan Hartman.
May 24 - Waterloo West; 29 - Carrol Kuemper.
June 1 - at Valley Invitational; 3 - at Marshalltown; 4 - Algona; 7 - Cedar Falls; 10 - Mason City; 12 Dowling; 14-15 - Fort Dodge Invitational; 17 - Ames; 19 - at Waukee; 21-22 - at Linn-Mar Inviational; 24 - Marshalltown; 26 - Ankeny.
July 1 - at Mason City; 3 - at Johnston; 5 - Valley; 8 - at Ames; 11 - regional tournament.
The Dodgers will once again have a lockdown left side of the infield, with sophomores Mallory Kilian (third base) and Lani Van Zyl (shortstop). This will be the third consecutive season that the classmates have started.
Kilian and Van Zyl led the Dodger defense with 96 percent and 93 percent fielding accuracy on 141 and 154 chances respectively.
"These two have been on a mission,'' Adams said. "They played club ball in the fall and had about 10 extra weeks of softball so they could better their game.''
At the plate, Kilian was co-leader in doubles with 11 and had 44 hits with a .364 average. She also drove in 19 runs.
Van Zyl was second in runs scored with 24 and batted .287.
"Mallory and Lani have both taken things to the next level,'' Adams said. "They take softball very seriously.''
First base will be the lone spot to fill in the infield with RBI and average leader Emily Grell graduating.
Junior Maddie Bodholdt, who started some games at third last summer, will take over at first. Bodholdt batted .367 in 25 starts last year.
Freshman Madi Bennett will be back at second base.
"Maddie (Bodholdt) worked hard all winter long and has been doing a good job scooping balls,'' Adams said. "Maddie (Bennett) is a scrapper and was in there as an eighth grader, which takes a lot of poise.''
When Kilian is pitching, freshman Riley Hartman will play third base. Hartman saw action in eight games last season and Adams likes her toughness and her ability on defense to stay in front of the ball.
Senior field general Taylor Messerly is back behind the plate for the Dodgers. Messerly drove in 24 runs last season with 34 hits and batted .291.
"Taylor sees what is going on and is a very alert player,'' Adams said. "She has been stepping it up and has done a lot on her own to get ready for the season."
The Dodgers return a veteran group with junior Maddie Egli (left) and classmate Lexi Astor (center). The duo combined for 81 starts in 41 games a year ago.
Egli led Fort Dodge in triples (four), home runs (three) and is returning as the leader in RBI with 25. She batted .313.
Astor paced the squad in 2012 with 28 runs, 53 hits, 28 stolen bases and a .431 batting average.
"(Egli) has done a great job as far as leadership and has worked on hitting in the offseason,'' Adams said. "Lexi was a third-team all-stater last season. Along with being fast, she has picked up hitting the ball for power.''
Sophomore Brielle Ulrich will take over in right field. Ulrich saw action in six games last season.
"She did well in spring ball and has earned her spot,'' Adams said.
Also reaching the Dodger varsity roster is junior Jamie Haden, sophomores McKinna Teske, Becca Sunken, Toryn Pederson, Molly Matthes and freshman Liza Hatcher.
Kilian will be the main starter for the Dodgers, while sophomore Cassie Tjebben gets the nod in the nightcaps.
Senior Megan Gibson and eighth grader Meagan Hartman are expected to log innings as well.
In 24 appearances, Kilian sported a 12-10 record and a 1.63 ERA with 74 strikeouts.
Tjebben had a 0.90 ERA in 54 innings pitched.
"Mallory has been able to mix it up a lot and is ready to get back in there,'' Adams said. "It's nice to have a couple of pitchers to try and keep teams off-balance and throw different things at them.''
In only the second year of the Central Iowa Conference, the Dodgers are hoping to be in the mix for the championship.
"Ames will be tough with (Kate) Crow back,'' Adams said. "Marshalltown is very scrappy and Mason City has a lot of good athletes at the varsity level.
"We have another incredibly strong cross-conference schedule, with Ankeny, Valley, Dowling, Johnston and Waukee (on the docket).''
Adams will again be assisted by Tonia Burrell and Marissa (Kinseth) Gruenberg. Emily Grell joins the staff this year.