×

Gaels are ready to raise the bar

Shirbroun cautiously optimistic as team builds from second-place NCC finish

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Returning letterwinners for the St. Edmond softball team are, front row (left to right): Kaili Henning, Payton Bradley, Anna Kolacia and Michaela Leiting. Back: Hadley Oswald, Lauren Gibb, Aly Nieland, Gracie Harvey and Ansley Oswald.

Bill Shirbroun knows his St. Edmond softball team possesses plenty of budding young talent.

In order for the Gaels to reach their full potential this summer, though, Shirbroun insists the execution and effort must match the skill his group has to offer.

“We’re working every day on making sure the mental side of the sport catches up with the physical ability we have (collectively),” said Shirboun, who is in his third season as the program’s head coach. “It’s a good group with some definite strengths, but that’s not enough to win on a consistent basis. You have to cover all of your bases when it comes to situations and making the right decisions at the right times.

“We talked a lot about this last year: I don’t mind getting beat, but I don’t like losing. In other words, if we play hard and (the opponent) is just better on that particular night, but we gave our all, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we make mistakes and beat ourselves, that’s not going to be acceptable here anymore.”

In many ways, the Gaels took a successful step forward in 2021. They were 16-11 overall and the North Central Conference runner-up, finishing behind only Webster City. And despite losing their main battery — Ella Vratny and Kacey Kruthoff — to graduation, every other main contributor returns this season, including a large and skilled freshman class.

“But the expectations are going to go up,” Shirbroun said. “I suppose you could say we’ll be relatively young overall, but we’re far from inexperienced. So some of the stuff we did at times that cost us opportunities to win a year ago — those are bad habits we need to get rid of for good.”

Infield

The Gaels return everyone around the horn, and also add an eighth-grader who is expected to contribute from day one.

Senior Gracie Harvey is back at shortstop, and will likely hit second in the lineup. Harvey batted .337 a year ago and led the squad in home runs with five. She earned second team all-North Central Conference honors.

“Gracie is a typical hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone kid,” Shirbroun said. “She sets a great example for the younger players.”

The team’s only other senior, Alyson Nieland, is slated for first base and the No. 5 spot in the order.

“Aly is kind of like the program’s mom,” Shirbroun said. “She cares a lot about her teammates. It’s a real positive to have Gracie and Aly as our senior leaders.”

Sophomore Kaili Henning and eighth-grader Faith Shirbroun expect to rotate at third base when the other is pitching. Henning batted .341 last summer.

Henning is slated to hit third in the lineup. Shirbroun will lead off.

“Kaili really stepped up for us and is a versatile player,” Shirbroun said. “She was third team (all-NCC in 2021) and very easily could have been second.

“I think we’ll have a good rotation there with Kaili and Faith, who will have to adjust some to this level of ball but I feel is ready to help this group out.”

Freshman Hadley Oswald is the squad’s lone catcher and is likely going to bat eighth. Freshman Peyton Bradley, eighth-grader Kamryn Gochee and freshman Josie Harvey will be in the mix at second base and the No. 9 spot in the order.

Outfield

Freshman clean-up hitter Lauren Gibb will be St. Edmond’s centerfielder. Gibb was an immediate contributor as a precocious eighth-grader a year ago, finishing with a .393 average and 22 RBI.

“Like Gracie, Lauren’s returning as a second team (all-NCC pick),” Shirbroun said. “She’s a solid run producer for us, and we’re expecting big things both at the plate and as the leader in the outfield.”

Anna Kolacia, a junior, is expected to play both second base and right field. She’ll bat seventh in the order.

“Anna is a true leader for us,” Shirbroun said. “She’s a strong voice and a coach on the field and in the dugout. A very positive kid who sets the tone and has a lot of energy.”

First team all-NCC selection Ansley Oswald, just a freshman, will patrol left field. Oswald carried a club-best .391 batting average last summer, and will likely hit from the No. 6 position in 2022.

“Ansley was very consistent and productive out of the No. 9 spot last year,” Shirbroun said. “Like so many of these freshmen, she may be young, but she’s played a lot of ball. So I’m hoping that group will be ready to perform like juniors or seniors.”

Sophomore speedster Michaela Leiting is a returning courtesy runner who scored eight runs last year.

Pitching

Henning posted a respectable 6-1 record with a 2.89 earned run average in the circle last season while flanking Vratny, a five-year starter.

“Kaili will be our No. 1,” Shirbroun said. “Kaili and Faith both have their strengths, and I think (combined), they’re ready to handle the pitching duties.

“We’re getting there. I think we’re still in the building stages with a lot of this — even when it comes to our culture. But this is a big season for us to really turn a corner. They’ve played enough and are capable — now it’s time for them to do it right every time out. That’s my job: to get them to that next level. I have to set the tone and take responsibility.”

Conference outlook and staff

Shirbroun expects defending league champion Webster City to again be the team to beat.

“They graduated (pitcher Jenna) Miller, but won’t miss much with (sophomore) Delainey Bargfrede taking over (full-time) and getting better,” Shirbroun said. “They have a senior catcher (first team all-NCC pick Kelly Stoakes) and plenty of other talent around them (including first team all-league talents Alayna Finucan and Bonnie Nohrenberg).”

Humboldt is a wild card, given the expected return of ace hurler Reagan Lee from injury.

“They’re always tough, and Lee is a No. 1 who will be a big returning addition,” Shirbroun said. “They lost some key pieces (to graduation), but still have (all-NCC honorees Alexis Hansen, Elsie Hubbell and Addie Thompson) back.”

Algona’s Lillian Etherington, Lily Elsbecker and Ryan Haynes; Webster City’s Livia Kasch, Adeline Tesdahl and Bargfrede; and Clarissa Hasty of Clarion-Goldfield/Dows are the other all-NCC selections from the area returning in 2022.

Shirbroun will have volunteer Brian Maxson helping as an assistant on the staff.

“We’re just trying to get them to be as softball savvy as possible,” Shirbroun said. “Where things are just second nature and they don’t have to think — just react.

“The more experience we get, the better we’ll be. There is plenty of athletic ability to work with, but it’s all about knowing what to do and where to go and why.”

The Gaels open their season at home against defending Class 1A champion Newell-Fonda on Monday.

2022 ST. EDMOND SOFTBALL

Gael Roster

Seniors — Gracie Harvey, Alyson Nieland.

Juniors — Anna Kolacia, Sylvia Hess.

Sophomores — Michaela Leiting, Kaili Henning.

Freshmen — Josie Harvey, Ansley Oswald, Hadley Oswald, Payton Bradley, Lauren Gibb.

Eighth-graders — Faith Shirbroun, Kamryn Gochee.

Gael Schedule

May 23 — Newell-Fonda; 25 — Humboldt; 26 — Pocahontas Area; 27 — at Iowa Falls-Alden; 31 — at Southeast Valley.

June 1 — Algona; 3 — Hampton-Dumont/CAL; 4 — CYO tournament at Carroll; 6 — at Clear Lake; 8 — at Webster City; 9 — Alta-Aurelia; 10 — Clarion-Goldfield/Dows; 11 — at Van Meter Tournament; 13 — at Humboldt; 15 — Iowa Falls-Alden; 16 — at Eagle Grove; 17-18 — Fort Dodge Invitational; 20 — at Algona; 22 — at Clarion-Goldfield/Dows; 23 — Saydel; 24 — Clear Lake; 25 — St. Edmond Invitational; 27 — at Hampton-Dumont/CAL; 29 — Webster City; 30 — at North Union.

July 1 — regional tournament.

Newsletter

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today