Dodgers eager to be challenged

Fort Dodge begins journey in search of 7th straight state berth

Messenger photo by Eric Pratt: Fort Dodge softball returning letterwinners are, front row (left to right): Lucy Porter, Macy Brown, Hope Alstott and Ellie Doster. Back: Meah McCaleb, Mackenzie McIlrath, Ashlyn Wills and Cadence Touney.

The Fort Dodge softball squad is far from a finished product as it heads into the 2024 campaign, even with seven main pieces returning from the Dodgers’ fourth-place state tournament team of a year ago.

Head coach Andi Adams is looking forward to the veteran presence of her two seniors, Macy Brown and Mackenzie McIlrath, as well as the return of juniors Lucy Porter, Meah McCaleb and Ashlyn Wills. Freshmen Hope Alstott and Ellie Doster are back as well after landing on the Class 4A all-tournament team last summer.

There are plenty of question marks for Adams and her staff to address, though — namely in the outfield, where reliable 2023 seniors Lydia Lara and Maggie Elsbecker held down the fort a season ago as co-captains.

“We’re coming along, but there are still a lot of areas of uncertainty,” said Adams, who is six wins away from 800 for her Hall of Fame career. “That’s OK. We’re going to get there. The girls have been working incredibly hard and holding each other accountable.

“Our system is set up to constantly challenge the kids, both at practice and in games. We push them in pressure situations and in terms of execution, and we don’t shy away from taking on the best of the best at the (Class) 4A or 5A level. Everything is geared toward having us ready for the postseason in July, which means we don’t have all the answers as we sit here in (the third week of May).”

Fort Dodge is a combined 206-41 since 2018, with six consecutive state tournament appearances. The Dodgers have placed fourth or higher for four straight years — a position they’d only achieved once in school history before this most recent surge.

Adams is 741-295 in 23 seasons at FDSH, and 794-328 in her career.


Adams again expects this to be her team’s strength, as the entire group returns intact.

Brown and Porter shared first-base duties a year ago, and both carried batting averages around .300. McCaleb was a stalwart at third, driving in 25 runs and scoring a club-best 50 times. She added 10 doubles and 18 stolen bases.

“Macy and Lucy bring consistency to the table at multiple positions,” Adams said, referring to Brown’s ability to catch and Porter being FDSH’s pitching ace. “They’re doing a phenomenal job leading and taking ownership.

“Meah’s like having another coach out there. She’s so good at understanding situations and what to do. She knows the game front and back, and has tremendous instincts. Her softball IQ is very high.”

Alstott exploded onto the scene in 2023, becoming the first Dodger in school history to be named first team all-state as an eighth grader. She batted .415 with 38 runs, 32 RBI and 15 steals.

“Hope is just totally invested,” Adams said. “She puts hundreds of hours into preparing and honing her craft. Last season wasn’t a fluke. She just quietly goes about her business and does what’s expected.”

Like Alstott, Doster had a breakout rookie campaign in 2023. She batted .309 with eight doubles and 17 RBI despite being just an eighth grader.

Wills hit .287 with 19 RBI, six doubles and three triples a year ago as a full-time second baseman.

Freshman Calliegh Zimmermann is another solid bat and emerging player.

“Ellie just continues to mature at catcher and get more comfortable in her role as a leader,” Adams said. “We asked a lot of her behind the plate at such a young age last year, but it made her better and tougher. She’s coming back even more focused.

“Ashlyn did a lot of really good things for us last season, too. She took a step forward. We only have two seniors, so the five juniors need to embrace this opportunity to make the most of their (respective) roles.”


The graduation of Lara and Elsbecker already left this unit in a period of transition, but an injury to junior Cadence Touney muddied the waters even more. Touney suffered a torn labrum and is sidelined indefinitely after offseason surgery.

“We feel so badly for Cadence,” Adams said. “I really thought she was on the verge of turning the corner and being a big run producer for us. She hit almost .350 last year and was one of our leaders (in RBI).

“It’s just a really tough loss. We’re hoping she’ll be back at some point to at least run, because she’s a smart ballplayer. She’ll still be around to help, but we’d obviously rather have her out there.”

McIlrath is slated to take over in centerfield, with a number of players — sophomores Teryn Rippentrop, Maeleena Meyer and Kamryn Gochee, along with freshman Maddie Hoshaw and eighth grader Aubrey Alstott — vying for time at the corner spots.

“It all depends on who we play and what we need (offensively),” Adams said. “They’re all showing signs and potential, but they’re largely untested at this level. With spring sports and everything else, it just takes time and patience to come along.

“As long as the effort is there, we’ll see them round into form. They all bring their own talents to the table that we’ll do our best to utilize.”


Porter earned second team all-state status as a sophomore in 2023 after going 21-10 with a 1.80 earned run average. The Minnesota State University recruit struck out 208 batters, and opponents hit only .163 against her.

“Lucy is zoned in,” Adams said. “She’s been so steady for us since her eighth grade year (Porter is a sterling 48-13 in her three-year varsity career), and she wants the ball in pressure situations.

“It all starts with her (in the circle).”

The precocious Alstott joins junior Katie Mason and Gochee as other staff options.

“Aubrey is another tough competitor,” Adams said. “We’re going to need her bat, she can play in the outfield, she can play in the infield, and she’s a very talented pitcher.

“Katie and Kam have been working hard and putting in the time as well. We’ll manage our pitchers based on matchups, how they’re doing once they get deeper into games and what our schedule looks like both for the next day and the rest of the week.”


Adams loves to throw her Dodgers into the deep end to see if they’ll sink or swim, and 2024 is no different. After a season-opening home twinbill against Waterloo East on Monday, Fort Dodge hits the road for a contest against perennial power Dallas Center-Grimes on Tuesday before coming back to Rogers Park and taking on traditional queenpin West Des Moines Valley.

Urbandale, Southeast Polk, Waukee Northwest, Ankeny, Waukee, Johnston and Ankeny Centennial are also on the schedule, which also includes the loaded FDSH Invitational on June 14 and 15.

“It’s a gauntlet,” Adams admitted. “A lot of juggernauts. We may not always look the best record-wise, but I’ll keep doing this until I’m done coaching. I’d rather be dinged up with some hard-fought losses than put together a glossy record and have it all fall apart (in the tournament) because we didn’t prepare ourselves enough.”

Adams is again assisted by Aaron Miller and Nick Vinson. Iowa Hawkeye team member Jalen Adams, the program’s all-time leader for pitching victories who led the Dodgers to the state finals in 2020, ’21 and ’22, is also on the staff.

Jordan Neumann is back to volunteer this year, along with newcomer Melissa Ward — the former head coach at Waukon.

Chloe Wertz and Aleah Sherman are the middle school coaches.

“They’re all such an integral part to our success here,” Adams said. “I learn every single day from my coaches. We run a program together. Everyone has ownership.”

Adams also noted the help of FDSH athletic trainer Bre Drees, a former all-state pitcher at Webster City who “has been valuable to us in so many ways through the years.”

Drees is currently battling breast cancer. The school will recognize her before Monday’s “Pink Out” opener and have her throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

“Bre is one of our own,” Adams said. “We love her. She’s done so much for hundreds of our athletes through the years. We want to show our appreciation for her.”

The ceremony begins at 4:45 p.m. before the varsity doubleheader begins against East.



Seniors — Macy Brown, Mackenzie McIlrath.

Juniors — Meah McCaleb, Lucy Porter, Ashlyn Wills, Cadence Touney, Katie Mason.

Sophomores — Kamryn Gochee, Maeleena Meyer, Teryn Rippentrop.

Freshmen — Hope Alstott, Ellie Doster, Calliegh Zimmermann, Maddie Hoshaw.

Eighth grade — Aubrey Alstott.


May 20 — Waterloo East (2); 21 — at Dallas Center-Grimes; 24 — West Des Moines Valley; 29 — Des Moines East (2); 30 — at Mason City (2).

June 1 — at West Des Moines Shootout (vs. Dallas Center-Grimes and Urbandale); 4 — at Southeast Polk; 6 — Marshalltown (2); 7 — at Waukee Northwest; 10 — at Ames; 11 — Estherville-Lincoln Central; 14-15 — Fort Dodge Invitational; 17 — Mason City (2); 19 — at Ankeny; 21-22 — at Linn-Mar Invitational; 24 — at Marshalltown (2); 25 — at Waterloo East (2); 27 — Ames (2); 29 — Gilbert.

July 1 — Des Moines Lincoln (2); 3 — Ankeny Centennial; 8 — at Waukee; 10 — at Johnston.


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