—by Todd Thorson

Coach Amber Doyle hopes her Roland-Story Norsemen girls’ softball team continues their hard work and dedication they’ve exhibited thus far in practice and the offseason, as they seek to climb further up the Heart of Iowa Conference ladder in 2013. Coming off a fourth place finish in the HOIAC last season, the Norse will use the leadership of their three seniors to hopefully improve on last year’s campaign.

The 2013 season got under way last week with two games and, unfortunately, one rain out. Returning for their final season in a Norseman uniform are second baseman Katie Kasper, center fielder Ena Moats and shortstop Maddie Schmitt.

"This is the best I’ve seen the seniors playing right out of the gate," said Coach Doyle, "and I’ve also been impressed with their propensity to continue working on improving."

Right behind the seniors are a strong and talented group of juniors, with a lot of confidence as well. Sydney Berends returns to play first and third base. Mikenzi Monthei will handle outfield duties. Erin Nuetzman will pitch and play first. Schyler Polaski takes on left field and second base. Cassie Shadlow will roam right field. And Brooke Staker will handle the catching duties. All six of these juniors will be starting and/or contributing on a regular basis.

Sophomores Bryce Holmgren and Jesslyn Coghlan also return, and their strong and powerful bats will be keys to the Norsemen’s offensive punch and execution. And according to Coach Doyle, their bats appear "ready to go!"

With this year’s squad appearing to be anxious to play ball, Coach Doyle feels confident and excited about the upcoming season: "There’s a lot of talent and experience on the diamond right now," she added.

In the pitching department, Nuetzman and Holmgren appear to be poised for the season as well, as this will be the first year the Norsemen duo have begun the season healthy at the same time. "Both were impressive in their off-season play," said Doyle, "and I’ve really enjoyed watching them both grow into their own approach to how they work on the mound. I think their styles will complement each other well."

A few changes have occurred with various conference teams this season, as well as coaching and pitching staff changes. This will make Doyle and her assistant Dennis Nuetzman reassess some situations along the way. As Doyle sees it, the top four teams in the HOIAC last year – Greene County, PCM , North Polk and Roland-Story – should be right there again this season when the dust settles in July.

"I’ve very excited about the work the girls have done during the off-season," explained Doyle, "and I see them starting the summer from a place of confidence."

The Norsemen (1-1) split their first two games of the season last week, downing CMB and then falling to Greene County. Friday’s game with BCLUW in Roland was cancelled due to rain. Last week’s game summaries follow:

R-S 12, CMB 2 (6 inn.)

The Norsemen opened their season against CMB at Collins last Wednesday night (May 22), with Erin Nuetzman taking the mound. Erin was very consistent and focused throughout the contest, pitching an impressive game in her first game out. Helping her out behind the plate was catcher Brooke Staker, "who called a smart game," according to Coach Doyle. Nuetzman finished her six innings of work by allowing two runs, six hits and struck out six.

The Norse used a four-run fifth and a six-run sixth to ice the contest. Bryce Holmgren showcased her hitting prowess, with consistent at bats, going 2 for 2, including a triple, two walks and two RBIs. Cassie Shadlow, new to the starting lineup this season, is already proving to be a welcome addition, scoring three runs, going 2 for 2 at the plate, walking twice and driving in two runs.

The seniors continued to contribute as well, with Maddie Schmitt and Ena Moats combining to score five of the 12 Norsemen runs. Maddie had a triple and three runs scored, and Ena singled, walked and scored two runs. Katie Kasper used a fielder’s choice to drive in a run as well.

All in all, Coach Doyle found it difficult, by virtue of those 12 runs on the board, to recognize all of the important contributions by her entire Norsemen squad. It was a total team effort, and the entire lineup contributed in one way or another.

Defensively, the Norse kept CMB at bay throughout the entire game, even when the Raiders managed to put runners on base, which wasn’t that often. The Raiders scored their only two runs of the game in the first inning, and were shut out the rest of the way.

"That’s the maturity of our team that we’ve been building toward the last few years," observed Doyle, "and what you like to see from a predominantly upperclassmen lineup."

Greene County 7, R-S 4

The Norse spotted Greene County a five-run first inning, and had to play catch up the rest of the way, falling short in the end, 7-4, last Thursday in Roland. Greene County, one of the early season favorites to lead the conference, sported a highly competitive team against the Norse. Coming out a little flat, the Norsemen let the first inning get away from them, and were unable to recover.

"Although the outcome wasn’t what any of us wanted," commented Doyle, "I couldn’t have asked for more from the girls in terms of fighting until the end of the game."

The Norse didn’t get on the board until they scored a single run in the fifth to cut the GC lead to 5-1. But Greene County put up two more runs in the bottom of the fifth to assume a 7-1 advantage. The sixth frame saw R-S make it a little interesting, scoring three times to trim the deficit to 7-4. Katie Kasper’s single to right center drove in two of those runs. Katie’s pinch runner Mikenzi Monthei then scored after stealing second and crossing the plate on Ena Moats’ single.

Coach Doyle was also impressed with pitcher Bryce Holmgren’s season debut, who continued to throw better as the game went along. She was helped out numerous times by the defense behind her as well. Bryce went 6 2/3 innings, allowing just two earned runs, giving up 12 hits and striking out three. Holmgren also had a hit, a run scored and two walks on the offensive front.

Cassie Shadlow led the Norse offense, going 2 for 4. Maddie Schmitt also had a hit, as the Norse banged out six safeties. All four R-S runs were driven in by the Norsemen seniors, as Coach Doyle continued to be pleased with their efforts, heaping praise once again on her team leaders. "That senior leadership was (so) valuable tonight," she said.

Junior Varsity

The Roland-Story J.V. squad has a fine group of talented players with not much high school experience. And with just two weeks of practice time to prepare for the season, Coach Dennis Nuetzman says the girls will be learning through game experience more than anything during the early season schedule of games. "I expect to see both individual player confidence and fundamental team skills developing over the course of the season," he said.

R-S 11, CMB 7

The Norse girls started strong on Wednesday night in Collins, scoring five runs n the top of the first and played with confidence from that point on, defeating CMB 11-7. A few defensive lapses in the third inning allowed the Raiders to score six runs and get back in the game, trailing at that point by just an 8-7 score. A three-spot in the top of the fifth and final inning, gave the Norsemen their final 11-7 count.

Bryce Holmgren pitched three innings and Kelsey Polaski finished the final two innings. Kelsey also went 4 for 4 at the plate, with three RBIs. Mikenzi Monthei was 3 for 3 with three runs scored, three stolen bases and a walk. And Hope Sievers was 2 for 2 with two RBIs, a run and two walks.

"I was pleased with the focus and effort of the girls," said Nuetzman. "Often a young team playing its first game on the road results in uncertain and tentative play. Our ability to maintain composure defensively (after a lapse like the third inning) will be a major emphasis this season."

Greene County 9, R-S 2

Despite playing before the home crowd on Thursday in Roland, the Norse girls lacked the focus and intensity they had displayed just 24 hours earlier. Greene County scored early and often, posting at least one run in each of the six innings played. The visiting GC girls scored two in the first and three in the second, and led 6-0 before R-S could even get on the board. The Norse tallied single runs in the third and fifth on five hits. Committing eight errors in the field didn’t help matters either.

"The girls learned a valuable lesson about the importance of being mentally prepared and focused from the first pitch of the game," said Nuetzman. "An inconsistent defensive effort allowed Greene County too many extra outs and resulted in seven unearned runs."

Erin Nuetzman started on the mound and went two innings, allowing three hits, no earned runs and struck out one. With an injury to Kelsey Polaski late in the CMB game the night before, Nuetzman called on eighth grader Natalie Tryon to finish the game. Natalie went four innings allowed two earned runs on five hits. "Natalie did an outstanding job maintaining confidence," said her coach, "and she consistently threw strikes."

Mikenzi Monthei led the offense, going 2 for 3. Alexa Whipple had a triple and Jesslyn Coghlan posted a double. And Erin Nuetzman contributed a hit as well. The Norse had only five hits on the night.

BCLUW 3, R-S 0

The Norse came back on Friday in Roland and demonstrated much better focus and intensity than the Greene County contest. Defensively, the Norsemen girls played with improved vigor and energy, communicating with each other throughout the game, which was significantly noticeable, more so than the previous two games. BCLUW, being the fine ball club they are, played well fundamentally as well, and managed to hold the home team scoreless, shutting out the Norse 3-0 in a five inning affair. The Norsemen had their chances, putting runners on base in each of the second, third and fourth innings, but were unable to get the key base hit to score any runs.

In her second outing in a row, Natalie Tryon held her composure and control on the mound, pitching the final two frames, following Bryce Holmgren’s three inning stint. Bryce allowed just one earned run on three hits and struck out six. Natalie allowed three hits, two runs and struck out one. All totaled, the two R-S pitchers held a good BCLUW club to just six hits.

Mikenzi Monthei played well in center field all week, going 6 for 9 in the three games, with four runs scored and four stolen bases. Jessyln Coghlan and Erin Nuetzman each had a hit against BCLUW.

The Norse are now 1-2 overall and 1-1 in the conference.

"The Norse J.V. girls were able to grow from these three different game experiences during the first week of the season," concluded Coach Nuetzman. "I’m (also) excited about the raw potential of this team and I’m looking forward to seeing these players and this team develop over the next several weeks."