The Northeast Community College softball team saw its season end last year just 10 games into the schedule, just when Hawks coach Iris Woodhead believed she was seeing evidence that her team was displaying improvement in its accountability and competitiveness.
Since then, the team was allowed to practice in small groups in the fall, which eventually progressed to full team practices in October — too late to schedule any scrimmages against other teams.
“We did a lot of intersquad scrimmaging, and I think that helped prepare us for this season,” Woodhead said. “But not being able to play other teams also put us behind some other schools, because we didn’t know how we stacked up against other teams.”
So, after an opportunity arose to compete against Iowa Western, McCook, North Platte, and Presentation College at Presentation’s domed stadium in Aberdeen, South Dakota, the Hawks jumped at the chance.
“Of our four games, we walked away 1-3, not what we wanted, but we had 43 hits and scored 40 runs. We just smashed the ball,” Woodhead said. “The only unfortunate thing was (our games) had time limits, so we didn’t get to play seven innings, and that hurt us a little bit. For example, in our McCook game, the score ended up being 19-18, so we were down by one run, but we only got five innings. Who knows how that game turns out if we play seven innings?”
Following an 11-day layoff because of two postponed doubleheaders, the squad resumed play Tuesday, dropping a road doubleheader to Mount Marty University’s junior varsity by scores of 10-9 and 12-11.
Now 1-5 on the season, the Hawks hope to rebound as they host the Concordia University junior varsity in their home opener on Wednesday at 3 and 5 p.m.
The Hawks will play all teams, Division I and II, in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays — a total of around 54 games, depending on the weather.
Woodhead said one of the interesting things about this season is that none of the teams, especially teams from the different divisions, will know much about each other.
Woodhead expects the Hawks to benefit from the experience of four players who, as sophomores last spring, decided to return for a third year — a replacement year — this season. Those players are Maggie Berryman, Kierra Stewart, Lauryn Cardenas and Chantel Julian.
Other candidates are true sophomores Sydney Schmitz, Alyssa Turner, Maia Johnson, Vada Kruse and Morgan Aguilera, as well as six freshmen to form this season’s Hawks squad.
“I think having the season just end like that left a bad taste in their mouths, so one of the main reasons they chose to come back is to just be able to finish something they had started,” Woodhead said. “Maggie is going to be a huge hitter for us again and will catch a lot of games, Kierra is a lefty pitcher who will be on the mound a lot, Chantel played center field and Lauryn is a left fielder and right fielder for us.”
Woodhead clarified that several other players such as Jade Koch, Taylor Nicolay and Kruse give the Hawks plenty of options in the outfield.
“We’re really excited about our outfield; we have a lot of depth and a lot of experience out there, especially with Chantel and Lauryn,” she said. “We have eight candidates in the outfield, so it’ll depend on who’s hitting it well. We had a freshman who hit over .600 on Wednesday and Thursday.”
Along with Stewart, the Hawks also have options on the pitching mound.
“A freshman pitcher, Greta Lindberg, just needs development, to find her zone and avoid walks,” Woodhead said. “We also have a sophomore, Sydney Schmitz, who will eat up a lot of innings for us as well.”
“So Kierra, Greta and Sydney will be the three pitchers we depend on initially,” she said. “But we also have Alondra Martinez, who will play shortstop but could see innings on the mound here and there.”
Woodhead said deciding who will hold down infield spots, other than shortstop, is something the team “is still trying to feel out.”
“We have good sophomores like Brianna Aguilera, who is currently playing first base, and is a good lefty stick for us; another is Alyssa Turner, a second baseman who will most likely be our lefty leadoff hitter,” Woodhead said. “At third base we have two options —sophomore Morgan Haner, another lefty slapper, or freshman Abby Balfour, who used to be a middle infielder that we can play at third or can fill in at short.”
The Northeast program, according to Woodhead, emphasizes each player having an alternate position to ensure the team has depth to address needs that occur throughout the season.
The team’s goals include establishing attributes in players that will be on display on and off the field.
“We like to live by our values. We want to be good people, showing grit, personal growth,” Woodhead said. “But my biggest goal isn’t a ‘number’ goal; it’s just the situation that we’re in, that this is a great year for us to redefine ourselves. This year we can define ourselves by dealing with the adversity that we face.”