The Manhattan High softball team had four seniors last season and all played big roles over the course of the season.
Those seniors also left an impact on a young group of girls that played around them in 2011. MHS coach Scott Mall said because of that, the Indians have some quality players returning this year.
“We lost four girls that have really played a lot of softball over the years, so that will be big to replace,” he said. “But we have some good people coming back.”
The Indians have a small senior class again this season with Ashley Hageman, Cat Bridegam and Blake Woborny all returning to the diamond.
Mall said there are a number of other girls returning who will factor into the lineup.
“We have some juniors like Kaitlyn Motley, who was one of our leading hitters, and unfortunately will only hit because of an injury,” he said. “We have outfielders Kylie Smith, and Kori Bridegam and Jenna Stigge at second and Allie Massanet at catcher, and pitcher Allison Devlin too. So we do have some experience.”
Where the experience might be lacking for the Indians is where it was mostly solid over the past few seasons, and that’s in the circle.
Kylie Rupe served as an ace for the Indians over the past two seasons, but her graduation opens the door for a number of other players to step up and pitch.
“(Kylie) had a lot of experience there and was very dependable, and Allison saw she could pitch at that level last year, so that’s a plus,” Mall said. “The rest are really untried at that level. We have Ashley Hageman, Aubrey Jung and Tyler Hoyt, so we have some candidates.
“It’s just a matter of getting them to see what varsity pitching and varsity hitting is like.”
Mall said all will need to get their feet wet fast and be ready to go from Day 1 when the team plays against Derby and Wichita Northwest in a split doubleheader today in Wichita.
But he admits they will all have their work cut out for them as the team opens the season with a tough week.
“It would be nice if we can ease into and develop them, but unfortunately we start off the first week of our season with a really tough schedule,” Mall said. “Going and playing Wichita Northwest and Derby — Derby was a state team and Wichita Northwest was a favorite to go to state — and then we play at Washburn Rural on Friday, who was second at state last year, so we really start off with a bang.”
Even though that stretch looks tough for a team trying to earn its chops on the mound, he said similar tough stretches helped the team improve a year ago.
“It kind of helped us last year because they were tough games, but we got to see what it was going to be like right off the bat, and it was good we had that experience,” he said. “We will rely on those experienced girls in those situation this year to get better.”
The Indians will play at home for the first time this season Friday, April 6, against Emporia at Anneberg Park.