NRHEG’s softball team leans on returning All-Conference athletes
Unlike most spring sports teams, the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva (NRHEG) softball team has four varsity starters returning and all of them have competed at the varsity level for at least three seasons.
Not only do the Panthers have a good quantity of starters returning, but they also high-quality athletes returning. In fact, four of the Panthers’ five returning starters, senior Cloie Arndt, junior Sophie Stork, junior Ava Kyllo and sophomore Sidney Schultz, were each named either All-Conference or All-Conference Honorable Mention in 2019.
Pitcher Sophie Stork earned All-Conference honors and was the Panthers’ Co-MVP when she was a freshman back in 2019 after posting a 17-5 record, a 1.80 earned run average and striking out 162 batters in 140 innings and a 0.370 batting average on balls in play at the plate.
She said she’s become a really strong pitcher by said investing a lot of time into her craft.
“The more you pitch, the better you get. Having mentors teach you new things, new drills. Coach brought in a coach from Gustavus Adolphus to help work with pitchers. It really just comes down to putting in the hours,” she said.
Stork mentioned that practice, confidence and working on her strength has helped her become a better hitter.
She also credited Coach Schultz for her growth and the whole team’s growth as hitters and as all-around better softball players.
“Coach has very unique and fun hitting drills. It’s not just soft toss, we’ll hit heavy balls, small balls, big balls, we’ll hit pop bottles. We’ll do a whole bunch of stuff. There’s lots of reps, she doesn’t waste any time, you’re always doing something. You can tell that she puts a lot of time into her practice plans and she cares a lot about detail,” she said. “She’s going to make sure we get better every day.”
Catcher Cloie Arndt earned All-Conference Honorable Mention thanks in part thanks to her 0.406 batting average on balls in play.
She noted that she gotten better as a hitter by practicing against quality pitchers.
“Being able to hit off of good pitchers like Sophie and playing in leagues where you can see better pitchers and different kinds of pitches,” she said. “I think catching helps with the batting aspect as well.”
Arndt explained that she’s become a better catcher by working on framing pitches, which she said was one of the most difficult aspects to learn about catching.
“Being able to put in extra time with Sophie has definitely helped me improve as a catcher,” she said.
“She doesn’t let many balls get by her, that’s for sure,” Stork added.
Meanwhile, third baseman Sidney Schultz also earned All-Conference honors in 2019 after recording a 0.377 batting average on balls in play.
She said one of the things that makes her a good hitter is her speed.
“I think [I’m a good hitter] because I have options like either bunting or hitting and you can’t really stop speed,” she said.
First baseman and 2019 All-Conference Sportsmanship Award winner Grace Tufte agreed that Schultz’s speed is one of the reasons why she’s a good hitter.
“You can always count on her for getting that first base whether she’s first or second in the lineup because she’s fast. She can also hit on the left side even though it’s not her natural way. She can also hit pretty decent and that surprises you, and that’s amazing, especially when she has two strikes on her for bunting. She can get it out in the outfield and get doubles or triples off those,” she said.
Schultz noted that her speed also helps her as a fielder.
“I think you have to be pretty fast to get up for the bunts,” she said.
In addition to her quickness, Tufte explained that Schultz’s strong throws across the diamond are also what make her a good third baseman.
“For fielding, she’s super quick. We have her at third for a reason. I can’t remember a time when it went past her in a game. She also has a very hard throw, especially going from third to first so I don’t have to worry about that,” she said. “She’s also one of our captains and we vote on that so everyone thinks of her as a leader and she is.”
Second baseman Ava Kyllo earned All-Conference honors and was the Panthers’ Co-MVP in 2019 by posting a 0.500 batting average on balls in play.
As a hitter, she thinks her transition to becoming a left-handed hitter has helped her increase her on-base percentage.
“I think since I switched to left [side of the plate] and just started bunting and slapping on the left that helped me get to first quicker,” Kyllo said.
Schultz agreed that Kyllo’s options at the plate make her one of the Panthers’ best hitters.
“She can bunt, slap and hit, she’s super fast and very smart on the bases,” she said. “As a fielder, she never really bobbles it and if she does bobble it, it’s a quick pick it up with her hands, throw it and she still gets the out. If the ball gets past her, she’s fast enough to get it and probably get them out at second.”
Like Schultz, Kyllo mentioned that her best asset as a fielder is her speed.
“I think I’m quick enough to cover some ground at shortstop and go over by second and be able to cover some of that area,” she said.
Given the Panthers have four returning All-Conference or All-Conference Honorable Mention athletes, Schultz said the expectations for this season’s team are pretty high.
“Last year, we thought we were doing to do pretty well and get pretty far and now one of our really good players left, but we’re still going to be pretty good probably,” she said.
In order to have a pretty good season, Tufte said the Panthers have to continue to work hard in practice.
“We’re never getting lazy in practice because what you do in practice is what you’ll do in a game and Mrs. Schultz preaches that,” she said.
“I think the hard work in practice really pays off,” Kyllo added.
The Panthers will try to make their hard work in practice translate to success on the field when they host the Maple River Eagles at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 16, at Legion Fields.