After falling one win short of a state tournament berth last year, the Elk Mound softball team has a lot to look forward to as they return nine letterwinners, all with extensive varsity experience, back for the upcoming season.
The Mounders placed second in the Dunn-St. Croix standings behind Pepin with a 13-3 record, then defeated Eau Claire Regis, Colfax and Mondovi before losing 6-1 to Grantsburg in the sectional final, ending their season with a 17-8 record. Head coach Kari Kallio enters her 10th year leading the Mounders and expects her team to be battling it out with Pepin again for a conference title. Leading her pack this year are seniors Maddy Polden, Katie Bergh, Becca Kopp, Kaysi Meindel, Amanda Ward and Kylynn Simon along with junior Katie Johnson and sophomores Lizzie Schreiber and Dayna Kotecki.
Polden will solidify the all important catching position for the fourth straight year. She is a three time All Conference player and a first team All District catcher for the Western District both her sophomore and junior year. She led the team in batting average last year at .429 and in extra base hits batting from the leadoff spot. She is also a vocal leader for the team, according to Kallio.
Kopp and Bergh also return for their fourth year at the varsity level and Kopp will anchor the infield from the shortstop position. She is a two time All Conference pick as an infielder. Bergh was the clean up hitter last year and led the team in RBI with 24 and had the third highest batting average at .393. She is a three time All Conference pick and was first team All District as a junior.
Meindel, an outfielder who also will be a four year starter, had a breakthrough year for the Mounders as a junior, batting second and having the second highest batting average at .427. She was also second in hits with 35 and led the team in runs scored with 31. She earned first team All Conference and All District honors for her effort. Ward was the second baseman last year and is also starting for her fourth straight season while Simon was used as the designated player and at first base.
Junior third baseman Katie Johnson also returns as does sophomore outfielder Lizzie Schreiber. And the biggest surprise of the year was Kotecki, who took over the pitching duties as a freshman returns. Kotecki stepped in, which allowed Kopp, the only Mounder with experience on the mound, to remain at shortstop, allowing Kallio to keep her solid infield intact.
“Tough defense kept us competitive throughout the season,” Kallio said. “And several players really came to life at the plate which was something we have been missing the past few seasons. We really only have to replace first base on defense and we have several options to make that change.”
The Mounders’ main goals are to beat Pepin, a team that has always had a strong softball program, and to win the conference and go as far in playoffs as possible. Kallio’s goals are to finish in the top two of the conference with a realistic goal of winning it, and to be playing their best ball at playoff time.
“Getting to the sectional tournament would be a great feat for us and will be a long range goal for the season,” she said. “We have a target on our back because of last year’s success, but hopefully our kids will absorb it all and play to their potential.”
Assisting Kallio this year are Kelly Michels, Sue Plaszcz, Bob Huffman, Molly Tiry and Sara Sivertson.