Bill Shirbroun knows his St Edmond softball team has a lot of up and coming young talent.
For the Gaels to reach their full potential this summer, however, Shirbroun insists the execution and effort must match his group’s capabilities.
“We work every day to make sure the mental side of the sport catches up with the physical abilities that we (together) have,” said Shirboun, who is in his third season as the program’s head coach. “It’s a good group with some clear strengths, but that’s not enough to win consistently. You need to cover all your bases when it comes to situations and making the right decisions at the right time.
“We talked about it a lot last year: I don’t mind being beaten, but I don’t like losing. In other words, if we play hard and (the opponents) are just better that night, but we gave it our all, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we make mistakes and beat ourselves, this is no longer acceptable.”
In many ways, the Gaels have taken a winning step forward in 2021. They were 16-11 overall and second in the North Central Conference, finishing only behind Webster City. And though they lost their main battery – Ella Vratny and Kacey Kruthoff – to graduation, all the other main players are returning this season, including a large and experienced freshman class.
“But expectations will rise” Said Shirbroun. “I guess you could say we’ll be relatively young overall, but we’re anything but inexperienced. So some of the things we did sometimes that cost us a chance to win a year ago – these are bad habits that we need to get rid of forever.
The Gaels are bringing everyone back around the horn, also adding an eighth-grader who will be expected to contribute from day one.
Senior Gracie Harvey is back at shortstop and will likely be second in the lineup. Harvey went up against .337 a year ago and led the roster in home runs by five. She received the honors as the second team in the North Central Conference.
“Gracie is your typical hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone kid,” Said Shirbroun. “She is a great example for the younger players.”
The team’s only other senior, Alyson Nieland, is scheduled for first base and fifth in the order.
“Aly is something like the mother of the program” Said Shirbroun. “She cares a lot about her teammates. It’s really positive to have Gracie and Aly as our senior leaders.”
Sophomore Kaili Henning and 8th grader Faith Shirbroun expect to rotate on third base when the other pitches. Henning fought with .341 last summer.
Henning is expected to be third in the lineup. Shirbroun will lead away.
“Kaili has really pushed for us and is a versatile player,” Said Shirbroun. “She was third team (all-NCC in 2021) and could have finished second very easily.
“I think we’re going to have a good rotation there with Kaili and Faith having to adjust quite a bit for that level of the ball but I feel ready to help that group.”
Freshman Hadley Oswald is the team’s lone catcher and is likely to finish eighth. Freshman Peyton Bradley, eighth-grader Kamryn Gochee and freshman Josie Harvey will be at second base and ninth in order in the mix.
Freshman clean-up hitter Lauren Gibb will be St. Edmond’s center fielder. Gibb made an immediate contribution a year ago as a precocious eighth grader, finishing with a .393 average and a 22 RBI.
“Like Gracie, Lauren returns as second team (all-NCC pick)”, Said Shirbroun. “She’s a solid producer for us, and we expect big things both on the plate and as a leader in the outfield.”
Anna Kolacia, a junior, is expected to play at both second base and right field. She will bat seventh in line.
“Anna is a real leader for us,” Said Shirbroun. “She has a strong voice and is a coach on the field and in the dugout. A very positive kid who sets the tone and has a lot of energy.”
Ansley Oswald, just a freshman, will patrol left field. Oswald had the club’s best batting average of .391 last summer and will likely bat from the No. 6 position in 2022.
“Ansley was very consistent and productive last year from 9th place.” Said Shirbroun. “Like so many of these newcomers, she may be young but she’s played a lot of ball. So I hope this group will be ready to perform like juniors or seniors.”
Sophomore speedster Michaela Leiting is a returning courtesy runner who scored eight runs last year.
Henning posted a respectable 6-1 record with a 2.89 earned run average last season while flanking Vratny, a five-year-old starter.
“Kaili will be our No. 1” Said Shirbroun. “Kaili and Faith both have their strengths and I think (taken together) they’re ready to take on the pitching duties.
“We arrive. I think we’re still in the development phase with a lot of it – even when it comes to our culture. But this is a big season for us to really turn things around. They’ve played enough and are capable – now it’s time for them to get it right every time. That’s my job: taking them to the next level. I have to set the tone and take responsibility.”
Conference outlook and staff
Shirbroun expects defending champions Webster City to once again be the team to beat.
“They graduated from (pitcher Jenna) Miller but won’t miss much when (sophomore) Delainey Bargfrede takes over (full-time) and gets better.” Said Shirbroun. “They have a high-ranked catcher (All-NCC first pick Kelly Stoakes) and a lot of other talent surrounding them (including first-team All-League talents Alayna Finucan and Bonnie Nohrenberg).”
Humboldt is a wildcard given ace hurler Reagan Lee’s expected return from injury.
“They’re always tough and Lee is number 1 which will be a big return.” Said Shirbroun. “They lost some key pieces (by graduating) but still have (all NCC honorees Alexis Hansen, Elsie Hubbell and Addie Thompson) back.”
Lillian Etherington, Lily Elsbecker and Ryan Haynes of Algona; Webster City’s Livia Kasch, Adeline Tesdahl and Bargfrede; and Clarissa Hasty of Clarion-Goldfield/Dows are the other All-NCC selections from the region set to return in 2022.
Shirbroun will join volunteer Brian Maxson as a staff assistant.
“We’re just trying to get them to be as savvy in softball as possible,” Said Shirbroun. “Where things just become second nature and you don’t have to think – just react.
“The more experience we gain, the better we become. There are many athletic skills to work with, but it’s about knowing what to do, where to go and why.”
The Gaels open their season on Monday at home to defending Class 1A champions Newell-Fonda.
2022 ST. EDMOND SOFTBALL
Seniors – Gracie Harvey, Alyson Nieland.
Juniors — Anna Kolacia, Sylvia Hess.
Sophomores — Michaela Leiting, Kaili Henning.
Freshmen – Josie Harvey, Ansley Oswald, Hadley Oswald, Payton Bradley, Lauren Gibb.
Eighth graders – Faith Shirbroun, Kamryn Gochee.
May 23 – Newell-Fonda; 25—Humboldt; 26 – Pocahontas area; 27 – in Iowa Falls-Alden; 31 – in the Southeast Valley.
June 1st – Algona; 3 – Hampton-Dumont/CAL; 4 – CYO Tournament in Carroll; 6 – at Clear Lake; 8 – in Webster City; 9 — Alta Aurelia; 10 – Clarion-Goldfield/Dows; 11 – at the Van Meter tournament; 13 — at Humboldt; 15 – Iowa Falls-Alden; 16 – at Eagle Grove; 17-18 – Fort Dodge Invitation; 20 — in Algona; 22 — at Clarion-Goldfield/Dows; 23 — Saydel; 24 – clear lake; 25 – St. Edmond Invitation; 27 – in Hampton-Dumont/CAL; 29 – Webster City; 30 – at North Union.
July 1 – Regional Tournament.