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Experience, versatility to guide Waldorf this season

waldorf-warriors-outline_1By Matt Oliver

FOREST CITY – Veteran leadership is expected to set the tone for the Waldorf College softball team this season.

“We are a team with six seniors and a lot of experience,” Waldorf coach Lexy Determan said. “We also have a lot of players who are versatile and can play many different positions.”

Seniors Maggie Eden, Kaitlin Murphy, Jessica Abrahamson, Maggie Hawley, sophomores Hattie Hupke and Kaylie Brindley all logged a significant number of innings for the Warriors last year.

“We hope their experience can set a foundation for the rest of the team,” said Determan, who begins her first season at Waldorf.

Of the returning players, Hupke led Waldorf with a .314 batting average last season. As a freshman, the Carlisle native tied for first on the team with 43 hits and 26 runs scored. Hupke collected four doubles and two triples while driving in 10 runs.

Abrahamson sported a .305 batting average in her first year with the Warriors, going deep with five home runs and finishing second on the team with 24 RBIs.

Eden batted .299, hit two homers and provided 13 RBIs last season. The Forest City High School alum from Britt closed out the year with 29 hits, including five doubles.

Murphy smashed a team-high nine homers and knocked in 18 runs, hitting .273 with five doubles in her first season at Waldorf.

Brindley and Hawley went to work inside the pitcher’s circle.

In her first collegiate season, Brindley led Waldorf’s rotation with 59 strikeouts, two shutouts, a 6-9 record and a 3.46 earned run average. The Earlham native limited opposing hitters to a .293 average.

Hawley closed out the year with a 4-6 record and a 4.94 ERA. She notched 35 strikeouts and opposing hitters batted .296 against her.

Andrea Hartmann and Tarah Hunt battled injuries last season, but look to provide during their senior seasons. Junior Hailey Kofron, sophomore Talon Welk, Briley Sullivan and Taylor Bell also return.

Despite fighting through injuries, Hartmann started in 29 of the 30 games she appeared in last year. She turned in a .262 batting average, went yard three times and drove in 18 runs while producing 22 total hits. Hartmann also pitched in six games during her first season with the Warriors.

Junior transfers Ashton May, Trista Bures and Brittani Sanchez join the team and are ready to contribute, along with freshmen Madison Mason and Taylor Kurtz. May and Bures were teammates at Gulf Coast State College in Florida while Sanchez played the past two seasons at North Iowa Area Community College.

“We look forward to seeing what the newcomers can offer,” Determan said.

Waldorf begins the 2016 season playing six games in this weekend’s Aberdeen Dome Tournament at Aberdeen, South Dakota.

The Warriors face Presentation College (0-0) on Saturday at 11 a.m., Dakota Wesleyan University (0-4) at 1 p.m. and the University of Jamestown (2-2) at 3 p.m.

Sunday’s games pit Waldorf against Dakota Wesleyan at 9 a.m., Jamestown at 11 a.m. and NCAA Division II’s University of Minnesota-Crookston (0-0) at 1 p.m.

Jamestown finished with a 36-14 record last season and won the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) regular-season title with an 18-2 league mark. Presentation closed out the 2015 campaign with a 19-33 record and 7-13 conference finish.

Dakota Wesleyan ended last season with a 10-34 record and Minnesota-Crookston finished 4-44. The 2015 season marked Waldorf’s final year in the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference (MCAC) as the Warriors finished 15-26 overall and 6-12 in conference play.

Waldorf, which joins the NSAA this season, will get a sneak peek at its new conference this weekend despite the games with Presentation and Jamestown being nonconference matchups.

“It is always exciting to see what the team brings to the table in the first games of the season,” Determan said. “If we are aggressive in our at-bats and sound defensively, we should be very competitive against these three teams. It will be a good introduction to see what we will need to do to be successful in the new conference.”

The Warriors’ season schedule consists of an eight-game spring break trip to play in the Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic on March 6-10 at North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Waldorf begins NSAA play on its home turf, hosting Mayville State University (0-0) in a home-opening, four-game series on March 25-26.

The NSAA will present challenges all season long. Dickinson State University (0-0), ranked No. 12 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) preseason poll, is picked to win this year’s NSAA championship in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Blue Hawks posted a 44-13 record last year, captured the NSAA Tournament crown and won an opening-round NAIA National Tournament game to advance to the NAIA World Series.

Bellevue University (0-0) is ranked No. 22 in the national preseason poll. The Bruins are selected to finish second in the NSAA just 12 points behind Dickinson State. Bellevue also comes into the NSAA after previously playing in the MCAC. The Bruins went 41-14-1 overall last season, clinched the MCAC regular-season championship behind a 17-3 conference record and won the MCAC Tournament to advance to the national tournament.

Though the NSAA presents tough opponents, the conference is expected to competitive. The Warriors, who were fifth in the preseason coaches’ poll, know they have to come ready to battle.

“In the preseason rankings, there were several teams separated by only a few points,” Determan said. “This would lead me to believe that each day we are competing in a conference game will be a challenge. This also means that any team will be able to compete for the top positions. If we play solid defense and stay aggressive in our at-bats, we should be able to be a competitive team day in and day out.”

The top eight teams in the NSAA advance to the conference tournament, which is scheduled for May 6-9 at Aberdeen, South Dakota. A winning season is one of the top priorities for Waldorf as the Warriors aim to make their mark during the 2016 campaign.

“We look to have a winning record and establish a foundation for Waldorf to be consistently competitive in the top half of the conference,” Determan said. “In order to do this, we will need to find the right combination on offense and find consistency in our defense. Our pitching will need to be solid and establish a presence early.”