2011 Spring Preview: History in the making for New Life softball team?
Last year, while being pictured with a third-straight state championship trophy, New Life Academy head coach Mick Ramey boldly flashed four fingers -- and a large grin -- before his hand was swatted down by outfielder Lauren Anders and pitcher Rebekah Schmidt, who were obviously more superstitious than their coach.
Could New Life Academy win the Class A state title this spring, it would become the first softball team in Minnesota history to win four consecutive state championships.
"It's the elephant in the room," Ramey, in his fourth year as coach, said. "But, we're not making the four-peat one of our goals," Ramey said. "We just want to get to state and win this one state championship. We don't want to defend a state championship, we want to attack a new one."
The Eagles won their third-straight Class A state championship with a 2-0 defeat of Barnum in the final on Friday, June 11, at Caswell Park in North Mankato. Schmidt, now a senior, brought an 0.60 earned run average into the state tournament, but dropped that number at state, tying a state tournament record with three consecutive shutouts. Among the pitchers Schmidt tied in the record book was sister Danielle, who threw three-straight shutouts in helping New Life to its first state title in 2008.
The Eagles earned a trip to the Class A championship game after beating Badger/Greenbush-Middle River 1-0 in a nine-inning semifinal game and walloping Wabasso 8-0 in the opening round. Schmidt, catcher Natalie Schad and outfielder Lauren Anders were named to the Class A All-Tournament team.
It was New Life Academy's fifth-straight state tournament appearance. The Eagles competed in their first-ever state tournament in 2006 and were Class A runner-ups in 2007.
Ramey said one thing that could deter the four-peat is if NLA is too overconfident.
"It is history, but we don't want to put pressure on the girls," he said. "We're going to focus on the basics, do things over and over and take care of business. It's been successful the last six years, so we're going to continue that."
Schmidt, Stodolka lead the way
Schmidt and fellow senior Katie Stodolka played varsity as seventh graders in 2006 when New Life played in its first state tournament and have been part of every team since.
"I use them as examples all the time," Ramey said. "In seventh grade, Stodolka got on base and Rebekah drove her in to beat St. Bernard's and to advance to our first state tournament. They're both leaders and both captains. They're great ball players, but even better girls."
While the Eagles lose one player from last year's three-peat championship team, they return an experienced core group of seniors, as well as a solid number of newcomers, according to Ramey. The Eagles lone graduate is Kelly Stein, who started every game and was a great leader for the younger girls, Ramey said. However, the Eagles of 2011 are optimistic to fill the other gaps with a talented batch of fresh faces.
With no juniors on the roster, Schmidt and Stodolka, the team captains last year, will use their experience to lead the team in the 2011 season. Schmidt will take most of the pitching duties, while Stodolka leads the infield from second base, and both will continue to be consistent threats at the plate. The Eagles also return senior Natalie Schad, a good catcher who can play third base, senior Lauren St. John, a solid shortstop and leadoff hitter, Anders as a senior designated hitter who will also provide good experience in the outfield, along with senior Andera Peterfeso and sophomore Amanda Pastirik.
Coming in for New Life are several youngsters who will be asked to play big minutes in their second year. Freshman Amanda Heidmann will be asked to play third base, while also seeing some action at pitcher, while fellow freshman Chloe Westlund will use her tremendous speed on the bases and in the outfield. Two eighth graders, Malorie Guire and Valorie Hohol will see a lot of action in the field, while Guire will see time behind the plate and Hohol will provide some solid backup minutes in the pitching circle.
"I always ask the girls how many MVPs we have and the answer is always the number of girls we have on our roster," Ramey said. "Each girl is very important to the team. We don't single out any girls, even though you could, because Rebekah has had a stellar career, but she buys into the team-first mentality, too, and is a team player."
In addition to returning the majority of players, assistant coaches Dan Stodolka, Keith Stein and Tom Schmidt are back too, which Ramey said is important.
"I have a great coaching staff," Ramey said. "I've got the best job in the world. I'm just a field general out there. I have a lot of lieutenants and captains that do a lot of work. I'm very blessed."
Last year, New Life lost one game, 3-2 to Class AAA Hopkins. In addition to its Minnesota Christian Athletic Association foes, the Eagles will play a number of bigger schools this season, too.
New Life starts its season against Class AA St. Paul Academy on Wednesday, April 6, at Bielenberg Sports Complex. The Eagles will also take part in a tournament in Burnsville and at Benilde-St. Margaret's, where they'll see up to six Class AAA teams.
Ramey said the plan is to keep the goals small -- win the conference, win the section and stay focused.
"We have a pretty consistent team," Ramey said. "We don't have big highs and lows. We want to stay real consistent. Our girls do play loose, too, they have fun out there, but they know what to do and they take care of business."