2013 Spring Preview: New Life Academy softball team Eagles look to make history this spring
A year ago, the New Life Academy softball team celebrated a seventh straight trip to the state tournament, beating Minneapolis Washburn 5-3 for the Section 4A championship. This year, New Life is looking to make it eight in a row, which would tie Winona Cotter for the most consecutive state tournament appearances in state history.
Making history is nothing new to the New Life Academy softball program. The Eagles already rewrote the record books, winning four consecutive state championship titles between 2008 and 2011. Last year, in its quest for a fifth-straight state championship, the team finished in fourth place in the state.
"Each year, the bar gets raised higher for the NLA softball program, but over the years, we've built a really strong program and have systems in place to build the program up to a level where we can advance to state and hopefully, win another state tournament," said Mick Ramey, who is in his sixth year as the team's head coach.
Ramey contributes part of the program's success to their team chemistry, consistent hitting and timely hits in key situations.
"We've had so may close games, and that consistency and timely hitting won us those games," he said. "I've been successful because I'm surrounded by great people, parents and captains, and that makes delegating the work load a whole lot easier."
Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for New Life Academy. But, despite fielding a roster with no seniors and starting nine players at new positions, the Eagles brought home hardware from the state tournament for a sixth straight year.
In last year's state tournament, after beating Section 6A champion Sebeka 2-1 in the opening round, New Life Academy (17-9) was edged 2-0 by No. 1-ranked Cherry in the state semifinals. Cherry, which NLA beat in the state championship game in 2011, finished the year undefeated and as 2012 Class A state champions. After the emotional loss to Cherry, New Life suffered a letdown in the third-place game, falling to New Ulm Cathedral 9-2.
This year, New Life will be led by sophomore pitcher, Val Hohol, who went 13-6 last season and held a batting average of .475 to go along with a team-high 19 RBI. Other key players for the Eagles include Amanda Heidmann, Chloe Westlund and Malorie Giere. Heidmann led the team in batting in 2012, hitting .481 and total bases with 37, to go along with 17 RBI. Westlund hit .455 with a team-best 13 steals and a team-high 29 runs scored and Giere hit .434 with 30 total bases and a team-best nine doubles.
According to Ramey, their biggest challenge is their youth.
"This year, we only have one senior on the team, Nicole Johnson," said Ramey. "Although our team is young, some of our captains have been on varsity since seventh and eighth grade, so they do bring leadership along with their youth."
Ramey believes to maximize every girl's performance, you have to make them all feel good about themselves and their role on the team.
"If you accomplish that, everything else falls into place," he said.