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New Life junior co-captain and ace pitcher Valerie Hohol returns to lead the Eagles in 2014. In 2013, Hohol went 16-3 with a 2.04 ERA, with 128 strikeouts and 16 walks in 110 innings pitched and hit .554 with a .821 slugging percentage and led the team in hits and RBI. (Bulletin file photo)

2014 Spring Preview: New Life Academy softball team swinging for state-record ninth straight state tournament

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Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

The New Life Academy softball team is hoping to make even more history this spring.

New Life, won a Minnesota-record four consecutive state championships between 2007 and 2011, is looking to reach a state-record ninth straight state softball tournament in 2014. The team is also vying for a fifth state championship in the past seven years.

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A year ago, in its eighth-straight trip to state, New Life Academy finished as the state runner-up in Class A after falling to Blooming Prairie and their senior pitcher Shelbi Swenson 3-1 in the championship game at Caswell Park in North Mankato. New Life, which went 18-4 overall on the year, was held to four hits by Swenson in the title game.

The Eagles beat Cherry and Eden Valley Watkins to reach the championship.

New Life tied a state record by reaching its eighth consecutive state tournament after beating Minneapolis Washburn 2-0 in the Section 4A Championship game at Hamline University.

With the eight straight state appearances, New Life tied Winona Cotter for the most in the history of Minnesota high school softball. Mick Ramey, who joined the NLA softball team in 2003 and has been the head coach since 2006, has been around for each one.

“We are looking forward to getting outside, working hard in practice, setting some great goals and fulfilling the dream of getting back to Mankato,” Ramey said.

Ramey returns to lead the Eagles again this season and welcomes back a number of key players in the process. New Life returns seven starters and 11 players overall from last year’s squad.

Leading the way on the list of returners is junior co-captain and ace pitcher Valerie Hohol. Hohol has been a starter since seventh grade and was first-team all-state, all-section and all-conference as a sophomore.

Prior to the state tournament Hohol went 16-3 with a 2.04 ERA, with 128 strikeouts and 16 walks in 110 innings pitched. In the section tournament, she had an ERA of 0.88 with 31 strikeouts and three walks in four games. She also made a huge impact from the plate. In 2013 she hit .554 with a .821 slugging percentage and led the team in hits and RBI.

New Life also returns Hohol’s battery mate in junior captain Malorie Giere. Giere, who has already verbally committed to play Division 1 ball for Lipscomb University, in Nashville, Tenn., has been a starter since eighth grade. In 2013 she was all-state honorable mention, all-section and all-conference. She batted .464 as a sophomore with a .732 slugging percentage and led the team in extra base hits.

Also back for New Life Academy are senior captains Chloe Westlund and Amanda Heidmann. Westlund, an outfielder and utility player, has been a starter since her freshman year. She was all-section and all-conference in 2013, batting .469 on the year and led the team in stolen bases and walks. Heidmann, a starter since eighth grade, anchors the infield at third base. She was all-section and all-conference in 2013, batting .462 on the year.

New Life does need to replace 2013 graduates Nicole Johnson and Amanda Pastirik this season, however.

As usual, New Life Academy has a number of Class AAA and Class AA games on the schedule this season.

Weather permitting, the team is hoping to take the field for the first time on April 8 at Legacy Christian Academy. The team is set to play at home at Bielenberg Sports Complex for the first time on April 15 against Minnehaha Academy.

—Patrick Johnson

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