SPRING SPORTS: Merrill Softball returns a wealth of experience
Head Coach: Matt Ellenbecker – 7th season.
Assistant Coaches: Ben Natzke – 6th season; Emily Bonack – 5th season; Cliff Prahl – 4th season; Lindsay Doescher – 1st season.
2017 Record: 10-14 overall; 4-8 in conference.
2017 Post Season: Lost at Rhinelander 2-1.
1st team – Maddix Bonnell, SS, Senior; Patience Pyan, 3B, Senior; Kelsie Belfiori, CF, Junior
2nd team – Taylor Krueger, P, Senior
Honorable Mention – Calli Oberg, C, Senior
Key Returners: (Players above and) Allie Becker, OF, Senior; Lindsey Casper, 2B, Senior; Makayla Heller, OF, Senior; Madisen Weix, OF, Senior; Molly Weix, 1B, Senior; Megan Schroder, UTIL, Junior.
Key Losses: Chelsey LaMonica – 1B; Stephanie Schroder – OF; Calle Johnson – OF; Jessica Tiry – OF.
Key Newcomers: DeLaurie Sukow – OF, Junior; Ally Semling – IF, Sophomore.
2017 Recap: “Last season was a beneficial experience for this group,” coach Ellenbecker said. “We set our goals very high and we put together a schedule to challenge us. We played a lot of good teams and were in a lot of close games, but didn’t come out ahead in enough of them. Those are character building games. I think we developed some fortitude through that process.
“We dealt with injuries last year and some players had less success at the plate than they may have had the prior season. It was a struggle at times, but I think we learned from it. We learned a lot about what it means to be leader when things are tough and how important it is to stick together through those times. We put together a tough schedule again this season, and if we find ourselves in tough times, I think we will be equipped to handle that.”
2018 Outlook: “We return a ton of experience this year,” Ellenbecker says. “We have the unique situation of having a large core of players who have experienced a successful, extended playoff run followed by a quick, disappointing exit. These players learned from both of those experiences.
“Our biggest strength should be our experience. We have multi-year starters at nearly every position on the field, which should bode well for us defensively. Having a large and talented senior class has forced all players to truly compete each day.
“We need to develop depth in the circle, particularly with the way this ‘spring’ has unfolded. We will have some busy weeks upcoming where we’ll be playing a ton of ball, and, while Taylor has shown she can handle a heavy load in the past, we will need other players to step up when needed. Consistent offense is a goal, as well. Toward the end of last year we struggled to score runs consistently. We weren’t as effective getting bunts down and we got a bit pull-happy at times that made us easy to pitch to. We need to stay disciplined at the plate and consistent in our approach. We want to hit the ball hard, and we can do that to all fields.
“The conference is looking tough. SPASH is the top dog until they are knocked off of their perch, but they will be challenged this year. Marshfield will have a very tough team. DC Everest is always tough and well-coached. Wisconsin Rapids was very young last year, but came on late and looks to be tough. Wausau West will be much younger this year, but they have talented players returning. Wausau East has been working on building up their program They will have a lot of returning players and will be improved. I think we fit in that top half of the conference and our goal is to compete with those teams.
A Final Word From The Coach: “I really look forward to this season,” Ellenbecker adds. “We have nine seniors who have committed four years to the high school program who are working alongside some sophomores and juniors to make this season one to remember. We really have a great group of student-athletes who have dedicated themselves to this sport and program. When weather allows, I hope people come on out to the MARC to see the updates out there and to support our teams. You’ll see terrific athletes, tremendous hustle, and a lot of well-played ball from your Blue Jays.”
2018 MHS Varsity Softball Schedule
Tue, April 10: 4:30 p.m. @ Wausau West
Thu, April 12: 4:30 p.m. vs. Marshfield (@Arlington)
Fri, April 13: 2:00 p.m. @ Woodside Sports Complex (Wisc. Dells) – cancelled
Sat, April 14: TDB @ Woodside Sports Complex – cancelled
Tue, April 17: 4:30 p.m. @ Stevens Point
Thu, April 19: 4:30 p.m. vs. Wisconsin Rapids
Mon, April 23: 5:00 p.m. @ Mosinee
Thu, April 26: 4:30 p.m. vs. D.C. Everest
Fri. April 27: 4:30 p.m. @ D.C. Everest
Sat, April 28: 9:00 a.m. @ Portgae High School
Tue, May 1: 4:00 p.m. @ Wausau East (double header)
Thu, May 3: 4:30 p.m. vs. Wausau West
Sat, May 5: 10:00 a.m. @ MARC (Merrill Area Rec. Center)
Tue, May 8: 4:30 p.m. @ Marshfield
Thu, May 10: 4:30 p.m. vs. Stevens Point
Fri, May 11: 4:30 p.m. vs. Tomahawk
Tue, May 15: 4:30 p.m. @ Wisconsin Rapids