CHIPPEWA FALLS — Chippewa Falls assistant coach Steve Frank is a hitting guru. The 69-year-old spends hours scouring what he calls “hitting Twitter” and reading blogs on the latest hitting techniques.
Years ago, he heard about this new hitting philosophy that involves getting the bat moving earlier in the swing in order to increase the launch angle of the swing and create more loft under the ball. He toyed around with the idea for some time and couldn’t quite figure it out, so he set it aside for a little.
Then, in 2017, Aaron Judge’s hitting coach, Richard Schenck showed up at a UW-Eau Claire hitting clinic and everything changed.
“I couldn’t quite understand it well enough, but then I went to the clinic and it kind of clicked,” Frank remembered. “I went back and started hitting and said, ‘this is the way to do it.’”
He brought the new hitting philosophy to then-first year Chippewa Falls softball coach Kate Fjelstad who was receptive to the idea and they decided to just try it out with their underclassmen.
This year, everyone will be using Judge’s swing.
“The new swing is based on more of a vertical, we call it a ‘Ferris wheel swing,’ instead of a merry-go-round swing,” junior Nicole Crumbaker said. “The difference that it makes it that you actually have more of an up angle when you hit the ball so it’s easier to get a good hit and for that good hit to actually go a lot further into the outfield.”
It’s a hitting philosophy that’s become popular throughout the Major Leagues as teams are trying to get under the ball and are hitting more home runs than ever before. Frank says even Christian Yelich has adopted the new philosophy.
“This is pretty much the way most of the really good hitters in the Major Leagues swing,” Frank said.
With the new trend has come an increase in strikeouts throughout the Majors. Though Frank said the swing should maintain the team’s contact rate, the Cardinals could see an increase in strikeouts this season.
If the strategy works, the Cardinals will be a force to be reckoned with this season as they look to repeat as Big Rivers conference champs and make another trip down to Madison.
Last year’s star pitcher Mallory Sterling will be back on the mound for Chippewa Falls this year. She’s coming off a 20-5 season with a lights-out 2.30 ERA and both first team all-conference and all-state honors. According to Fjelstad, Sterling is in for a big senior season with her velocity up almost 10 miles per hour and much better control.
“She’s also got a lot stronger,” Fjelstad said. “We’ve now clocked her in the 60s, so that’s exciting for us. It’s a testament to the type of kid she is. She will work hard and do whatever you ask of her.”
Offensively, the Cardinals will have to replace the top four spots of their batting order from last season. Last year’s Leader-Telegram All-Area Softball Player of the Year Kaylee Frenette is now playing softball with the Upper Iowa University Peacocks, while Autumn Olson, Brooke Rooney and Kyra Peloquin have all left for college.
“It’s kind of an up in the air year,” Fjelstad said.
Junior Alisia Palms will be back behind the plate, with senior Abby Staves over at first base and Crumbaker figuring into the infield in some capacity.
“I think we have a lot of very good potential players,” Crumbaker said. “We just have to work on a few more things. We’re not there yet, but once we start getting those things down, I think we’ll have more of a rhythm and I think we could really start dominating games.”