The Eau Claire North Huskies are returning a strong group of underclassmen this season who were thrust into the lineup last year as freshmen and sophomores. Junior Mackenzie Gilbert is expected to start in the circle for North, she pitched to a 3-5 record with a 3.39 ERA last season. Sophomore Mattie Haller and junior Annika Olson return as the team’s sluggers, they combined for five home runs last year and hit .403 and .345 respectively.
Brad Chapman will begin his 20th season of coaching softball this year as the head coach of the Eau Claire Memorial Old Abes. The team will have to fill the void left by now-graduated Katheryn Wirtanen, who hit .542 last year with 10 extra-base hits. Morgan Brunner returns after batting .400 last year with four doubles. She’ll be helped out by Emily Johnson who hit .355 last season.
Head coach Shelly Misco is entering her first season with the Menomonie Mustangs. She’ll look to turn the team in the right direction after a 4-14 record last year. Without Mak Hendrickson and Sara Stainer, who both hit over .500 last year, senior Jasmine Parish and junior Emily Schwartz will have to continue where they left off after strong offensive showings in 2018.
The Rice Lake Warriors have the tough task of replacing three first team all-conference members from last season. With Emily Fell, Brooke Scheurer and Sam Soley all departed, junior Taryn Gullickson should play a big role for the team after being named second team all-conference a season ago.
The McDonell Macks will look to make it three in a row after clinching the Division 5 state championship in the last two seasons. It will be a tough task without Western Cloverbelt player of the year Megan Baier around anymore. Sophomore Maggie Craker is expected to be a key contributor for the team and junior Olivia Mlsna should figure into the mix for the Macks as well.
The Altoona Railroaders are returning five all-conference players from last year in Karly Maurina, Lydia Berseth, Kate Harris, Averie Varsho and Ally Wagner. With tons of returning talent, the Railroaders should be among the Western Cloverbelt’s very best teams. Head coach Chris Maurina expects his team to continue to build on its 2018 season which ended in the sectional semifinals to Prescott.
The Osseo-Fairchild Thunder have a pair of new faces in head coach Chad Frase and assistant coach Dustin McCune leading the way this year. Without any seniors on the squad, the team’s six returning juniors will be relied on to bring veteran leadership. Abbie Henke returns as the star for the Thunder, she made first-team all-conference last season with five home runs. If Osseo-Fairchild is going to go far, it will need big performances out of the team’s seven freshmen.
The Thorp Cardinals are coming off a 17-8 season in which they finished as state runner-up, and are expected to have tons of veteran talent with five seniors and six juniors on the squad. They’ve scheduled a tough nonconference schedule that third-year head coach Kurt Rhyner thinks will be a litmus test for his team this year.
Last year was a rebuilding year for the Cadott Hornets who did not lose a single senior for 2019. Maddie Wahl returns as the captain for the Hornets, she is expected to split time between third base and catcher. Sophomore Meadow Barone will look to improve on her strong freshman campaign in which she led the team in batting average and RBIs. The team will lead off with shortstop Megan Fasbender, a senior who will also captain the team.
The Fall Creek Crickets will have to replace Paige Luer-Johnson’s elite hitting from last season, a task expected to fall on the shoulders of returning juniors Abigail Bell, Tara Jiskra, and Catelyn Schultz. Jiskra will catch for Schultz and Sara Kaufman who will make up the team’s pitching staff.
Despite a 5-11 record last season, Stanley-Boyd Orioles‘ head coach Andrea Mahr is optimistic for 2019. The Orioles are returning four seniors this year including slugger Bailey Straskowski and Arianna Mason who hit .340 and .467 respectively. Junior Ashly Zastrow is expected to handle the bulk of the pitching duties for the Orioles.
It will be a rebuilding year for the Regis Ramblers in 2019 who have just five returning players. The team will be without former all-conference player Grace Gilles who will miss her senior season after having foot surgery. First-year head coach Jim Deignan will have a tough task ahead of him this year. His team boasts seven freshmen, including five who have never played softball before. The team will also be without anyone with any previous pitching experience.
The Bloomer Blackhawks will need to replace four starters from the 2018 squad that went 17-3. First baseman Isabella Jenneman will return to after tearing her ACL mid-season last year. Kenadi Poirier and Rilee Luzinski are expected to help provide the team’s offense after hitting .564 and .448 respectively. Emily Kuehl will take the circle after pitching to a 2.14 ERA with 85 strikeouts last season. If the team’s freshmen and sophomores can step up, the Blackhawks could be a force to be reckoned with again in the Heart O’North.
The Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Bulldogs will need to replace star outfielder Kennedy Antczak who was named first team all-conference last season and infielder Morgan Davis who earned second team honors. They should have junior Maggie Reisner back on the mound after her dominant 2018 campaign that landed her second team all-conference honors.
Cumberland finished in third place in the conference last season, and has a handful of all-conference players back this year. That includes pitcher Lauren Green, who has already tossed a no-hitter this spring.
The Elk Mound Mounders are expected to be among the conference’s very best in 2019. Junior Clare Hallum returns to the circle after clinching co-conference player of the year honors last season. Hallum is a two-year starter and a two-time first team all-conference pitcher. Fellow all-conference first teamer Abigail Curry returns and may be in store for a position change from left field to infield this year. Junior Sophie Cedarblade will roam centerfield for the Mounders, after making second team all-conference last season. Defensively the Mounders should be strong, but their offensive power should carry them in tight games this year.
The Mondovi Buffaloes are coming off a rough 2018 season in which they went 7-8 and finished eighth in the conference, but they enter 2019 season with a new head coach in Kari Kallio. Kallio spent 11 seasons from 2004-2013 at Elk Mound, racking up a 139-90 record and is she is hoping to begin a rebuild for the Buffaloes this year. They are expected to have plus-speed, but they lack varsity experience and small ball skills. Twins Abby and Izzy Johnson will make up the team’s battery-mates with Abby on the mound and Izzy behind the plate. Rian Evans and Abbey Fedie are the only returning members of last year’s varsity team and will be relied on as team leaders.
New head coach Kyle Pronschinske takes over at Durand hoping to turn the page after a 5-14 2018 season for the Panthers. Durand is returning Hannah Prissel, the 2018 Dunn-St. Croix co-MVP, who hit .443 last season. She will be relied on to coordinate a young infield from the shortstop position. On the mound, senior Katelyn Schlosser and junior Josie Radle are expected to pitch the bulk of the innings for the Panthers.
The Colfax Vikings are going to have a young team in 2019, needing to replace five multi-year starters in key positions. Jozie Buchaman returns after claiming first team all-conference honors as a sophomore last year. She hit .392 while pitching to a 5.22 ERA in 53.2 innings. Senior Kaitlyn Fields has twice been named as an honorable mention to the all-conference team and will be back in the outfield for the Vikings after hitting .313 last season.
Amber Retzloff will be the top returning hitter for Boyceville, which is dealing with some injuries this year. First team all-conference pick Tyra Kostman is one of those injured players.
The Immanuel Lutheran Lancers are hoping to continue where they left off in 2018 after finishing strong down the stretch. They will have to replace Stephanie Kazemba, who hit .545 last season, but maybe her sister, freshman Faith Kazemba, can help fill her shoes. Junior Brynn Schierenbeck returns to the team after hitting .524 last season along with senior second basemen Lily Meyers who hit .292 with a .750 slugging percentage last year.
The Augusta Beavers should be much improved from last year with a year of experience under their belts. The team did not lose a single graduate from last season and will have seniors Megan Kunz and Ashlyn Korger back in the infield. Kunz hit .473 last season with three home runs and is expected to split time between first and catcher, while Korger hit .315 and should lead the team at shortstop.
Blair-Taylor has reached the Division 5 state tournament two years in a row, and is loaded again this year. Ace Lauren Steien returns to the circle, and most of the lineup is back.
Brianna Truog was a first team all-conference pick last season for Independence/Gilmanton, and has already been an impact player for the Indees this year. Fellow first team all-conference player Rylie Guza is also back.
—Previews by Aaron Rose, based on information from area coaches