EAST GULL LAKE — There are two names in Brainerd High School athletics that come up quite often.
The first is a rising star. The second is a coaching icon. Both were talked about Thursday during the 12th Annual University of Minnesota Gopher fundraiser at Cragun’s Legacy Courses.
The first was Nikki Anderson. The recent graduate will attend the U of M and play softball for the Gophers. Look for her to have an imitate impact on the roster as she’ll be the only lefty pitcher for the Gophers.
Gopher softball coach Jessica Allister said she was eager for the chance to work with Anderson.
“We’re so excited to get Nikki on campus,” said Allister, who just completed her second season as head coach. “She has excellent velocity and excellent control. I think the most exciting thing about Nikki is she’s already doing a great job and she still has room to grow. I know she’s excited to get down to the U and get into our strength and conditioning program and get with our pitching coach Piper Ritter who does a phenomenal job. Plus, Nikki has that drive to be as good as she can so we’re pretty fired up.”
The Gophers graduated senior Alissa Koch from the pitching staff leaving junior Sara Moulton and sophomore Kelsey Kimminau on the roster. Both are righties.
“We need pitching depth and Nikki is going to fill that for us,” Allister said. “We think she’ll get time right away. She’ll give us another option from the other side. We haven’t had a lefty pitcher so we think she’ll have an immediate impact.
“She does a nice job of keeping the ball down, which in softball is important. You want to make sure you keep the ball in the yard. She also has a ball that cuts in hard on righties, which they aren’t used to seeing from the left side. Then she just has a good ability to throw with velocity to precise spots. Softball is becoming a much more offensive game. Gone are the days when pitchers shut people out and you won 1-0 games. You have to keep people off the bases — no walks. She does that. Then keep the ball on the ground and let our defense make plays.”
Anderson was named Minnesota’s Ms. Softball and the Gatorade Minnesota Softball Player of the Year as well as earning spots on the Minnesota High School Fastpitch Coaches Association all-state first team and as a reserve on the St. Paul Pioneer Press All-State team.
During four varsity seasons she compiled a 0.776 ERA and 71-12 record. In 514.1 innings she allowed 228 hits, walked 58 and struck out 791 batters. She recorded 33 shutouts. She also wasn’t afraid to brush batters off the plate.
“You have to have that competitive edge in order to have the ball every play and be successful,” Allister said. “She is very competitive and she wants to win and she’s fun to watch.”
The other Warrior mentioned Thursday was head football coach Ron Stolski. Gopher football coach Jerry Kill was pleased to let people know what a help the state’s winningest high school football coach has been in his first two seasons.
“The bottom line is, he’s a good person,” said Kill about Stolski. “Let’s put football out of it first and he’s just a good person. He’s passionate about Minnesota and he means a ton to the high school coaching association. I don’t think there is any question about it. His leadership and guidance has made high school football what it is today. He continues to move that direction.”
Kill was quickly put in touch with Stolski be former Gopher athletic director Joel Maturi. As head of the High School football coaches association, Stolski was one of six high school coaches to meet with Kill right away after his hire.
“It was a great welcoming by the coaches and I think everybody wants the U to succeed,” said Kill. “I’m just blessed they reached out and we have a good working relationship and we want to continue with that.”
As for the action on the field.
“We’ve worked hard and I think our kids have had a good offseason,” said Kill. “This summer and the next few months are going to be critical in what they do. They certainly have worked hard to improve themselves. The expectations are we need to be better. I know we expect to be better.”