The Little Falls Flyers were 0-2 and their senior shortstop wasn’t hitting.
In fact, Alayna Kabanuk started the year 2-for-23 after missing her whole junior year with a knee injury.
But then her confidence returned and with it her offensive production that helped the Flyers advance all the way to the Section 6-2A championship before falling to Albany.
“It was more of me almost feeling like I was nervous with my knee,” said Kabanuk “In volleyball, which is my main sport, it was different. I knew what I could do. With softball, I had to work on this and work on that. It was really frustrating because I’m an athlete but I wasn’t able to do the things I knew I could do. My teammates helped me out and my good friend Jamie Jenks and I would hit a lot of balls after practice.
“At the end of the year I was going up there knowing I was going to do something with the ball. Before I was thinking, ‘Oh, crap, please don’t be the third out.’”
In the opening round of the section tournament, Kabanuk went 4-4 with two RBIs and a double leading the third-seeded Flyers to an 8-0 win over Pierz. Kabanuk was 2-4 with two runs, two RBIs and another double in a 12-9 win over Paynesville in the next round. She was one of just four Flyer players to get a hit in Little Falls’ first matchup with Albany May 25, which ended in a 6-1 Albany win.
“Despite her struggles early on in the season, she was so willing to work on things,” said Flyers head coach Ron Hinnenkamp. “Whenever she had a study hall, she would have me come in and we would work on things in the batting cage. She started the year 2-23 and she finished batting over .400 the rest of the way.
“Plus, she was batting behind Jamie Jenks and so teams couldn’t pitch around Jamie. Pierz tried it after Jamie hit a home run, and Alayna went 4-4. She really stepped up in the playoffs. I can’t say enough about how well she played when we started really coming on as a team.”
Kabanuk finished hitting .338 (27-of-82). She added 15 runs, 18 RBIs, nine doubles a triple and seven stolen bases. She hit 10-of-20 in the playoffs.
During her sophomore year, Kabanuk went 19-of-51 (.373) with two doubles, two triples and a home run.
“The thing with her is she has a lot of power, but she’s a line drive hitter so she doesn’t get a lot of home runs,” said Hinnenkamp. “She hits the ball with a lot of power so she was able to get a lot of doubles and extra base hits. She cleared the outfielder’s head a few times.”
Kabanuk’s growth in confidence coincided with the team’s success. They finished the regular season winning three of their last four and won four of six in the playoffs with the two losses coming against Albany.
“It was really awesome to get to the section finals,” said Kabanuk. “Each game we knew we had to go in and play really hard. It was nice to see so many different girls pull together and then to end up in the section finals was great. I told the team we can’t be too mad about how we played. We had a great season. It was a lot of fun.”
Kabanuk, who was a three-year all-area volleyball player, will play volleyball next year for Concordia College in Moorhead.
“She’s a great gal,” Hinnenkamp said. “She listened to coaches and works on what you talk about. She is just that type of player. All around she is an outstanding person. She graduated in the top 10 of her class. She’s a sharp student and a student of the game. She works hard and those are the things that make her great.”
Other notable performances:
Softball: Megan Vetsch, Staples-Motley, struck out three and walked two in a 1-0 shutout victory over top-ranked Pequot Lakes.
Jamie Jenks, Little Falls, went 4-5 with a three-run home run against Paynesville.
Caroline Rasinski, Pillager, went 3-3 with two runs and an RBI against Verndale and was 3-4 with three RBIs against Brandon-Evansville.
Track and field: Rachelle LeBlanc, Little Falls, set a school record with her first-place pole vault of 11-feet-0 at the Princeton Invite.