Northern Division champions. Minnesota Community College Conference state champions. Region 13B champions. NJCAA Division III tournament participant. School record for wins in a season (35). A 22-game win streak.
That's what the Central Lakes College softball team accomplished last year, setting the bar extremely high for future teams.
But this year's Raiders squad wants more.
"I don't expect anything more than to work toward the goal, which is to get back to nationals," Raiders coach Bob Sullivan said. "And we don't want to just get to nationals, but we want to win it. But like any other year we have to take it one game at a time."
Megan Anderson is expected to provide power to the lineup.
The Raiders will have to find a way to replace 23-game winner Hilary Smith on the mound. Smith also hit over .400 and drove in over 50 runs. Smith moved on to play softball at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D.
"There's two things I wish I had back in Hilary and that's her bat and her because she's a quality person," said Sullivan. "Not to take anything away from Hilary, but I think we have as good of pitching this year. Malerie is a left-handed pitcher who has a good change-up and is working on her rise ball. She should have two or three pitches to offer.
Head coach: Bob Sullivan, fourth year
Career record: 77-29
Assistant coach: Heidi Rogge.
2006 record: 23-1 North Division, 35-6 overall
Returning players: Lindsey Jourdan (inf.) Brainerd, Megan Anderson (inf.) Rogers, Alison LeBlanc (C/inf.) Brainerd
Incoming players: Kelly Medek, Kjelsy Loeffler, Ali Mathiason, Elizabeth Anderson, Jessica Michels, Bobbi Rogge, Malerie Riewer, Larissa Luther, Brittany Thorson, Chelsey Dabill.
"Malerie and Alison have both worked with pitching coaches this year and they're both dedicated."
But the cupboard isn't bare as the Raiders return three key components from last year's team in Lindsey Jourdan, Alison LeBlanc and Megan Anderson.
Lindsey Jourdan batted over .400 last season.
Jourdan, who played shortstop, hit over .400 and scored close to 50 runs. LeBlanc batted over .300 and scored nearly 60 runs. Anderson hit over .350, to go with five home runs and 10 doubles, while driving in 40 runs and scoring 32.
"We have a smaller, quicker team and we have more slap hitters," LeBlanc said. "We have powerful hitters but just not as much. I think we'll be more of a strategic team offensively."
Added Sullivan: "All three of the sophomores played a major role in what we did last year. Their leadership is already coming out. Allison reminds me a lot of Jean (Koester), who batted around .225 as a freshman but then her sophomore year she hit over .500. Alison has hit the weights hard all year and Megan has always had power."
With 10 incoming freshmen, Sullivan is hopeful he'll be able to find players to fill holes in a lineup that scored 381 runs last year. What the Raiders may lack in power, they will make up for in different ways.
Alison LeBlanc scored nearly 60 runs last season.
"Brittany Thorson is a shortstop who has as much power as anyone I've ever had," Sullivan said. "We have a couple of girls who are slap hitters and they do it very well. We might not have as much power, but we have a lot of speed and we'll use that to our advantage."
Even if CLC doesn't match the run output of last year's team, Sullivan is confident his defense will be able to hold down its opponents.
"Once we all get on the same page I think we're going to have one of the best defenses here," said Sullivan. "Lindsay will probably start at shortstop and Megan will probably be at first base. We'll probably put another one of our shortstops over at second base and maybe one at third. We just might be stronger at defense than hitting."
TROY GUNDERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
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