This will be the year of the rookies for the Central Lakes College Raiders softball team.
How 12 freshmen adapt to the college game will determine how successful the Raiders' season will be. And, CLC coach Bob Sullivan believes this freshmen class represents one of the most talented teams he has been around.
"This is definitely a rookie squad," he said. "I will also say, ability wise, this is probably as good as any team I've been involved with. We have a lot of ability, a lot of talent. We just need to play games together, keep improving as we go, trust one another."
Olivia Graham of Central Lakes College wound up at softball practice last week. Graham was 14-2 last season and made the all-division and all-state teams.
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The Raiders are coming off North Division, Minnesota College Athletic Conference and Region 13 championships. They graduated all but sophomore pitcher Olivia Graham from a team that won 37-straight games, finished with the most wins in school history (39) and placed fifth in the NJCAA Division III national tournament.
CLC is off to a 7-6 start this season after going 5-5 in Florida and 2-1 last weekend at the Irish Dome in Rosemount.
"I'm hoping we sent a message to the North that just because we have 12 freshmen we're not totally out of it," Sullivan said.
In 113.3 innings last season, Graham struck out 111, allowed 86 hits, walked just 32 with an ERA of 1.05 and a 14-2 record. She was all-division and all-state.
"We've got the right sophomore back," Sullivan said. "Olivia's gotten better. She's worked on her game. She's actually gotten more physical. She hit the weight room more. I think that's helping her game.
"She's working at batting a lot more. She didn't bat a lot her freshmen year. We've had her in the lineup every game this year. She's come through with some good singles. She's not afraid to get in the batters' box and swing the bat. She sees the strike zone real well."
The freshmen group includes shortstops Steph Neugebauer of Brainerd, Dawn Terfehr of Parkers Prairie and Brittany Gravelle of Parkers Prairie.
"Steph's been leading off and gets something started," Sullivan said. "She can bunt, she's got some power, she's got some speed.
"Dawn's very smooth at shortstop. She's also filled in at first base. She's got an excellent backhand. She can scoop balls out of the dirt."
Behind the plate, and in the outfield, is Tiffany Dixon of Pillager.
"She's a strong girl," Sullivan said. "She can play just about any position."
Larissa Luther from Bloomington Jefferson is the other catcher.
"Larissa's a very strong catcher," Sullivan said. "She bats in the No. 4 spot. The ball comes off her bat very well. She's going to have a lot of doubles."
Central Lakes College
Head coach: Bob Sullivan, sixth year, 150-42 (.781)
Assistant coaches: Heidi Rogge, Allison LeBlanc.
2008 record: 14-0 North Division, 39-3 overall
Returning player: Olivia Graham.
April: 4, Fond du Lac noon; 5, Hibbing noon; 7, Northland at Thief River Falls 3 p.m.; 8, Rainy River at International Falls 3 p.m.; 10, Vermilion at Ely 3 p.m.; 11, Mesabi at Virginia noon; 13, Itasca 3 p.m.; 15, Northland 3 p.m.; 18, Fond du Lac at Duluth noon; 19, at Hibbing noon; 21, Itasca at Grand Rapids 3 p.m.; 24, Vermilion 3 p.m.; 25, Mesabi noon; 27, Rainy River 3 p.m.
May: 2-3, MCAC state tournament TBA
Sophomore: Olivia Graham, P, Buffalo
Freshmen: Stephanie Neugebauer, Brainerd, IF; Chelsey Sorensen, IF/OF, Bagley; Carissa Utsch, IF/OF, Paynesville; Dawn Terfehr, IF/OF, Parkers Prairie; Hannah Wekseth, C, Barnum; Tiffany Dixon, IF/OF, Pillager; Hannah Wagner, IF, Staples; Larissa Luther, C/IF, Bloomington Jefferson; Brittany Gravelle, IF/OF, Maple Plain; Kelli Schweigart, OF, Park Rapids; Tika Klauck, OF, Brainerd; Ashly Erickson, P/IF, Little Falls
Hannah Wagner of Staples has been playing third base.
"She's solid," Sullivan said. "She had two home runs in Florida. She hits the ball well, she's very disciplined at the plate. Her sister (Becky) played for us about 10 years ago. They're absolutely identical."
Ashly Erickson of Little Falls will be the other pitcher.
"I think we'll pretty much rotate between Ashly and Olivia," Sullivan said. "Ashly kind of had a rough start her first couple games, now she's getting comfortable. She's getting used to our system and to the rest of the team. She's getting better and better.
"She's also a good defensive pitcher. She plays her position well. And, she hits well. She's a power hitter. If she's not pitching she probably will be in the lineup for batting."
Brainerd High School graduate Tika Klauck has been playing center field.
"Tika's got a lot of speed," Sullivan said. "She's been very good. She has a strong arm."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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