The Central Lakes College Raiders softball team won't sneak up on anyone this year.
Last year was the first season for Dennis Eastman as the Raiders' head softball coach. His upstart Raiders won 23 games, including 18-8 in the Minnesota Community College Conference South Division, good enough for a second-place finish.
The Raiders won the Region 13 title and went on to finish seventh in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III tournament.
This year, conference foes know the Raiders are for real. They return enough players to be considered one of the early picks to win the conference championship.
Head coach -- Dennis Eastman, second year
Career record -- 23-10
2000 finish -- Second place in Minnesota Community College Conference South Division, Region 13 champions, 7th place in National Junior College Athletic Association Division III tournament
Volunteer coach -- Bob Sullivan
(3:30 p.m. doubleheaders unless noted.)
17-at North Hennepin
28-MN WEST, noon
2-at Bethany Lutheran
5-at Rochester, noon
11-12 Region 13A at North Hennepin
16-17 State Tournament at Itasca
Eight sophomores will provide veteran leadership for the Raiders.
Erin Thiesse, the Raiders fleet center fielder, will return. The slick-fielding sophomore from Brainerd led the team in walks and stolen bases. She was also selected to the all-conference and all-region teams.
Amy Martinson, second-team all-conference a year ago, will return to split time between first and third base. Martinson led the team with a .576 batting average, 64 hits, an on-base percentage of .763 and 89 total bases.
Third baseman Destiny Smith also returns. She swatted six home runs, four triples and knocked in 46 runs, tops on the team. A handful of other returnees will share leadership responsibilities.
Designated hitter/outfielder Heather Olson returns along with left fielder Becky Poster, second basemen Heidi Rogge and third baseman Becki Wagner, who also had 46 RBI a year ago to grab a share of team honors with Smith.
The Raiders' top pitcher and all-conference selection last season, Jenny Sovich, also returns.
"We should be a contender for the conference title," said Eastman. "But we won't know now until we get some games under our belts."
The Raiders only graduated Becky Wagner, another all-conference and all-region selection from a year ago. Wagner's 55 hits and .518 batting average were second only to Martinson.
Sophomores: Amy Martinson (1st base/3rd base) of Dassel-Cokato, Heather Olson (DH/outfield) of Two Harbors, Becky Poster (outfield) of Pierz, Heidi Rogge (2nd base) of Verndale, Destiny Smith (shortstop) of Dassel-Cokato, Jenny Sovich (pitcher) of Eagle Valley, Erin Thiesse (outfield) of Brainerd, Becki Wagner (3rd base) of Staples-Motley.
Freshmen: Toni Elyea (catcher) of Pine River-Backus, Beth Frost (outfield/infield) of New York Mills, Stacie Rousselange (pitcher) of Long Prairie, Cassey Veith (outfield/pitcher) of Brainerd, Katie Foss (shortstop/ 2nd base/ catcher) of Elk River.
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