When a team is coming off a season, in which it wins a state championship, one of the things the coaches and players like to do is to emphasize what they learned while doing it. The Minooka softball team is no different one year after winning the Class 4A state championship.
“What I’ve seen right from the start is what the returning seniors are doing. The juniors from last year’s team are really taking a leadership role,” Minooka coach Mark Brown said. “They are doing it on their own and helping the younger kids. We have two sophomores on the team this year, and they are taking them under their wings and letting them know what to expect. They are preaching the winning formula.
“Now it’s real. We were state champions last year and now this group knows what it takes to get there. They are instilling that to the younger girls. It’s in the climate this year – taking a winning attitude. We talk a lot about what it takes to win a game.”
Which they learned about last year despite a slow start because of the weather. A valuable learning experience in light of the terrible “spring” conditions again this time around.
“This is incredible. I thought last year was one spring you would get every eight to 10 years, but this one, I have never seen anything like it in my eight years here. We haven’t even been on our field yet and we are supposed to open up on Thursday,” Brown said. “But we can’t control that. What we can control is getting good practices and quality work in and when the weather finally breaks, we are going to try to get into a rhythm. The team was outstanding last year, but with the weather, it was so hard for them to get into a rhythm offensively. We’re doing more offensive practices this year because of it, and hopefully we can avoid that.”
Minooka went 23-8 last season, but lost several key members from that squad. Still, Brown said the team has quite a bit of talent coming back.
“The first thing I said to the team was that we can’t focus on what we lost and what we don’t have,” he said. “We’re going to focus on what we have and play to our strengths. We have some speed this year that we did not have last year.
“We have Jordyn Larsen and Marissa Burns, and they showed what they can do last year, especially when Sara Novak went cold last year. Jordyn and Marissa really carried us offensively at that time.”
It’s likely that Burns will return to the two-hole she anchored last season, but Larsen is going to be making the jump from the No. 9 hitter to No. 3.
“I don’t think we can hide Jordyn in the nine hole this year,” Brown said with a laugh. “We’re probably looking at running out Marissa two and Jordyn three. After that we have some quality power hitters in Caroline Brown, Geri Westerhoff and Meghan Quirk. We are looking for that group to drive in some runs.”
Sophomore slapper Alyssa Hajduk will likely lead off.
Larsen also thinks the Indians will be a threat again this spring with what they have returning.
“As far as the team goes, we lost a lot of seniors from last year, but we had a lot of talent on the bench. It’s definitely a different team,” she said. “Hitting wise, I think we will be stronger on defense, and I think our base running this year is going to be taken to a whole new level. We are a lot faster this year than we were last year. I think that will help us a lot this year – our defense and base running.”
One of the oddities from last season is that, despite winning a state championship, the Indians did not even win the Southwest Prairie Conference last spring. That makes winning the SPC a top priority, according to Larsen and Brown.
“I definitely think that’s realistic. In the past few years, we had won the conference, but we didn’t last year,” Larsen said. “It was kind of a rough season for us last year. Our first game last year was the first time we were outside.”
“That’s our No. 1 goal – to bring the SPC crown back to Minooka. We had been back-to-back champions but Plainfield Central is so tough. They claimed it back,” Brown said. “The conference is getting tougher, so we’re not going to take any team lightly. Last year, I think maybe our focus was on the playoffs, but this year were going to be playing one game at a time, especially conference games.”
Minooka lost two top-quality pitchers from last year in Novak and Jackie Lilek, but Brown says that there is a returning pitcher that shouldn’t be overlooked.
“We have four quality pitchers this year that are going to be seeing time. Megan Quirk was our No. 3 pitcher last year, but she was out with an injury [for state]. We could have been a three-headed monster last year, in my opinion, but she had a hamstring injury that ended her season about a month early,” he said. “She’s back and looking stronger than ever and we think she is going to head this pitching staff.”
Quirk was 2-1 in four games last year. She had an ERA of 2.30 in 21 1/3 innings.
Everything seems set for the Indians and their repeat run. Now if only the weather would cooperate.
“We kind of have to do what we did last year and wait,” Larsen said. “We can’t really do anything about the weather, but it will be exciting when we actually do get to go outside and play.”