Young leaders are back, ready for more success
BY DAVE PEDERSEN
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
Last season Rockford advanced to the state softball tournament for the first time in 23 years and this team does not want to wait so long for the next time.
“We lost five seniors to graduation last year, but have a good core of players that were able to get experience at the state tournament,” said coach Dawn Engebretson. “This group is very serious about softball and has high expectations for this year. It is a talented, hardworking group. They use every practice to get better and they help each other get better.”
The Rockets open the season at home against neighbor Delano, 4:15 p.m. Thursday, April 10. The last time the teams met was in the Section 5AA tournament, a game won by Rockford 9-4.
Rockford would go on to defeat Becker 3-1 and 7-0 to advance to state in Mankato. Taking a 16-3 record to the state, the Rockets opened with a 2-0 victory over Fergus Falls. New Ulm won the semifinal game 10-4 and Hermantown won the third place game 4-0.
The team has only a few senior this season, but proven young leaders. Junior captain shortstop Calder was named to the All-State second team as a sophomore.
Sophomore pitcher Bria Majeski was named All-State Honorable Mention as a ninth-grader. Majeski pitched the shutout win over Fergus Falls at state, allowing four hits to go with six strikeouts and no walks.
Last season ended so very well with a fourth place state tourney trophy, but it started out awful, mainly due to the late arriving spring. Practices were indoors, games were cancelled, the home field was unplayable to where Rockford was unable to host its own tournament and the first home playoff game was at Delano.
Through it all the team conquered all, advancing to state. This year is off to a better start since the team spent the spring break last week in Arizona, finally getting outdoors to play.
“It was a lot of fun and it was nice to get away from the snow to play on dirt for a change,” said Calder. “We didn’t play any games but did a lot of practicing. Everybody worked hard, stayed positive and got better as we went along. Fielding ground balls on dirt compared to a gym floor are different things.”
Calder said the team has some big holes to fill but the newcomers are willing to play anywhere. The Rocket junior varsity won the league title last year. The pitcher was sophomore Allison McNeal, who will provide backup depth on the mound for Majeski. So will Calder, who pitched when she was younger.
“Bria is looking really good,” adds Calder about Majeski, who primarily concentrates on softball year around. “She can throw a lot of different pitcher. Bria was good last year and is even better this year.”
Seniors returning to varsity are catcher and captain Megan Bode, outfielders Kaylee Schumacher and Megan Westrup, plus Courtney Schmidt at first base.
The other junior is infielder/catcher McKenzy Belanger. Sophomores include outfielders Hannah Carlson, Caitlin McNeal and Anya Cady. Engebretson said newcomers pushing for varsity spots are sophomore Payton Palmer, plus ninth-graders Brooklyn Sanderson and Emili Cain.
Players are young but got lots of action over the winter when playing in two club leagues. One was in the Plymouth dome and the other was in Vadnais Heights.
“By going to state last year we set the bar high for us this year,” adds Calder, who also is a standout in basketball and soccer. “We learned we have to work together to get to where we got.”
Engebretson, who is in her 17th season as head coach, was named Section 5AA coach of the year.
“We have some newcomers out for softball and that is always exciting to see,” adds Engebretson. “We would love to get enough players out for softball to add another team to our program.”
After the excitement the team created by making it to state, the program is has attracted attention.
Upcoming games include entering the Watertown-Mayer invitational Saturday, April 12, at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Monday, April 14 and home against Kimball Area Thursday, April 17.