By Matthew Davis
If Champlin Park wants to improve on their fourth-place section finish, they will need their pitching and defense to get the job done.
“We will be a very good fielding team with quality pitching,” Rebels coach Brian Woodley said.
Ample experience returns for the Rebels around the diamond, in the field and on the mound. Those will hope to build on an 11-13 record and fourth-place finish in the section tournament last year.
Seniors Gabby Paulsrud and Maggie Cragg return to first and second base respectively. Sophie Johnson, a senior, will play at short stop again. Cragg batted .290 last year and had 11 RBIs. Paulsrud hit .255 and scored 11 runs, and Johnson had .300 average with 15 runs scored.
Junior catcher Emma Lehman gives the Rebels experience behind the plate. She hit .409 with 10 RBI and 18 runs scored.
Seniors Jordan Jennrich and Caitlin Jesh return to center and right field respectively. Cassie Meyer, a senior, will take the mound for the Rebels. Meyer had a 3.70 ERA with a 5-5 record and 31 stirkeouts.
The navy-and-silver lost a couple of key defensive players to graduation with Kara Stuckmayer at third base and Abbey Neddermeyer in the outfield. Stuckmayer also had a solid bat with .345 hitting and 14 RBI. Neddermeyer hit .260.
Offense remains the question marks for the Rebels. They manufactured 5.7 runs per game last year. The offense struggled in an 8-0 loss to Maple Grove for the season opener on Friday, April 11. Cragg and Lehman each had hits. Meyer went six innings of pitching and threw a couple strikeouts along with allowing just two earned runs.
“We will need to be more consistent with our offensive, but with senior leadership, that should become a strength,” Woodley said.
He expects his squad to become one of the top-half teams in the Northwest Suburban Conference and their section this season. The Rebels took seventh with a 4-6 record last year. Moving up will make every NWSC game a key one.
“We don’t have any days off because every team is a quality team in our conference,” Woodley said.
“We will find out early on where we fit in the conference picture because we play a lot of the teams that finished ahead of us last year early on in the season,” Woodley added.
NWSC teams have received plenty of preseason recognition. Elk River has a No. 7 ranking in the preseason poll, and Anoka received votes. Minnesota coaches voted Maple Grove and Centennial as two of the top teams in Section 5AAA. The Crimson also had a No. 3 ranking in the metro by the Star Tribune.
A late season gauntlet of Maple Grove, Elk River and Centennial will await the Rebels on May 5-12. It gets no easier a couple days later with Section 2AAA contender Eden Prairie on May 14.
More immediately, the Rebels will take on Park Center on Monday, April 16 at 4:15 p.m. The navy-and-silver then host their cross-river rival Anoka on Wednesday, April 23 at 4:15 p.m.