GHS aims for long postseason

Amy Boldt
Brooke Nienhaus returns to the circle to pitch for the Lady Leaf softball team. Nienhaus is a senior on the team.

Reloading, not rebuilding, is the hope every year for the Lady Leaf softball team. The same holds true this year as Geneseo prepares for the 2009 season and a long run in the playoffs.

“We hope our program is in the shape where we can reload, not rebuild each year and have people in place to step in and do the job we need them to do,” said head coach Bob Pettit. “A lot of players are stepping into key roles (this year) without varsity experience.”

With practice underway and the program 35 girls strong, the Lady Leafs while still indoors are fine-tuning mechanics and bonding so they are all ready for the first contest.

“We are practicing well, working hard and the girls are excited,” said Pettit. “Even though some of the girls have played together before it is a new team and our main focus is trying to figure out who can play together and what makes us the best.”

The Lady Leafs lost six seniors to graduation, including 3/4 of their infield experience that totaled 11 years, which makes this year’s squad on the young side.

“That was unusual (to have that many years of varsity experience) and along with their talent you have to replace the cohesiveness the girls had,” said Pettit. “We are a little young in age, but that is kind of typical. We have a nice mix of upper and underclassmen. We just need games under our belts before we are experienced.”

Although the squad is young in age, the Lady Leafs return 11 letterwinners who all have some varsity experience.

Seniors Brooke Nienhaus (3-time letter winner), Brooke Anderson (2-time letter winner), Annie Lenz (two-time letter winner) and Ellyn Despain (one varsity letter) will look to lead the team with their experience in the 2009 season.

“I always expect our seniors to be leaders on and off the field and to pass on what they have learned from the ones before them,” said Pettit. “Brooke?Nienhaus is our only returning pitcher and we expect her to be key for our pitching. Annie Lenz is very versatile and has a willingness to play anywhere, while Brooke Anderson adds power to the lineup and Ellyn Despain is the ultimate team player. All four are keys to our chemistry and I am pleased with what they have done to this point.”

Four juniors returning to the team to add to the squad’s experience are Robin Schaefer (two-time letter winner), Katie Lenz (two-time letter winner), Maggie Bergeson (two-time letter winner) and Tawni Ricketts (one varsity letter).

“For Robin, Maggie and Katie it is their third year on the varsity squad and all of them have a lot of varsity experience,” said Pettit. “And Tawni had knee surgery (in the offseason) and has battled her way back.?I have to give her kudos on how hard she has worked.”

There are also three sophomores, Jenna Mickley, Lindsey Beighle and Allison Wiese, who earned their varsity letter as freshmen last year, returning to the team and will look to build on that experience and add depth to the squad.

“Jenna (starting catcher last year) has matured a great deal and her vocal leadership and confidence has improved,” said Pettit. “We really have great expectations for her behind the plate. Lindsey and Allison don’t have a great deal of experience, but we expect them to fill some of the spots we need filled.”

There are five juniors joining the squad for the first time and they are Abby Lavine, Samantha Peters, Lexie Clark, Allison Hudson and Nikki Kittelson, who are all looking to make an impact and help out the Lady Leafs.

“It’s primarly their first year and they have to work their way in and understand the varsity level,” said Pettit. “I expect them to battle for positions.”

Three freshmen newcomers to the program and varsity squad are Olivia Goethals, Taylor Wise and Emily Zaderaka.

“We are looking for them to get their feet wet,” said Pettit. “We anticipate needing additional pitching help from Wise and Zaderaka and Goethals has speed in the outfield.”

With spots to fill in the line up, the Lady Leafs are having some healthy competition between teammates for positions this season.

“We do have a lot of competition for spots,” said Pettit. “We are getting a good, hard look at everybody.

“Shortstop and third base had been held by four year varsity players and Robin Schaefer, Brooke Nienhaus and Jenna Mickley are the only returners in the infield. So the rest is up for grabs, as well as in the outfield.”

Depth in certain areas such as pitching and catching (behind Nienhaus and Mickley) could be a potential weakness for the Lady Leafs, but coach Pettit stated the girls are working hard and Despain has been working hard to give depth to the catchers spot.

When looking at a strength of the entire program, coach Pettit views depth as a positive.

“We have lots of very good hitters and I expect our offensive skills to be a real strength,” said Pettit. “And I look for us to score a lot of runs.”

As far as the competition in the NCIC this year, the Lady Leafs can expect nothing less than what they were faced with last year. Geneseo finished second to LaSalle-Peru last year and the Cavaliers return another good team. The Streator Lady Bulldogs are another one of the biggest challenges for the Lady Leafs, followed by Sterling and Ottawa, who can’t be overlooked.

“The NCIC is no cake walk, no matter where you go,” said Pettit. “I feel we can contend for the championship again and we haven’t finished lower than second for 12 years.”

Coach Pettit stated one of his goals is for his team to win the NCIC title, but more importantly the primary objective is for the Lady Leafs to go deep into the postseason.

“That’s what we play for,” said Pettit. “The teams that play the best in the end are those who have met the challenge. It is more important how you end up than how you started.”

Last year, the Lady Leafs started the postseason with a 7-3 win over Rock Island, followed by a 2-0 victory over Alleman for the regional championship. Geneseo went on to beat Morton in the first round of sectionals, 6-5, but then fell to Limestone, 9-2 in the sectional final. Geneseo ended the year with a 30-8 overall record and a 7-3 mark in the NCIC.

The Lady Leafs open the season on the road at 4:30 p.m. March 17 against Morrison. 

Robin Schaefer fires the ball to first for the out. Schaefer is a junior member of the Lady Leaf team.