2024 Softball Preview

Teams optimistic hard work will bring success

By Joe Peine
Posted 3/27/24

The Spring Valley Cardinals softball team is gearing up for another season starting this Thursday when they host Mondovi. The Cardinals finished last season fifth in the conference with an …

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2024 Softball Preview

Teams optimistic hard work will bring success


The Spring Valley Cardinals softball team is gearing up for another season starting this Thursday when they host Mondovi. The Cardinals finished last season fifth in the conference with an overall record of 5-12. As Head Coach Amy Shafer heads into her second season as skipper, she says that last year was productive and laid the groundwork for this year’s successes.

“Of course we would have liked to finish a little higher in the conference, and we lost in the first regional in a one-run ball game, but it was a season of ups and downs. I feel like we established a good relationship and team attitude in my first year coaching,” Shafer said.

Coach Shafer said although they only lost two seniors in the offseason, those two leave big positions to fill, both on the field and in leadership roles.

“Tyra Johnson played first base and Kaylee Eschenbach did all of our catching. Both were solid on defense and two of our power hitters,” Shafer said. “We will actually have an entirely new infield. It may take a few games to settle into their spots, but I'm confident the players have the fundamentals to move easily between positions.”

With the shuffle this spring, it’s familiar faces in unusual places for the red birds infield while other upperclassmen will continue to hold down the fort at their natural positions.

“I'm looking forward to senior Olivia Schlegel moving from short to catching. She's a versatile player with a lot of experience, so I expect her to anchor the team as catcher. Senior Amariah Klein will also fill a spot in the infield. I'm excited about her arm, and she is hitting the ball very hard this spring,” Shafer said. “Senior Pride Beyer will continue to anchor our outfield in center. She did a tremendous job last year, and we're looking for her to continue covering a lot of ground and coming up with some big plays. I also expect senior Maddie Shafer to again be our leader on the mound. She pitched 125 strikeouts last year, and she's been working hard in the offseason to make this season even better.” 

The needle is definitely pointing up for the Cardinals as they look to finish near the top of the Dunn-St. Croix Conference in season two under Coach Shafer.

“The players are going to need to be versatile with different positions, and I believe they're prepared to do that by having good fundamentals. This is a tough conference, so I think we need to focus on good defense and pitching to keep our opponents off the bases,” Shafer said. “We need to have the mental toughness and competitive attitude to land on the winning side of the close games.” 

First pitch for Thursday’s game against Mondovi is at 5 p.m. at the downtown location in Spring Valley.


The Ellsworth Panthers softball season starts next week when they will play four games in five days.

The Panthers are coming off a great season where they finished third in the Middle Border Conference with an overall performance of 15-5. Head Coach Tom Diercks says that although they started the season strong last year, they struggled down the stretch and into playoffs.

“Injuries hurt us a little late in the season,” Diercks said. “Our conference will be strong again this year. Baldwin, Prescott, St. Croix Central and Somerset should all be battling for the top spot, and I expect we will be right in that mix. Altoona also has strong pitching and could make some noise.”

Coach Diercks says that if they can get more consistent as a team and stay away from allowing the occasional big inning, they can compete against anyone.

“We have a tougher schedule and more games this year, which hopefully will challenge and toughen us up for a run in the playoffs,” Diercks said. “Practices have been good, a nice group of ladies who seem to all be on the same page and bond really well. Our captains will be Aliza Acker, Aubrey Wittenberg, Morgan Kolodzienski and Delaney Johnson. Along with our other seniors, we should have good positive leadership.” 

It's been a nice spring for the team who was able to get outside early with the warm weather, but they’ll get a break this week with a dose of a normal spring snow and cooler temps on the way.

“We lost three seniors; Kallie Beissel was our top pitcher who we'll need to replace. We have senior Madi Peterson and junior Aliza Acker who have lots of experience and look strong this spring as well as junior EmmaJo Meier, who should get some innings,” Diercks said.

Diercks says they have a well-rounded roster with strong and experienced seniors leading the way.

“With returning starters Molly Janke, Aubrey Wittenberg, Josie Pechacek, Morgan Kolodzienski as well as Madi. Senior Mya Hill will also be in the mix at first or DP,” Diercks said. “Then we have junior returning starters in Aliza, Delaney Johnson. Junior Aaliyah Huppert snuck up on us a little last year and was a really strong hitter late in the year, and we expect her role to increase. We also expect junior Karli Gutting to step up into a starting outfield spot. Then we also expect sophomore Maggie Pechacek to compete for playing time as well.”

With the team ready to hit the ground running, they will get ample opportunity to do so starting with two away games on Monday in River Falls at 4:30 p.m. and Tuesday in Amery at 5 p.m. The Panthers then return home where they will face conference rival Amery a second time on Thursday at 5 p.m. and then host Red Wing on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in their final game of a loaded first week of competition.


The Prescott Cardinals softball team will start their season on Tuesday with a four-game slate played over the course of five days. The Cardinals finished the Middle Border season in a tie with Baldwin-Woodville (18-5) for first place last year with a superb overall record of 21-6. It was Prescott’s second conference championship in as many years.

Prescott would advance to the sectional final game, beating B-W in the semifinals before ultimately losing to Somerset, coming up just short of making it to the state tournament. Head Coach Nick Johnson would like to correct that this year.

“We had a great year last season. The loss to Somerset in the sectional final was a devastating way to finish, and it was not how we expected to end it, but that’s sports, you get the highs of the Baldwin win and the lows of losing one game away from state,” Johnson said. “Replacing last year’s phenomenal group of six seniors will not be an easy task, but we will rely on our core group of returning starters to lead this team. We have plenty of players who have been patiently waiting for their opportunity to compete for the open positions left by the departure of last year’s seniors.”

The Cardinals coaching staff is confident the team they put on the field this year will match the competitiveness and excellence that the Prescott softball program has come to represent; their schedule this season will mirror that expectation. According to Coach Johnson, it is one of the toughest slates in the state and will challenge the team to perform at a state tournament caliber level each and every game.

“We will need a lot of newcomers to take on huge roles for us. We lost six seniors, four of which were starters, but we return a great core,” Johnson said. “We only have two seniors who will be big contributors, Megan Richter and Ella Stewart, and they’ll need to take on leadership roles. We feel that this team could be very successful this season, we just need the underclassmen to step up and lead this team.” 

Although they may be short on seniors, the Cardinals welcome back three all-conference selections from last year’s squad. Leah French was a first team selection, Kelsey Sterud was second team and Rory Zuehlsdorf earned an honorable mention. French was also named honorable mention all-district.

Coach Johnson says practices have been going great, and his team is focused and determined to achieve big goals this season. Those goals are duly justified as the Cardinals have experienced nothing but success since he took over. In addition to the consecutive MBC championships, Prescott has also won three straight regional championships and finished second in the state in 2021, making it all the way to the championship.

With games starting next Tuesday, the Cardinals will be coming in hot playing four games in five days in week one.

First up are back-to-back Middle Border Conference match-ups against St. Croix Central, the first on the road on Tuesday and the second at home on Thursday. Both games have a first pitch time of 4:30 p.m. They finish the week by going on the road to face Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau on Friday at 5 p.m. before returning home to play St. Croix Falls at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

River Falls

The River Falls Wildcats’ first softball game of the season is this Thursday when they take on Somerset in their home opener. The Wildcats finished in the middle of the pack in the Big Rivers last year, albeit with a stellar overall performance finishing 16-8.

Head Coach Matt Smith says they were excited about their record last year, especially because they finished 9-1 in non-conference play and 7-7 in a very tough conference.

“We were tough to beat when we threw strikes, played catch, focused on getting outs and then put the ball in play on offense and put pressure on the defense on the basepaths,” Smith said. “We got the nine seed in our sectional and were able to beat the eight seed Hudson Raiders by a run in our first-round game. We then got beat by a really good Superior team that finished as the state runner-up. So overall, I feel we were all pleased with our body of work for the season.”

The Wildcats lost five seniors in the offseason that all played different and important roles for them, according to Smith.

“Jake Pederson was our manager, Alisha Latham gave us steady leadership as a three-sport athlete and captain, Star Deiss who gave us speed on the basepaths and scored the winning run in our playoff win over Hudson,” Smith said. “We also lost Avery Amidon who is now play at D2 Bemidji; she was a true compass for our squad on our journey. Ali Laube stood up for us big time taking the ball as our #1 pitcher and put the team first as a competitor and had a tremendous year for us.”

Smith says even though they lost some integral upperclassmen, they have three seniors this year who are all in positions to be impactful leaders for them both on and off the diamond.

“Jordan Torrez, our catcher who was a second team all-conference catcher last year, Jordan Schwantz who has anchored the shortstop position and been an all-conference performer multiple years and Lily Burke, who is our returning centerfielder and first team all-conference performer last season,” Smith said. “They all understand our mantra ‘Stick Together’ and lead by example with their effort and attitude in all they do. We also have two returning junior starters: Alexis Ralston at second base and Jorgia Bengtson in left field who had nice seasons last year and know they have a role as upperclassmen this year to step up as leaders for us, and I know they will.”

Two sophomore starters will also return in Ava Larsen, who played third, and Morgan Kivel, who was in right field last year but will look to shift to the infield this season. With solid players around the diamond, Coach Smith says their mound work is going to be the key to competing for a conference championship this year.

“Pitching is a big one. Ali threw a majority of our innings last year and did a phenomenal job for us. Audra Adermann threw around 45 innings for us last year as a freshman and got some valuable experience; she will be our #1 this year and knows she needs to command the strike zone and have the confidence to let our defense work behind her,” Smith said. “When Audra is in, she is tough and puts us in a good spot to compete. We have a couple freshmen that have looked good in the gym that we may need to toe the rubber for us on varsity and some sophomores that have been putting in solid work as well.”

Smith says they also need to realize they are not going to be overlooked by teams this year.

“We snuck up on a few teams last year and got some wins that maybe were not anticipated by people on the outside. We did not take things for granted last year with our approach and preparation, and we need to know this year for sure we'll have to play well game-in-game-out to put ourselves in a spot to win with the extremely tough schedule we have,” Smith said. “We really stress not getting bored with the basics, which makes the great ones great.”

With practices in full swing, Coach Smith says they had a lot of girls gone over spring break for week two.

“We only had a handful around that week and they all worked hard,” Smith said. “We will have to find our rhythm again with our entire squad this week with everyone back as we hit the ground running with games now. We'll see what Mother Nature does this week and into next week and our hope is to get outside soon and get rolling. For now, we'll focus on the basics and sticking together in the gym.”

Last year was Smith’s first as head coach along with varsity assistant coach Ryan Scherz, Chad Visger as JV head coach, Rachel Young-Subera as JV assistant coach and Kristy Wickboldt as pitching coach. So, to have 16 wins after such massive turnover of coaching was a huge success for the program and a nice boost to the confidence of the team heading into this season.

“Most of our new initiatives were last year with our vision and approaches. The former head coach prior to me, Chantele Dulas, has been tremendous with her help in the transition and her support for the program. This year is all about staying positive and sticking together,” Smith said.

The team also added two new assistant coaches this year in Alex Helmer and Megan Thoennes.

Weather permitting, the Wildcats will get a chance to put all this together when they host the Somerset Spartans on Thursday at River Falls High School. First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

Spring Valley Cardinals, Ellsworth Panthers, Prescott Cardinals, River Falls Wildcats, girls softball, preview, spring sports