It’s sometimes typical to hear the phrase “new year, same team” when referring to the start of a new season. That’s not the case with the Hastings College softball team for their 2017 campaign, which will start up Feb. 11. The Broncos graduated six players from their 2016 roster including GPAC all-conference players Heather Sabata (1st team), Morgan Fisher (2nd team) and Taylor Erlenbusch (2nd team). The 2016 Broncos were top 10 in a number of statistical categories including: total runs scored (376), total runs batted in (343), and total hits (571). However, the 2017 Bronco softball team will likely have a different strategy than their powerful past.
Current Bronco senior and one of three team captains Cara Williams recognizes the differences in what she thinks the team will look like this year.
“This year is going to be a lot different because our strategy last year was fire power and hitting,” Williams said. “This year we are going to have a lot of lefties in our line-up. If that’s how it works out, we might have to use strategy a lot more than we have in past years – bunting, moving runners around and stuff more often.”
Williams, a three-year starter, injured herself in practice during the fall of 2016 while sliding during an intrasquad scrimmage. She has since recovered and has high goals for herself heading into this season.
“I have pretty high goals. I kind of derailed a little in the fall,” Williams said. “I got injured and I was out most of the fall and being able to lift weights, I wanted to get in there during off season to be able to hit more doubles, triples, homeruns, just be a little more productive for my team. . . I have really high goals for my last season, just want to end it on a good note, and just kind of take it game by game.”
Corrin Ziepke is the lone returning infielder for the Broncos. She is also the only returning NAIA All-American (2nd team). As a sophomore, Ziepke led the conference in runs batted in (62), which was a school record, and also hit a school record 18 homeruns. Her homerun total was also good for third in the country, while her RBI total placed her 14th. In now what is just her junior year, Ziepke talked about her personal outlook on the 2017 season.
“A lot of people have come up to me and said that I’m not going to get pitched to this year,” Ziepke said. “So I’m kind of just ready to take more pitches and more opportunities because I don’t think that I will get as many pitches.”
Ziepke, the reigning Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) Player of the Year, also recognizes the Broncos will have a challenge in producing offense with their new-look squad. However, she talked about who she is expecting to step up this season.
“I would say the older girls. . . They expect a lot out of themselves too, so I’m not worried about them,” Ziepke said. “They’re good leaders and we listen to them. . . We are back, we are kind of veterans. I want to expect a lot out of the younger girls but they haven’t seen it yet. It is a lot different from high school.”
One of the players Ziepke has expectations for is senior and team co-captain Chloe Boeka. Boeka, the two-time GPAC first team all-conference outfielder, hit .404 in her junior year, finished second on the team in hits (80), and led the team in walks (22). While Boeka recognizes the importance of hitting for average, getting on base is her primary goal.
“I’m a contact hitter,” Boeka said. “I pride myself on and my goal is to get on base as much as possible. My on base percentage is the most important thing to me. I make contact, I don’t strikeout a lot and I just try to set goals. I try to get at least 2 hits every game.”
While offense is important and has been a staple in the Bronco softball mantra, the defensive side, especially pitching, is of equal importance. The Broncos graduated two pitchers which accounted for nearly 82 percent of their innings. Taylor Erlenbusch was one of them. She was a four-time GPAC all-conference pitcher (2 first-team, 2 second-team). Referring back to their 2016 statistics, only sophomore Josie Bumgardner returns with experience coming off of a year where she threw 71 1/3 innings, collecting 78 strikeouts, a 3.83 earned-run average and finishing with a 6-2 record. Senior Cara Williams spoke about the Broncos pitching staff this year.
“Honestly we’re not sure because in the fall we were supposed to play in three tournaments and two of them got cancelled for weather,” Williams said. “. . . when we play in the spring in our actual season and we play some really good teams, we’re going to have to see how the girls do and just kind of go with that. It’s going to be different but I have all the faith in the world that our defense can back them up.”
While the Broncos focus their efforts on preparing for their non-conference schedule which will take place from February to mid-March, the GPAC preseason poll was released Jan. 18, 2017. Hastings College was picked fifth based on votes from coaches around the conference. Senior Chloe Boeka thinks fifth sounds fair.
“I think because we are so young, that’s about accurate,” Boeka said. “A big thing is we do have to stay healthy. . . if that doesn’t happen then who knows what can happen?”
The Broncos will open up their season Feb. 11 with a doubleheader against Ottawa University at 1 p.m. in Ottawa, KS. Their first home game will also be their first conference game against Briar Cliff on Mar. 18 at 4 p.m.
Although there is a lot unknown for the Bronco squad heading into the season, the one thing they do know is they are still playing softball.
“Obviously the game is the same,” Williams said. “You have to go get the outs and go hit the ball. Everybody’s played for their entire lives so hopefully we can all come together and have a successful season.”