WEBSTER CITY - It's easy to look at what the Webster City softball team has returning to the fold this season and think it should once again contend for the North Central Conference title.
But it could also be argued that what the Lynx lost is enough to throw them back into the middle of the pack.
Only time will tell.
DFJ file photo by Troy Banning
A two-time all-NCC catcher, Maddie Anderson will move to first base this summer because of lingering issues with her knees.
Head coach Jess Howard brings back eight players with substantial starting experience and enough hitting electricity to power the entire town. What she's missing is a pitcher that has proven she can take on the elite teams and succeed on a nightly basis.
It will be virtually impossible, but WCHS - 25-7 overall and 17-1 en route to an NCC championship last summer - will try to replace do-everything pitcher Kaitlyn Biere, who took her skills to Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne after a career that included five all-state honors.
Biere also had plenty of pop at the plate; she hit .429 with 11 home runs a season ago.
Trying to fill those big shoes in the circle will be a bevy of pitchers. Mikaleh McCoy has ample varsity time, but she's still recovering from foot surgery in January that kept her in a boot for several months. Gabbi Hoversten, Erin Bahrenfuss and Leah Meyer are all options as well.
"We're going to see a lot more defense being played, but our pitchers have been working hard on their movement and hitting their spots," Howard said. "If our pitchers can hit their marks and our defense can make the plays, we should be pretty sound."
McCoy was the natural heir apparent to the pitching throne and Howard says she'll eventually get back to full strength. It's just going to take time.
"We're still looking at working her into that position," Howard said. "We'll throw her some this first week of games, but we're just not sure how much and how long. It's coming back faster each week, but we want to make sure she's fully healed."
The Lynx will also work in a new catcher. Maddie Anderson, a two-time all-NCC performer behind the plate, will move to first base because of lingering knee issues. She missed the entire 2012 season after tearing an ACL.
"Maddie had some more problems with her knees in the offseason and we just came to the conclusion that it's too hard on her knees," Howard said. "So we worked her in where her glove speed is going to help us and obviously we want her bat in the lineup."
New varsity faces Taylor Schnathorst, Cassidy Nerland and Catie Boyd will all get their chance to seize the spot behind the plate.
"All the girls have strengths in certain areas and weaknesses in others," Howard said. "They've all been working hard in the offseason to get their skills up where they need to be at the varsity level."
Outfielders Kaylee Schnathorst, Allie Flaws, Kennedy Highland and Molly Gilbert will all be back. Infielders Hannah Myers and Abbey Fuhs return, too.
McCoy and Kaylee Schnathorst were hammers at the plate a season ago. They combined to crank 11 home runs and drive in 22 runs; both finished the 2013 campaign hitting over .360 and had slugging percentages better than .600.
Anderson uncorked three long balls a year ago.
WCHS will have plenty of speed to go with all that power. Kaylee Schnathorst and Flaws swiped 24 bases each last summer.
"(Home runs) are kind of like 3-point shots in basketball, sometimes you live by them and sometimes you die by them," Howard said. "We want to be more consistent this year, hitting doubles and triples. The weight room is going to help us out tremendously. Along with having some power we're going to have quite a bit of speed."
WCHS will open up the regular season tonight at where it hopes the season will also end - Rogers Park in Fort Dodge. The Lynx will take on Fort Dodge Senior at 7:30 p.m.
WCHS will make its home debut and open up league play Wednesday against Clear Lake.