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Softball relishing underdog role

McKenna Sirek takes her turn inside the batting cage during the Wildcat softball team's practice in the high school auxiliary gym Thursday, March 29. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

The River Falls softball team may be young this year, but that doesn't mean opponents should take them lightly.

The Wildcats graduated seven seniors from last year's squad, including all-conference pitcher/outfielder Rachel Wakefield and infielder Sophie Lee, both now members of the UW-Stevens Point softball team. The bulk of this year's roster is made up of sophomores, but head coach Jess Olson said that doesn't mean they should be overlooked.

"We're going to be pretty young on varsity with nine sophomores, but the good thing is, these girls have been playing since 12-and-up with our youth program," she said. "It will be fun to see what they can do."

Skyler Ross headlines the sophomore class after starting as a freshman and batting .288 with two home runs and 12 runs batted in last season. Pitcher/first baseman Taryn Gullickson is also back after getting to the plate 61 times her freshman year.

The only other returning varsity players are shortstop Nelly Sabby, the lone senior on this year's squad who had a homer and six RBI a year ago, and junior outfielder Eryn Herrera.

"I'm really hoping that they step up and bring this younger crew with them," Olson said about the Wildcats' upperclassmen.

Gullickson and classmates Taylor Weick and Sydney Seeley will handle most of the duties in the pitching circle.

Olson said the biggest obstacle the Wildcats have faced so far this spring, like most other teams in the area, is getting outside.

"Right now the hard part is, our field is clear but it's still wet," she said last Thursday before a fresh blanket of snow fell earlier this week. "So it's going to be a little bit yet."

The Cats are scheduled to play their first game Monday, April 9, at Baldwin-Woodville, weather permitting. They are supposed to visit Osceola Tuesday, April 10, before opening Big Rivers Conference action with a doubleheader at home against Menomonie Thursday, April 12, beginning at 4 p.m.

Olson said she's excited about the future of the young Wildcat team.

"They're going to gain a ton of experience," she said. "We'll be underdogs, but we shouldn't be underestimated. Our girls have shown grit and determination in practice and anything is possible for these kids if they continue to put the work in."

Bob Burrows

Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.

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