NORFOLK, Neb. – The Northeast Community College softball team will search for a new identity heading into the 2020 season with eight returning sophomores and 10 newcomers. The Hawks will get their season underway against Highway 81-rival Central Community College at 1 p.m. on Feb. 24 in Columbus, Neb.
Head coach Iris Woodhead embarks on her fifth season as the head coach for the Hawks and has seen first-hand the growth of her players entering the new year.
“We have nowhere to go, but up based off last season,” Woodhead said. “This takes a lot of additional pressure off our players. We have talked a lot about growth and grit all year. My biggest goal for this team is just that, how do we handle the adversity that the game of softball throws at us?”
The Hawks return a key nucleus of players from last season, including Second Team All-Region member Maggie Berryman (Norfolk, Neb.) who will be a key piece in the lineup after tallying nine home runs and a .336 batting average as a freshman.
“We will need our hitters to perform this year,” Woodhead said. “The ICCAC is dominated by hitters and it we want to compete with the top teams, we need to be able to score runs. We bring back a knowledgeable sophomore class that understands the rigor of a long season played in a short amount of time. A doubleheader weekend is not something to think lightly of as it takes a lot of resiliency and grit to have a successful weekend.”
In the infield, Sydney Kelley (Omaha, Neb.) will be counted on to be a leader after earning Honorable Mention All-Region status and recording 11 doubles and a .336 batting average. Abby Pierce (Brainard, Neb.) returns for her sophomore season after adding depth at second base last season and recording 110 at-bats. Reagen Reicks (Charter Oak, Iowa) will once again be relied on to control first base after playing in 45 games a season ago.
Newcomers Payton Vellek (Yankton, S.D.), Kaylea Bailey (Schuyler, Neb.), Jenn VanDeWalle (Aurora, Neb.), Brianna Aguilera (Pierce, Neb.) and Alyssa Turner (Columbus, Neb.) will push for playing time as first-year members of the softball team.
“We have some talented freshmen this year and we are likely to find some freshmen in some key positions for us,” Woodhead added. “We need them to play unafraid softball.”
In the outfield, the Hawks return a majority of their production from 2019.
Lauryn Cardenas (Gothenburg, Neb.), Chantel Julian (Roseville, Calif.) and Jacqueline Denning (Sacramento, Calif.) will be looked upon as leaders in a hitter-friendly conference.
“Our sophomore class went through a tough year last year,” Woodhead said. “The girls had a rough fall season, regrouped in the winter and worked hard to recover in the spring. These sophomores have not forgotten the trials and last season and have come back ready to break through walls. I have been impressed with their leadership all fall and winter and fully expect them to continue to show it this spring.”
The Hawks welcome much-needed depth in the pitching circle alongside returner Madison McKewon (Springfield, Neb.), while Kierra Stewart (Dodge, Neb.) and Sydney Schmitz (Nebraska City, Neb.) will help boast the pitching rotation for Woodhead.
“If we show courage to fight through the adversity this season and put the team first, we should see success,” Woodhead added. “The bottom line is that we have to continue to grow throughout the season, so we can be playing our best ball in May.”