BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEST POINT – It’s been close to eight years, but HTC’s blue and silver uniforms will be back on the varsity softball field this summer.
Not only is 1st year head coach Loren Menke dealing with the extra hurdles of the coronavirus, but putting together a varsity squad for the first time since 2012, has had just a few challenges.
Menke led the Crusaders to a 10-5 record last year playing a junior varsity/junior high school schedule. He said going into this year hasn’t been too much different other than working more with the Iowa High School Girls’ Athletic Union and navigating the coronavirus.
“I think we have the same hurdles as everybody else and we’re trying to follow the rules so we don’t mess it up,” Menke said Tuesday.
“I took all the girls temperatures here. I guess you don’t have to and I asked them to do it before they came, but I have a thermometer here so we get double coverage. The last thing we want is for anyone to get sick or spread it around, or even shut it down. So we’re trying to be cautious.”
The Crusaders will lean on Mary Hellige at the mound most of the year. Girls softball rules don’t limit pitching like boys rules due to the different throwing motion.
“Mary will be our No. 1 pitcher and will pitch the bulk of our season .We’ll play a JV schedule, too and we have three others besides Mary that will fill in the jayvee games. They’ll get some varsity time to give her a breather,” Menke said. “In softball you can pitch as much as you want.”
He said Hellige will also be counted on at the plate along with freshman Brooke Mueller and Kayla Box.
“Brooke was one our best hitters the past couple of years and she’s just a freshman. Kayla is a really good hitter as a freshman as well, and so is Mary.”
The Crusaders will certainly be one of the youngest teams as they jump back into Southeast Iowa Superconference varsity action this summer. Menke said aside from two juniors who’ve stepped in this year, the team will have four sophomores and seven freshman.
Raquel Schneider is one of the sophomores returning after a year away from the game. Menke said he will be relying on her at the plate as well as Kelli Meierotto and Anna Sobczak, also sophomores this year.
“We’re really young and expectation-wise my goals are to have fun and maintain a good level so we can keep doing this,” he said. “We want to be as competitive as possible, but there’s some really good teams around so we really don’t know what to expect. I realize last year we weren’t always playing the best players at other schools. So I don’t really have any expectations.”
HTC starts the 12-game, pandemic-shortened season on June 15 with a trip to Eldon to face Cardinal. Then the Crusaders have their first home varsity contest on Tuesday, June 16 against Central Lee. Each night is junior varsity followed by varsity with most games starting at 5:30 p.m.
Menke said getting the varsity program rolling has been quite a few years in the making, but he said numbers are still soft at the junior high levels and he wasn’t able to recruit enough players to field a junior high squad.
“But we have a lot of girls playing town ball so I’m really hoping we can sustain the program,” he said.
He said he expects West Burlington-Notre Dame to be at the top of the conference this year, but after that he said the conference could be wide open.
“Just from what I saw last year after junior varsity game or what I’ve read in the paper, West Burlington Notre Dame should be the top team in the conference, but after that everything looks pretty even,” Menke said.
“I don’t know what to hope for…I could can tell you what I hope for, but I really don’t know.”
2020 HTC CRUSADER SCHEDULE (tentative)
JUNE 15 AT CARDINAL
JUNE 16 CENTRAL LEE
JUNE 18 AT DANVILLE
JUNE 19 AT WINFIELD MT UNION
JUNE 23 NEW LONDON
JUNE 24 LOUISA MUSCATINE
JUNE 26 HILLCREST ACADEMY (varsity only 7 p.m.)
JUNE 29 VAN BUREN
JUNE 30 AT WEST BURLINGTON/NOTRE DAME
JULY 2 AT HIGHLAND
JULY 7 MEDIAPOLIS (7 p.m. start time)
JULY 13-15-17-20–REGIONALS (varsity only, times TBA)
JULY 27-31–STATE (times TBA)
JV/VARSITY DOUBLEHEADERS STARTING AT 5:30PM
HOME GAMES PLAYED AT SOUTHPARK IN WEST POINT