Does Pioneer’s tradition-rich softball program rebuild or reload?
Veteran coach Dave Riesen will find out this year after losing six starters from last year’s 39-4 team, including News & Eagle player of the year Katelyn Trumbley (33-4, 0.92 ERA, 323 strikeouts in 207.2 innings with only 30 walks and three homers allowed) and first-teamer Morgan Meyer (.500, eight homers, 57 RBI), who are now playing at USAO and NOC Tonkawa, respectively)
“I don’t know what to expect,’’ said Riesen before his team beat Watonga, 7-4 at a team camp at Pioneer Wednesday. “Sometimes the most enjoyable thing about coaching is getting a young group of kids without much experience and seeing how far they can go.’’
Riesen was encouraged by his team’s progress and attitude in the scrimmages. Mistakes were made, something expected from inexperience.
“We’re going to have to take the good with the bad, but as long as they play with enthusiasm and compete, I can live with the mistakes,’’ Riesen said. “They play hard and they are coachable.’’
Sophomore Gracie Peace, a starting second baseman last year, becomes the ace pitcher. She was 6-0 as a freshman, including a one-hitter against Pawhuska. Riesen said she learned from Trumbley last season.
Freshman Ava Milacek has done a good job behind the plate, Riesen said. “That’s a tough spot to put a freshman but she has done a lot of growing up.’’
Riesen is counting on leadership from returning seniors shortstop Aspen Stephens, who hit over .300 last season and third baseman Emma Nation.
They will be joined in the infield by junior first baseman Gabby Real and freshman second baseman Olivia Crespin, who has impressed Riesen with her hustle.
Cali Bergdall is back in left field. Freshman Miley Wedel or junior Madison Dunkin will be in center. The other will be in right.
Riesen had only 10 players on the roster as of Wednesday but expects to start the season with 11.
“We’re going to have to play through some stuff,’’ Riesen said. “Some days we look good and some days we look like what we are, very young.’’
His focus will be on”getting better every day.’’
“You either get better or you get worse,’’ Riesen said. “Our job is to get them better every day.’’
The keys will be performing the fundamentals, throwing strikes, playing good defense and showing improvement on offense.
“The more reps we get, the better we’ll be,’’ he said.
Riesen will be patient. He said Pioneer will feel the graduation losses, especially Trumbley and Meyer.
“You don’t replace those kids,’’ he said. “The other kids have to step up and fill the void. ‘’
Pioneer will open the season Monday against Kremlin-Hillsdale at 6 p.m. at Kellet Park as part of the Skeltur Conference-Cherokee Strip Conference Festival. The Lady Mustangs will also play in the Tri-County Conference.
Kremlin-Hillsdale beat Pioneer twice a year ago and were the only team to beat them in the regular season.
“Kremlin-Hillsdale will be really good,’’ Riesen said. “Alva is really good. Waukomis, Covington-Douglas and Garber are looking good. I’m excited to see how much we can grow this season.’’
Pioneer goes to the Skeltur Tournament Aug. 12-13 and will co-host the Highway 81 Classic with Chisholm on Sept. 1-3.