So far this spring, Mother Nature has been the major opponent for a Southwestern Community College softball team with high expectations for the 2013 season.
After an eight-game trip to South Carolina last week, going 6-2 at the Snowbird Classic, four straight home doubleheaders have been postponed by wintry weather and wet field conditions.
Marshalltown CC and Southeastern CC were scheduled to play at SWCC on Wednesday and Thursday, with the Marshalltown twinbill moved to April 11. This weekend, the Spartans were supposed to host NIACC on Saturday and Ellsworth on Sunday, but now those dates are April 6-7.
If possible, Southwestern is set to host William Penn JV on Monday, but the weekend forecast makes that another iffy proposition.
“The early schedule is already a mess,” said eighth-year coach Lindsay Stumpff. “It’s been so different than last year, when it was so nice.”
The freshman-dominated Spartans of 2012 went on to post a school-record 43 victories, falling to first-year program DMACC in the regional finals. Stumpff is assisted by volunteer coach Todd Verwers, who surpassed 200 career wins last season while guiding Martensdale-St. Marys to the Class 1A state championship over Earlham.
Southwestern was selected as an NJCAA Division II NFCA Regional Coaching Staff of the Year in 2012. That team was just the third SWCC squad to reach a regional final, finishing the season at 43-21.
SWCC fell 5-1 to DMACC in the final game of the double-elimination regional tournament. The Spartans entered the Region XI Tournament as the four-seed, but went undefeated until losing two games in a row to DMACC, after earlier defeating the Bears.
Along the way, Leah Kipfer, Londen Miller and Danyielle Barger all surpassed the previous single-season record for hits on a Spartan squad that hit .329 overall.
Kipfer and Barger are among several returnees on the 2013 team. Essentially, Stumpff only had to fill one infield and one outfield position from last year’s starting lineup, as top pitchers Courtney Wagner and Kipfer also return.
“We have very high expectations for this year,” Stumpff said. “It’s nice to have that experience, and I feel very comfortable with the people we have stepping into the (open) positions.”
Last year, Iowa Central and Kirkwood were each nationally ranked in taking the top two spots of the regular-season standings in Region XI Division II, but neither made the finals as third-place DMACC and fourth-place SWCC went all the way to the championship round.
DMACC’s run to the national tournament garnered some respect, but this year’s preseason poll ended up similar to a year ago.
“We were picked to finish fourth in the conference,” Stumpff said, “which I’m OK with. We don’t have a target on our backs. But I think we’re going to finish higher than fourth. Our team is a year older and they know what to expect.”
Kirkwood, which has freshman pitcher Amber Logemann of Earlham, is the top league pick this spring. Logemann lost 1-0 in extra innings to Martensdale-St. Marys in last year’s 1A state finals.
DMACC, also a freshman-laden team last year, is picked No. 2. Among the Bears’ new recruits is infielder Katlin Briley of Creston. Iowa Central, hit hard by graduation last spring, is the third pick.
The key for a successful softball season often starts at the pitching rubber, and that should be a strength for the Spartans this year with the return of Wagner and Kipfer.
Wagner, former Ottumwa hurler, went 21-5 a year ago with a 2.79 ERA. In 171 innings she had 161 strikeouts while opponents batted. .257. She picked up where she left on the season-opening trip, winning three games, including a 1-0 shutout of 15th-ranked Delaware Tech. Her only loss was another 1-0 game against third-ranked Brookedale.
Kipfer, who plays first base when not pitching, was 15-11 in 2012 with a 3.14 ERA. She also went 3-1 on the southern trip.
Kipfer, of Albia, is also an offensive force with a team-high 82 hits last year for a new school record, while batting .432 with eight home runs and 68 RBI in 57 games.
Sophomore Carla Smith of Creston returns as the primary catcher, after successful recovery from knee surgery. Smith hit .329 as a freshman, also leading the team in sacrifices.
“Carla has been splitting time catching early in the season,” Stumpff said. “We don’t want to push her too far. She had knee surgery over the summer and went through rehab all fall. She started up again just before Christmas.”
Barger at third base and Hanna Sneed at shortstop return from last year, hitting .354 and .284, respectively. With Londen Miller graduated, freshman Ashley Strong of Vinton-Shellsburg steps into the second base role. Strong was a third-team all-state shortstop as a prep senior.
Outfielder Sarah Meineke transferred after one year, leaving a hole in the outfield. Primarily, Stumpff plans to move returnee Ashley Brandt from center to left, creating an opportunity for fleet freshman Alex Snyder of Treynor to play in center.
“Snyder is aggressive on the bases, which helps us offensively,” Stumpff said. “Both she and Ashley are quick in the outfield and get a good jump on the ball.”
Dominique Tolle (.331) returns in right field.
Several other Spartans provide valuable depth in a busy season, including two area players in sophomore catcher-infielder Tessa Otto of Murray and freshman first baseman Sami Borland of Lenox.
Southwestern appears poised to have another strong hitting season, scoring 35 runs in the first three games in South Carolina — 11-0 over Glen Oaks, and 11-0 and 13-6 over Miami Hamilton University.
Weather permitting, a key conference matchup is on tap Wednesday against Iowa Central. Originally scheduled for Fort Dodge, the doubleheader is slated for 3 p.m. at SWCC. Kirkwood’s Logemann, who won a regional final in Creston against Corning, makes her return at SWCC on Saturday, March 30.
Briley and the DMACC squad visit SWCC on Wednesday, April 24.
Sophomores — Carla Smith, C, Greenfield; Tessa Otto, C/2B, Murray; Kelsey Moore, OF, Centerville; Ashley Brandt, OF, Havenhill; Courtney Wagner, P, Ottumwa; Dominique Tolle, OF, Richland; Hannah Sneed, SS, Malvern; Leah Kipfer, P/1B, Albia; Danyielle Barger, 3B, Centerville; Taylor Powers, C/IF, Council Bluffs; Devan Kline, DH/C, Brooklyn.
Freshmen — Ashley Strong, 2B, Vinton; Sami Borland, 1B, Lenox; Brooke Wolf, C/1B, Guilford, Mo.; Alex Snyder, CF, Treynor.
March 25 — vs. William Penn JV, 3 p.m.
March 27 — vs. Iowa Central, 3 p.m.
March 28 — at Grand View JV, Des Moines, 2 p.m.
March 30 — vs. Kirkwood, 1 p.m.
March 31 — at Iowa Lakes, Estherville, noon
April 3 — at DMACC, Boone, 3 p.m.
April 4 — at Central CC, Columbus, Neb.
April 5 — at Central CC, Columbus, Neb.
April 6 — vs. NIACC, 1 p.m.
April 7 — vs. Ellsworth, noon
April 12 — vs. Central CC, 3 p.m.
April 15 — at Grand View JV, Des Moines, 2 p.m.
April 17 — at Iowa Central, Fort Dodge, 3 p.m.
April 20 — at NIACC, Mason City, 1 p.m.
April 21 — at Ellsworth, Iowa Falls, noon
April 23 — at Southeastern, Burlington, 3 p.m.
April 24 — vs. DMACC, 3 p.m.
April 26 — vs. William Penn JV, 3 p.m.
April 27 — vs. Iowa Lakes, 1 p.m.
April 28 — at Kirkwood, Cedar Rapids, noon