MCC Softball opens season Friday in Texas
A lot has changed since the MCC softball team last took the field in May as Region IX champions. Most notably the coach and seven players sophomores have moved on.
In July, former coach Kevin Kaalberg accepted the head coaching job at Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, Iowa – a job he said allowed him to be closer to his family. In October, former MCC assistant baseball and softball Coach Mike Mendenhall accepted the top softball spot.
“Basically, I came in late October with just nine position players and no pitchers, which was a little concerning,” Mendenhall said.
WEATHER PERMITTING, the 2022-2023 season begins Friday in Texas with a pair of games against North Central Texas College in Gainsville and two more games Saturday in Tishomingo, Okla. against Murray State College.
“I feel confident with the players we have, we will compete day-in and day-out,” said Mendenhall.
He credits Assistant Coach Rachel Conroy, who served as interim coach, for leading the efforts to retain freshmen from last year’s championship team, helping recruit new players, developing a pitching staff and generally keeping the team going in a positive direction.
“I am incredibly grateful to Coach Conroy and the ladies who decided to stick it out without a head coach in place – despite a lack of players,” said Mendenhall.
CONROY AND MENDENHALL were assistants on the 2016 MCC softball team and are focused on keeping the momentum going.
“Having never coached a women’s sport I relied on Coach Conroy back then to help me learn the different dynamics of coaching young ladies and she’s become a valued colleague,” Mendenhall said.
In 2016 they came into an established group and said they just had to “keep the train on the track.” This time, this season they are tasked with rebuilding the engine and “finding passengers.”
“She did a great job with them in the fall and has always been a pitching guru,” said Mendenhall.
Having served on an interim basis twice previously, Conroy said she stepped away from the team in 2019 as she focused her attention on her career and family. However, when she found out Mendenhall was named coach, she stepped forward once again.
“We learned a lot from each other and probably have a lot of the same mindsets, so it made sense to be more involved with the team again,” Conroy said.
“I think we make a good coaching tandem,” said Mendenhall.
THE COACH ADMITS it may be tough going in the early season and he expects the team to be tested, but they will have an opportunity to learn what needs improved.
“Realistically our first few weeks of games are going to be the only time we can get outside,” Mendenhall said. “It gets rather monotonous having to practice inside, but these girls have showed up day-in and day-out with great attitudes as well as work ethic.”
Following the first road trip of the season, MCC will go to Colby Community College for a pair of games Feb. 12 then return to Texas for four games at Clarendon with a pair of games Feb. 16 against Cisco College and two more Feb. 17 against Clarendon, and a game Feb. 18 against Midland College at Brownwood Texas.
MCC’s first home games are set for Feb. 26 against Colby.
AFTER INHERITING a short-handed team, Mendenhall and Conroy were able add three pitchers and two position players to go along with five freshman and four returners.
“It’s nice to have the leadership we do with our sophomores who were part of winning the region last year,” said Mendenhall. “They know exactly what it takes to be great.”
After winning the school’s first ever regular-season and post-season Region IX championships, MCC lost two games to Butler Community College, finishing the year with a 42-21 record – two games shy of making it to the NJCAA College Series.
Two sophomores were among those receiving honorable mention on the World-Herald team including outfielder Nevaeh Ogden (Littleton, Colo.) and infielder Madisyn Simms (Port Moody, British Columbia).
Ogden appeared in all 63 games as a freshman and batted .385 with 38 stolen bases. She spent time as a freshman at the top of the order as a left-handed slap hitter and also hit down in the order hitting stationary. Simms batted .373 with six home runs and 45 RBIs in 60 games. She slugged .571 hitting in the middle of the lineup.
Cassidy Fife (Provo, Utah) played a utility role for most of the season, but came on in her final 12 games and batted .375 with three home runs. “Cassidy has lots of pop in her bat and is a raw talent,” said Mendenhall. Fife hit .302 on the season in 35 games played.
Emma Pennala (Tricities, Wash.) is a slap-hitting outfielder who saw limited at bats (28) but as a pinch runner and defensive replacement scored 16 runs and stole five bases.
“We have an extremely tight-knit team with outstanding leadership coming from within,” Mendenhall said.
TO SOLVE THE PITCHING CONCERNS, Mendenhall and Conroy found two on the “transfer portal,” one in Australia, and one position player who is looking to get back to pitching.
“We were fortunate enough to fine three pitchers who were looking for a new home at semester,” said Mendenhall. “We ended up with three extremely qualified pitchers and eventually we hope, a fourth.”
Hailee Ruble (Delta, Colo.) is a 5-6 transfer from Tyler Junior College (Texas) where she pitched in 18 games last year pitching 34 innings with a 4.94 ERA and 17 strikeouts. Isabella Robertson (Los Alamos, N.M.) transferred from Garden City where the 5-9 pitcher has exhibited consistency in the zone in her time with her new team. Freshman Ella Covill-Marter (Queensland, Australia) joined the team at semester.
Ava Martinez (Houston) also transferred in at semester and is looking to compete for a starting spot in the corner infield positions.
“She has a great bat and is working her back into the circle after having ACL surgery a few years ago,” said Mendenhall.
OTHER INCOMING FRESHMEN include: Graci Nelson and Katie Taylor, both of McCook; Brylee Dean (Gering); Audie Suhai (Medicine Hat, Alberta); Kalyn Jackson (Highland Ranch, Colo.), and Leslie Barron, (Denver).
Nelson is expected to catch a lot for the team, and Taylor provides speed at second base. Dean and Suhai both have offensive pop that will give them opportunities to get into the lineup in multiple positions. Jackson is likely to compete at the corner infield positions while Barron recently joined the team as a utility player.
As far as expectations, Mendenhall believes while his team is a little thin in depth, he believes they will compete.
“I feel like we have enough quality players to compete with anyone in our region,” said Mendenhall.
The team will travel to Lamar March 2-4 for the start of the Region IX schedule with a three-day, six-team round-robin where every team will play one game against each other.
For all the up-to-date information on MCC softball this season including up-to-date scheduling changes, statistics, rosters and photos, please visit the official website of MCC Athletics at mccindians.com