Jamestown High School has an interesting blend of experience and up-and-coming talent on its 2018 softball roster. But who's going to patrol center field?
"Every year you can say you've got to find replacements, and some years are harder than others," said Blue Jay softball coach Mike Soulis.
Jamestown said goodbye last spring to three-time all-state center fielder and lead-off hitter Mariah Wick, who now plays for the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla. Early signs would indicate a Schiele sliding into the vacant position for the Jays. Senior Hannah Schiele committed just one error in left field last season, while freshman sister Rachel Schiele received meaningful time over in right as an eighth-grader.
But many questions will remain largely unanswered until Mother Nature decides to cooperate. Jamestown's scheduled season opener this Tuesday, April 3, hosting Bismarck Legacy has been postponed, leaving April 10's home doubleheader facing Dickinson as the new tentative start to spring for the Blue Jays.
Winter's late stranglehold remains strong, as snow in Jamestown continued to fall Friday, March 30.
"We got into the TRAC (Two Rivers Activity Center) Bubble on Monday and got in as close as we could to a scrimmage," Soulis said. "Valley City came over and the kids got to see some live pitching, along with fielding ground balls and fly balls off the bat. That was something you can't simulate in a gym, so that was good."
Jamestown will be led by its three seniors: Schiele, catcher Sydney Soulis and shortstop Olivia Nihill. All three have played integral roles for multiple seasons.
Schiele and Nihill both batted .361 last spring, as Jamestown came one win shy of qualifying for a third straight state tournament with a record of 17-19. Schiele posted a team-high 29 walks and scored 47 runs with on on-base percentage of .493, while Nihill produced eight doubles and drove in a team-high 41 runs.
Soulis led Jamestown in round-trippers, belting four home runs. The coach's kid is also a rock-solid backstop, posting 174 putouts to just one error last season.
The top of the batting order will likely go Schiele, Soulis, Nihill. Schiele, a converted left-handed slap hitter, also stole 31 bases in 31 attempts batting second to Wick last spring.
"We'll be relying a lot on those three seniors with what they can do on the field and their roles as leaders," coach Soulis said. "We also have a very good young group of kids, who all contributed to last year's team, maturing and gaining confidence in themselves."
Those athletes include freshmen Schiele, Ella Roaldson, Payton Gall and Jenna Fischer, and sophomores Alex Nihill and Rachel Woodley. Nihill and Gall are returning starting pitchers from last season, while Roaldson carried a big bat as an eighth-grader.
Roaldson, a corner infielder, hit .393 with a team-leading .589 slugging percentage and 14 doubles. Alex Nihill notched a team-high 80 strikeouts in the circle, while Gall rang up 68 batters.
Woodley is a third pitching option for the Jays and will likely see time at second base with Fischer. Gall is another corner infield prospect when not in the circle.
"All those girls were thrown into some situations last year and we as a coaching staff will be looking at them to take the next step up," Soulis said. "We've gotta be interchangeable and after some more practices we'll put the girls in positions where we think we'll be the most successful.
"We don't have to be playing our best softball (April 10), but we better be darn close by the middle of May and we've been able to do that the past few years."
The West Region will field nine teams this spring, as Minot Bishop Ryan joined the Class B ranks. Soulis expects the Blue Jays to be in the thick of another state-tournament hunt.
"I think at the top there's Bismarck Century followed by a close Dickinson, and Minot High is going to be up there," Soulis said. "After that there's us, Bismarck and Legacy, and Mandan is getting better every year. I think it'll be one of the most competitive seasons we've had in awhile from top to bottom."