Blue Jay softball fell three runs shy of a third trip to the Class A state tournament in 2019 and was returning its entire team this spring.
First-year head coach Marissa Drenth had directed Jamestown High School to 16 wins and a dugout brimming with optimism following a season-ending 7-4 loss to Minot at the West Region tourney held last May in Minot.
But nobody could possibly know the actual verdict of that game -- the final high school softball game to be played by 2020 seniors Rachel Woodley, Alex Nihill and Sadie Meissner. The former junior trio combined to produce four of Jamestown’s 13 hits and a pair of runs that Saturday before auspiciously walking off the diamond carrying a “we’ll see ya next year” attitude.
“Obviously the state tournament was the goal, but us not making it wasn’t a huge deal because we didn’t lose anyone. We have everyone coming back,” Woodley said. “We knew that this year, this would be our year to do it.
“It’s been rough.”
Following North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s announcement that K-12 schools would continue distance learning for the rest of the academic year on May 1, the North Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors voted to cancel all spring sports. The unprecedented action is part of a global effort to help prevent the loss of life in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfulfilled expectations have hit Drenth the hardest. As a senior herself in 2015, the former all-conference shortstop helped lead Blue Jay softball to its first state tournament.
The current coach carried a .381 batting average to Dickinson for state competition, as the Blue Jays placed fourth and finished at 17-17 overall.
“I think it’s been difficult on everyone,” Drenth said. “Well, for me, I expect that one last opportunity to coach each of those seniors, and I expect to have the game where they all get honored and go out on a high note.
“Even talking to some of the underclassmen ... they talk about how we don’t ever get to suit up with those seniors again, and maybe we didn’t get to appreciate the last time we did.”
The seniors had a promising spring in front of them. Woodley slashed .380/.457/.451 at the plate and drove in 17 runs last season. She played her final game as the Jays’ extra hitter, but could both pitch and slot in defensively all over the field for Drenth.
Meissner, an outfielder/catcher, batted .339/.425/.419 with 18 RBIs, while Nihill (.358/.453/.457) played her final game at third base after pitching 31 1/3 innings with 34 strikeouts in seven starts for the 16-13 Jays.
“All three of those girls are such wonderful kids,” Drenth said. “All of them are very versatile and willing to do whatever the team needed. They would’ve been huge contributors this year and it’s disappointing to not be able to seem them do that and fulfill those roles of being leaders.”
Jamestown was also bringing back all-conference players Payton Gall and Ella Roaldson for their junior seasons.
Gall produced an ERA of 4.47 with 107 strikeouts in 94 innings as the team’s No. 1 starting pitcher, batting .473/.548/.736 with 10 doubles, four home runs and 28 RBIs to boot. Roaldson, a shortstop/first baseman, slashed a lights-out .514/.538/.883 with 25 extra-base hits (six homers), 37 RBIs and 48 runs scored.
Other key returners included Rachel Schiele, Jenna Fischer, McKenna Jackson, Katie Falk, Addi Douty, Alyssa Gange and Sid Kautz.
“What we keep preaching is everything happens for a reason,” Drenth said. “You choose to get stronger with your circumstances. So I think they’ve all kept their heads up well.”
Woodley, a Blue Jay varsity player since the eighth grade, will continue to play at the college level for NCAA Division III Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. The Cobbers and coach Chad Slyter produced a 7-5 record this spring before the remainder of 2020 was wiped out due to the coronavirus.
Slyter has coached the Cobbers since 2016.
“I’m really excited to go there,” said Woodley, who also plays travel softball in the summer with ND Elite and is planning to major in elementary education. “When I met with the coach he just told me that as long as I would buy into his philosophy there’s always room on his team, and the campus was amazing.
“I like playing second, but really I’m comfortable wherever. This past summer I played a lot of outfield and that’s probably what I’ll be doing this summer as well.”
Drenth isn’t surprised Woodley has found a home at the next level. It's just unfortunate her last high school step -- like so many others in 2020 -- was missed.
“That kid’s been a hard worker since the day I met her,” Drenth said. “I think it’ll be an amazing experience for her and we look forward to supporting her and watching her throughout the years as she embarks on that new journey.”