Beginning his second year at the helm, head coach Paul Hunt envisions another memorable summer ahead for the St. Edmond softball team.
After finishing 24-11 overall and 15-3 in the North Central Conference last season, the Gaels bring back a group of 11 letterwinners to their roster.
"We're really excited coming into this year and have a lot of talent coming back," Hunt said. "Our goals again are making it to state and winning conference. We had a really great offseason, and our girls have put in a lot of time and hard work. It's fun to see our program hit full swing."
Among the familiar names headlining the imposing SEHS lineup are returning all-NCC performers Josie Heesch, Katie Donnelly, Brigid Hanley, Allie Oberg, Anna Yung and Jaci Stumpf.
"We have 12 girls that on most teams could be a No. 2 through 5 hitter, but I really think our strength will be in our defense," said Hunt. "We had a tough time avoiding big innings from time to time last season, but now we've really stressed mentally to keep one mistake at one mistake and try to stay away from those big innings.
Seniors - Katie Donnelly, Josie Heesch, Allie Oberg, Katy Bocken.
Juniors - Cassie Sells, Jessica Kuebler.
Sophomores - Jaci Stumpf, Clare Flattery, Brigid Hanley, Emily Johnson, Anna Yung, Amanda Lansman, Shannon Flaherty.
Freshmen - Katie Ahlers, Cassie Brennan-Rowe.
Eighth-graders - Maggie Harvey, Megan Flattery.
May 20 - at Newell-Fonda; 23 - at Pocahontas Area; 28 - Hampton-Dumont; 29 - Bishop Garrigan; 31 - Humboldt.
June 1 - CYO Tournament vs. Granville Spalding; 3 - at Iowa Falls-Alden; 4 - Prairie Valley; 5 - Clear Lake; 7 - at Hampton-Dumont; 10 - at Eagle Grove; 12 - Iowa Falls-Alden; 13 - at Algona; 14 - FDSH?Invite; 15 - FDSH Invite; 17 - Webster City; 18 - Saydel; 19 - Eagle Grove; 20 - Greene County; 21 - Clarion-Goldfield; 24 - at Clear Lake; 26 - at Webster City; 29 - at Storm?Lake Invitational.
July 1 - at Humboldt; 3 - Algona; 5 - at Clarion-Goldfield; 9 - district tourney.
Donnelly and Amanda Lansman will once again provide the Gaels with a consistent tandem in the circle. Donnelly, a senior, went 16-7 with one save and a 2.04 ERA in 2012. The Fort Dodge Senior High transfer surrendered 126 hits - with 156 strikeouts - in 137 innings of work.
"Katie will be our ace and see a majority of the games," Hunt said. "She's really showing a lot of improvement since this time last year."
Lansman, a sophomore and former Prairie Valley hurler, was 7-4 in 12 starts over 66 frames as a freshman.
"Amanda is going to come in and throw a lot more than she threw last year," said Hunt. "Both Katie and Amanda really complement each other well. It'll be fun to see them go up and down orders."
Handling the regular duties behind the plate will be eighth-grader Maggie Harvey.
"Maggie is the most talented eighth grader I've coached," Hunt said. "She puts great at-bats together against our varsity pitching and really shows a lot of confidence. It's hard to imagine she's just an eighth-grader."
Oberg and Jessica Kuebler are each being counted on at first base. Oberg, a senior, boasted a .520 batting average with 26 hits, 17 runs and 13 RBI a year ago despite being sidelined for 17 games by a left wrist injury. Kuebler, a junior, notched a .277 average with 23 hits and 17 RBI.
"We're trying to find a way to close the gap from losing (unanimous first-team NCC pick and third-team IGCA all-state nominee) Timmi (Dencklau) at first," said Hunt. "Both Allie and Jessica have been swinging the bats really well."
At second base is senior Katy Bocken, who batted .311 with 14 hits and 12 stolen bases in only 19 games.
"We're excited to have Katy back after she missed the second half of last year to go on a trip to France," Hunt said.
Covering the hot corner will be the sophomore Hanley. In 2012, Hanley managed a .279 average, 22 runs, 19 hits and 14 stolen bases.
"Hanley is going to moveover from second to third, but she really adapts to the game well," said Hunt. "I don't think there's a spot in the infield that I wouldn't feel comfortable putting her."
Yung, another sophomore, returns at shortstop after batting .333 with 26 hits, 23 runs 19 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 35 games.
"Yung is quickly setting herself apart as our best defensive player," Hunt said. "She really fields the ball well and is throwing much harder than before."
Heesch (left), Cassie Sells (center) and Stumpf (right) will patrol their same positions in the grass.
Heesch, a senior, delivered a .378 average, 31 hits, 29 runs, 26 RBI, 18 stolen bases and a team-high 12 longballs in 31 contests last season. The Iowa Central signee, who is a two-time first-team all-league selection, has blasted 26 round-trippers during her career.
"It's really exciting to have that kind of power bat in the middle of our order," Hunt said. "I'm looking forward to seeing Josie drive in a lot of runs for us this year."
Sells is coming off a sophomore campaign in which she tallied 18 hits, 16 RBI and 16 stolen bases.
"Cassie has one of the purest swings on our team," said Hunt. "She's been working hard on pushing the ball up the middle and going to the opposite field."
Stumpf, a sophomore, batted .320 with 32 hits and team-highs in stolen bases (36) and runs (34) a year ago.
"Jaci is going to be our leadoff hitter again," Hunt said. "Her speed is a dangerous tool on the bases. She has the ability to turn base hits into doubles and doubles into triples."
Aside from Dencklau, the Gaels must also replace first-team all-conference third baseman Lexi Peed.
"We're going to miss the leadership from our corners," said Hunt. "They really did a lot for us defensively, and playing with a new chemistry in the infield will be an early challenge."
Defending NCC champion Iowa Falls-Alden (26-8 overall, 16-2 in the league in 2012), Webster City (20-14, 14-4) and Hampton-Dumont (16-12, 12-6) look to be the other top contenders for the conference title. SEHS, which placed third in Class 2A at the 2010 state tournament, captured two straight league championships in 2009 and '10.
Assisting Hunt again this season will be his wife Kasey, who previously served as Gael head coach in 2011.