Packers ready to play ball

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 4, 2002

It's hard not to have high expectations when a bulk of your team finished last season undefeated.

That's not to say the Austin High School softball team has not established a set of legitimate goals for itself this year, but the Packers are not going to flaunt something that hasn't happened yet.

The Austin softball squad has gone back to the basics after the graduation of nine seniors -- three of which were three-year starters for head coach Todd Waterbury. Filling some sizable shoes in the Packer camp is a team full of juniors that experienced nothing but success last season.

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The 2001 'B' squad went undefeated, leaving Austin cautiously optimistic for what might be this year.

"We don't want to say that we expect to win the conference this year, but we know we can compete if we focus on our new strategy and everyone gets on board with it," said senior co-captain Chelsea McColley.

McColley, the starting second baseman, and Stacy Draayer are the only two senior returnees from an Austin squad that finished last year 17-8 overall and tied for second at 13-4 in the Big Nine Conference.

The Packers' key returner, junior pitcher Amy Kelly, should again shine with stellar numbers from the circle. The only statistic that looms over Kelly would be one-run losses, something she and the rest of the team hope to iron out with a different approach at the plate.

Austin has adapted a back-to-the-basics attitude centered around scoring first, and not necessarily in bunches. Instead of waiting for the clutch hit, the Packers have decided to force the issue by playing small-ball. Bunting has become a premier aspect of practice for Coach Waterbury's club so far this preseason, which ends with tonight's season-opener with Faribault at Todd Park at 5 p.m.

"Two runs is a nice solid number that, with our pitching and defense, I feel would be good enough to win us most games," Waterbury said. "This year, instead of relying on the big hit, we're going to put the ball in play and force the defense to make plays."

Draayer, McColley and Kelly are three of four returners, with sophomore Keri Feller stepping into a full-time role behind the plate this year. Feller saw some action as a designated hitter with the varsity last year, and will be one of the prime power hitters in the lineup starting tonight.

The junior class makes up nine of the 12 members of the opening day roster for Coach Waterbury, who is not worried about last year's success stunting the squad's seasonal growth.

Kylene Erstad and Stephanie Eslinger will swat spots on the left side of the infield, and Nicole Turvey jumps into a vacant first base position. Betsy Hingeveld, Caitlin Jurgensen and Stephanie Sundberg will compete for the final two outfield spots, while Meggan Rider will be used as a utility player at any available opening. Teresa White will start the season in a reserve role for first base or catcher.

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