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DSU continues where it left off

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson State sophomore Monique Yslas, right, throws to first base to complete a double play against University of Great Falls during the NAIA Unaffiliated Tournament May 5 at Gress Softball Complex.

Last season, the Dickinson State softball team’s starting lineup consisted mostly of freshmen.

Despite the inexperience, the Blue Hawks found great success, going 25-16 and made an appearance in the NAIA national tournament.

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With a majority of the team returning, the team and head coach Kristen Fleury are looking to build off their achievements and go further into the postseason.

“The experience the freshman got last year and bringing it this year into their sophomore season is just huge to begin with and helps us tremendously,” Fleury said. “They got their feet wet they know what to expect and they know where they want to get to now.”

DSU started last season off splitting doubleheaders but peaked at the right time, winning 15 of its last 16 games to win the regional tournament and move forward to the national tournament. The Blue Hawks, however, couldn’t keep up the winning ways and lost its first two games of the national tournament.

Despite the accomplishments of making the postseason, junior pitcher Regan Lawrence said she was disappointed in the final result because of the team’s potential. However, with the returning talent and added newcomers, she feels this season could be their year to shine.

“We’re looking like we have a lot of potential so I’m excited for the season to go,” Lawrence said. “Our defense is looking really strong and honestly, our offense is looking the strongest that it’s been since I’ve been here and it’s my third year so I’m really excited.”

One of the major improvements for this season is team chemistry and leaving the drama off the field. Junior pitcher Janell LaRont said every player on the team gets along which makes for a healthier playing environment.

As a returner, the biggest thing LaRont wanted to see addressed and improved from last year was team morale and helping each player after they made an error.

“Even if they made a mistake, say I’m pitching and someone made a huge mistake on the field that made me look bad, I would still pick them up even though I would be mad at them, there’s no difference,” LaRont said. “They’re still you’re teammate.”

DSU returns seven all-conference players to the field who are expected to make a serious impact at their respected position. After missing the 2013 season to ACL surgery, senior Lindsey Sullivan is finally healthy and ready to get back in the game.

In 2012, she led the conference and the team in hitting with a .407 batting average, eight home runs, 51 RBIs, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and stolen bases with 97.

In pitching, Fleury said LaRont, an all-conference returner, and Lawrence will be her two go-to starters. LaRont went 5-2, threw four complete games, struck out 22 batters and completed the season with a 2.53 ERA. In 50.2 innings, Lawrence finished with a 7-4 record and collected 26 strikeouts.

“We’re going to look for her to get more innings on the mound and be a dominant pitcher for us in the circle,” Fleury said about LaRont. “She’s also one of our top hitters. We’re excited for her to return. She’s a leader on and off the field.”

The slew of freshman from the previous season return as experienced sophomores and are led by shortstop Alex Vargas, the reigning Freshman of the Year for the conference. She led the team with 55 RBIs, hit .381 and was second with 99 total bases and a .721 slugging percentage.

Other big sophomore returns are all-conference players Rebecca Lopez and Monique Yslas.

One of the biggest freshman additions to the Blue Hawks is centerfielder McKenzie Kenobbie who will not only start, but hit in the top spot of the lineup.

“She has speed, she hits from the left side just an all-around great athlete physically and mentally,” Fleury said. “She knows the game understands the game and going to be able to step in as a freshman and play right away for us.”

After inclement weather delayed the official start of DSU’s season in Billings, Mont., the Blue Hawks made some late additions to the schedule and spent Sunday and Monday in Crete, Neb., for two doubleheaders. DSU was swept in both series and but has the early season rust shaken off and will start its annual trip to Arizona today.

The Blue Hawks have a doubleheader starting off with Aquinas College at 11 a.m. and Robert Morris College at 1 p.m. Fleury preaches to her team to not focus on the long term goal and to take things day by day and pitch by pitch. After splitting most doubleheaders in last year’s trip to Arizona, Lawrence said a short term goal for the team is to string together wins.

“I want to be successful in Arizona because we had a habit last year of splitting,” Lawrence said. “We have about two games a day in Arizona and we had a habit of splitting the days, so I’d like to really be able to take two wins when you have a doubleheader.”

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.