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Blue Hawks softball hopes seven seniors lead team to another NSAA crown

The temperature might barely be above zero, but softball season is here. At the Presentation Dome in Aberdeen, S.D., the Dickinson State softball team will open its season against four non-conference opponents on Friday, Feb. 15, and Saturday, Fe...

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Abi Brooks, a senior pitcher for the Dickinson State softball team, winds up during a 2018 home game at the North Softball Complex. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)
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The temperature might barely be above zero, but softball season is here.

At the Presentation Dome in Aberdeen, S.D., the Dickinson State softball team will open its season against four non-conference opponents on Friday, Feb. 15, and Saturday, Feb. 16.

"It's kind of hard because I'm coming from California, so I'm used to the warm weather for softball," senior right-handed pitcher Abi Brooks said. "But I'm getting pretty used to it, it's my fourth year. I'm really excited for (the) season despite the weather. It's feeling like it's starting to get here, for sure."

Brooks is one of seven seniors on the squad that made a run into the NAIA playoffs last spring before falling in back-to-back games. Head coach Kristen Fleury still emphasizes a game-by-game approach, but thinks the leadership on the team can take the Blue Hawks far.

"They know what it's like to play in championship games; they know what it's like to go to the national tournament," Fleury said. "All of them have been here for two-plus years, so (there's) just a lot of leadership for our younger kids to help continue that foundation that we're trying to build."

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Similar to the 2018 squad, Fleury believes the team's greatest assets are on the mound. Brooks, who handled a majority of the innings toward the end of last season, will play a major role on the bump again this year. Coming in to aid her, are sophomore Jaya Allen, who transferred from Yavapai College in Arizona, and freshman Arjana Eilers of Brandon, Manitoba.

Eilers is a left-handed hurler, a rarity not only for Dickinson State, but the North Star conference. Both Bellevue University (Neb.) and Dakota State (S.D.) have a southpaw listed, but that's it.

Additionally, Fleury is hoping to use senior Whitney Mesi, who hasn't thrown many innings in the past.

"We're definitely a staff. We all work as a team, and we all complement each other," Brooks said. "I think (Jaya and I) will really complement each other because she has a lot of speed and I work on my spins and my placement, so we'll do really well."

As executed in a 1-0 victory over the University of Jamestown to win the conference title last year, defense will be another strength of the 2019 Blue Hawks. That being said, where players will spend their time in the field is yet to be determined.

What is known, is that seniors Claire Shoffit and Jordan Menke will be behind the plate often, and senior Sonja Lawrence will return to shortstop. Dickinson High graduate Emilee Sickler, who spent time in the outfield last year, will step back to second base, where she grew up playing.

"I feel like I'm just going to play my part and be part of the team," the sophomore said. "I feel like if everyone steps up, we'll be pretty good."

At the plate, the team is lacking a certain firepower, though, with the loss of Rayleen Ortiz and Rachel Dillon. To make up for that, Fleury said the team will have to take advantage of every hit by putting pressure on the defense and moving along the base paths.

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"We're gonna have to get creative at the plate," she said. "We're gonna have to get runners moving. We do have some speed, so I think we can use that to our advantage and take chances with getting those runners moving with hit-and-runs, bunt-runs, stealing, taking extra bases."

Fleury is hoping to put freshman utility player Rhea Paiva in the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the batting order "to help be that sparkplug we need at the top of the lineup."

The roster is thin, with just 13 players, but with two other utility players, including freshmen Caitlyn Welch, as well as senior Kayla Stephens, the Blue Hawks are versatile and ready to take on the challenge.

"The thing with the 13 we do have, they all can play any different position," Fleury said. "You're gonna see a lot of kids in a lot of different positions. Going into this weekend, we think we have an idea of our foundation and what we want to go with, but we don't' know either. It might look good in practice and you get to game time, it might be something completely different."

Dickinson State University's Sonja Lawrence tags out Jamestown's Meghan Ramage Monday during the North Star Athletic Association championship game in Aberdeen, S.D. (John M. Steiner / The Sun)
Dickinson State University's Sonja Lawrence tags out Jamestown's Meghan Ramage Monday during the North Star Athletic Association championship game in Aberdeen, S.D. (John M. Steiner / The Sun)

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