Cougars issues challenge to young athletes to fill key roles

Heart River softball team faces challenges in filling senior spots and building off previous years successes with a young and inexperienced roster.

Heart River softball team doing conditioning work during their indoor practice.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON — After losing their first game against No. 5 Washburn / Center-Stanton in the double elimination Region 4 tourney as the fourth seed, the Heart River softball team, mostly consisting of young and inexperienced athletes, took on the challenge and nearly clinched a state qualifier for their three seniors. Now, they are back at the beginning, with more experience, but without the safety of veteran seniors.

The question left is, who will rise above to fill the open spots?

After breaking their record roster size of 27 girls last season, the Heart River Cougars softball team have gathered an even larger group of girls at the start of the 2023 season, all eager to compete.

Bailee Ross throwing the ball across the court.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

They lost three sizable statured seniors, including their All-State pitcher Meg Silbernagel, as well as standouts Briley Boltz and Taylar Fagerberg, who both played leadership roles equal to Silbernagel. Losing these players means that their larger roster will be contesting to fill the pockets left behind and to build off of last year's third-place finish at the Region 4 tournament.

That group that graduated last year was our last group that played in state and had that experience and so it is going to be a youth movement," Kendra Schillo, Heart River head coach said. “South Heart and Belfield have both started elementary programs. They play in the summer and that is a nice feeder program in. We got a bunch of seventh graders who are wanting to be apart of it and I think the game of softball is really growing.”


What remains is a group of six young players, returning big hitters like Sage Fecoe, speed demons in Sydney Froehlich and Kaci Davis, and their second-team All-Region catcher, sophomore Abby Conery.

“We got a lot more girls than last year. I thought last year we had a lot, but this year we have quite a bit,” Conery said. “I think we will have to work a little harder than we did last year because we lost our main players.”

Heart River softball coach Kendra Schillo in the center of a huddle, talking to her team.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

As a freshman, Conery bravely took on the role as their starting catcher and will now be looked upon to be an even stronger leader from behind the plate.

“I feel a lot more confident than I did at the beginning of last year," Conery said. "I know what I am capable of and I know how to use my skills better to help out my team.”

Gretchen Silbernagel is a likely possible replacement for her sister, Meg Silberngael, in the circle. Although she had limited experience from the previous season, if she is anything like her two older sisters, she will represent the Cougars well. Gretchen said that even though the pressure is on to preform, she is more focused on building a team chemistry to measure the success of the season.

“I think that it’s really important that they push us to our full potential and I feel like they do that,” Silbernagel said. “I hope our team gets closer and I hope we do pretty well this year as a team. Having team bonding and getting closer as a team ... It’s not all about winning, but about playing as a team and having a good relationship with all your teammates and coaches.”

Gretchen Silbernagel in a drill.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

Josiah C. Cuellar was born in San Angelo, Texas, a small rural community in the western part of the state known for its farming, ranching and beautiful Concho River. A Texas A&M San Antonio graduate specializing in multi-media reporting, Cuellar is an award winning photographer and reporter whose work focuses on community news and sports.
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