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Heart River Softball welcomes largest roster in program history

Entering the 2022 season, Heart River will feature a deep roster of eager players seeking their opportunity to make an immediate impact.

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Heart River Cougars host a practice inside the South Heart gymnasium due to cold weather.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press
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SOUTH HEART, N.D. — Since the start of the Heart River softball program eight years ago the team has always had a roster of young talent on the varsity team. With four returning freshmen and three seniors, the difference this year will be something the Cougars have never had — experience.

A roster full of seventh and eighth graders, Heart River will begin the season with their largest team to date. While many of the younger players will be green to competition, a healthy stable of upperclassmen will provide much needed guidance. Further, the strong youth talent's experience gained in this and next season could mean one of the most experienced teams in the state for the Cougars down the road.

“We have 27 going out, by far the biggest team we have ever had and a lot of them our junior high which is really exciting,” Heart River head coach Kendra Schillo said. “It is really interesting as a coach to try and balance those two. There are people who really need upper level coaching and then those who really need to learn the basics as well… Our seniors provided such good leadership, they are all three year starters and Meg is a six-year starter. Just from what I have seen so far, they are doing a really nice job of explaining things to the kids. They are very patient.”

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Head coach Kendra Schillo talking to her team at the end of practice.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

Schillo runs a tight ship and though she wants her girls to have fun, she is adament on instilling the attitude needed in her young team to develop into successful players on the diamond, but more importantly, to be successful in in life.

“Practice like you play,” Schillo said. “I really believe that athletics has the opportunity to make coaches and students better people and it can teach us a lot of life lessons. I want to win, but if our kids respect each other, if they respect our opponents and respect the umpires, then my season has been successful.”

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The Cougars had two key losses from last year’s team, including their starting pitcher and catcher. Stepping into the leadership role for the team is Senior Meg Silbernagel, who will be holding the circle while freshmen Abby Conery will be taking over as their starting catcher. Schillo said that Conery have big shoes to fill, but believes that she is up for the challenge.

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Freshman Abby Conery is their starting catcher.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

“Pressure, that is the only way I can describe it. Pressure, lots of pressure,” Conery said. “It feels great that the coach sees so much potential in me that she sees that I can start varsity and I feel like I have a lot to prove to my other teammates starting as a freshman.”

Among the senior class players is Taylar Fagerberg and Briley Boltz. Fagerberg is coming back following a long absence with a season ending injury last year, coupled with the the cancellation of sports her sophomore year due to Covid. Heart River's coaching staff are excited to see Fagerberg back on the field and are confident that she'll make an impact early and often.

“She is really tall and really strong,” Schillo said. “She hit a ball last week in practice and I am not sure if it has landed yet.“

Boltz will take the shortstop spot and said that she is ecstatic to be back.

“I love fielding and softball is definitely my favorite sport,” Boltz said. “We are kind of starting new again… With the younger girls we are doing basic things to help them understand. Some of them have played for Dickinson before, so that is always good, but we don't have anything until seventh grade here.”

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Senior Briley Boltz practicing fielding.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

Heart River's relatively young softball program are already developing their players through summer co-op programs while assistant coach Emily Henson has begun the process of preparing the next generation of Cougars by coaching six and seven year-olds in Belfield. Assistant coach Lynette Silbernagel, having coached with Schillo since the beginning of the program in 2015, said she is excited to see the developments in their local softball community, but was also proud of what they have been able to accomplish to date.

“We have had seventh graders starting for us since the beginning,” Silbernagel said. “I think being able to develop prior to seventh grade is really helpful because the first year we coached we had seventh graders who had never picked up a ball before. One of them is playing college softball and she only got a glove two days before practice when she was a seventh grader.”

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Three Cougar alums are already playing collegiate softball, highlighting the coaching staff and program's ability to move players up the proficiency ladder at surprising speeds. Schillo said she believes that alone will be a motivation to the younger players and proves just how far the sport can take them.

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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