HENRY POWERS, TRUMPET GUEST WRITER
After a second-place finish in the American Rivers Conference last season and an ending rank of 24 from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Poll, Wartburg Knights softball has returned to the diamond in 2022.
Last season, the Knights ended with a two-seed in the American Rivers Conference tournament. It was an early exit though, as Dubuque and Central College handed them back-to-back losses at home to knock them out of the conference tournament. The women did not receive a bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Knights started non-conference play tied as pre-season favorites to win the A-R-C along with the Kohawks of Coe College. Both teams received 57 points in the preseason poll. (rollrivers.com)
Head Coach Jamie Mueller, in her seventh season at the helm for the Knights, said the initial trip down south, which started on Feb. 27, is about team growth and opportunities to compete, learn, and grow.
Mueller also said that focusing on the present is what’s important to success.
“We’re going to try our best to be where our feet are, focus on one game at a time, and enjoy the journey together. If we can do that, we’ll be ready for the conference season when it arrives.”
The Knights wrapped up their winter games road trip with a 10-2 record as they returned to Waverly this past weekend. Five of their wins came in shutout fashion and they dropped a game to Cabrini University while also losing to Moravian University in extra innings.
Olivia Brecht, a senior second baseman majoring in social work, said the trips down south to start the year are always one of the highlights of each season.
“When I think of my favorite memories with Wartburg softball, it usually revolves around our trip to Florida each year. This trip brings our team so much closer than we already are and it is amazing to see all of our hard work be put into action.”
Coming off a season where Brecht batted .333, drove in 21, and earned second-team all-conference honors, she has started the year hitting .282 in 39 plate appearances through 12 games.
Lauren Frerichs, a third-year utility player who is majoring in accounting and business, expressed her excitement to travel down south much like Brecht. She said she felt lucky to be able to travel and face some tough competition in preparation for conference play, where she thinks the Knights have all the necessary tools to become conference champions.
Frerichs earned first-team all-conference honors last year as well as making the 2021 NFCA All-Midwest Region Team. Frerichs finished last season with ten doubles (team leader) and came across to score 34 runs for the Knights. This season, through 11 games started, she has tallied seven runs-batted-in while also stealing ten bags on ten attempts.
Senior shortstop Sydney Illg, a biology major who sees herself as a leader for this team, said she looks forward to carrying on the tradition of Wartburg softball for another year.
“We hope that we can leave this program better than we found it to continue the Wartburg softball culture and excellence. Our mantra for this year is ‘Be the Standard’,” she said. “If everyone is setting the standard, then we are all doing the right thing to be successful.”
As the leading base-stealer for the Knights in 2021 with 34 in 35 attempts, Illg is hitting .176 to start the season but has driven in six and stolen nine bases in her 12 games started. Illg, similar to Frerichs, was a first-team all-conference member last season.
While Mueller and the Knights preach taking things one day at a time, Brecht has one rematch on her mind for this season.
“I am excited for all of our games, but I am excited for our rematch against Coe. The outcome did not go the way we wanted last season and we are grateful for the opportunity to compete with them again.”
The Knights dropped two straight to Coe to end the conference season last year after winning the first of three. All three games were decided by two or less runs. Coe will host the Knights in a doubleheader later this season on Apr. 9.
Mueller, who praised the leadership on this team while also realizing that the team chemistry and culture changes every season, has a lot of confidence in these women as they get into the swing of the 2022 season.
“We have several returning all-conference and all-region players, and we have a lot of young players who will contribute this season as well. If we can embrace a ‘team first’ mentality and rely on different players to step up each game, we are going to be a tough team to beat.”