The 2020 Gator Softball team had come off a state runner-up finish the prior season and lost one senior from that 2019 team— centerfielder Makenna Burslie.
Just over a week into the practice of this 2020 season, the team’s season would get shut down for what proved to be for good due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gators would have to wait another spring to try to battle back to that state title game, but before that would lose another senior in the process, in 2020 graduate Ella Koebernick.
“(There was) extreme disappointment out of our girls, just because they love softball,” Gator Head Coach Kent Christian said. “It was really too bad for a person like Ella Koebernick, who didn’t have a chance to compete (in her final year).”
When June 2020 hit, the team did get an opportunity to compete again, getting in about 30 games between the summer and fall.
“It was good to see them play (during the summer),” Coach Christian said, “but I just feel there’s just a different level of excitement going into this season.”
The Gator girls officially got to put their love of softball to action again. The team kicked off its season with a pair of victories on April 9 in Thief River Falls over Fargo Davies and Moorhead.
Coach Christian discussed the pressure of defending its section title and making another deep state tournament run and what it will take to achieve both, the attitude he has seen from his team so far, potential section teams to look out for, goals for the season, and how the team stacks up by position.
Does the team feel the pressure to capture another section title and make another deep state run after losing that opportunity last season? Coach Christian said the team spoke about this topic on April 8. He highlighted how pressure is not something new to the Gator program.
“We think there’s always going to be pressure in our program just because of the success that we’ve had. But these girls really feel that they can win at all, but there’s some really good competition out there,” Coach Christian said. “On any given day in this sport, you can be dumped. And making the state tournament doesn’t define your season. It’s how much you progress and improve each and every day, and how much you can compete that will define your season.”
Back in the 2019 season, the Gators posted a 23-5 record, claimed its second straight and ninth overall Section 8A title, and finished second in the state. At that time, its current senior players, Mariah Christian, Ella Heggedal, Emma Heggedal, Bella Monsrud, and Erika Howell, were sophomores.
For his team to repeat as section champions and make another deep state run, Coach Christian first pointed to it not taking any opponent lightly or any game for granted, and staying healthy.
“It comes down to getting timely hitting and good pitching, and good defense,” Coach Christian said. “And if we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”
What are the goals of this Gator team this season? Coach Christian said he sent out goal cards the day before (April 8), so would find out shortly. But, at the time, he gave a guess.
“I really think that obviously they want to go to state and they want to win state,” Coach Christian said. “But like I said, I’m really going to try to get their focus to be being, getting better every day, and taking care of each day.”
To see the complete story, read the April 14 issue of The Tribune in print or online.