Jack Wiessenberger – Staff Writer
The Gustavus Softball team got their season underway with a double header versus St. Benedict last Sunday. The Gusties lost the first game with a score of 4 to 0 and the second by a margin of 11 to 0. After a full year without competition and many new additions to the roster, the doubleheader weekend offered an opportunity to get back in the swing of things and gain valuable experience. With a long season still ahead, new Head Coach Coley Ries is looking forward to turning things around for the team.
“This was my first game as a head coach. There was a lot of anticipation and anxiety amongst both myself and the players because it’s been so long since they have had a game day. With eleven first-years and sophomores, a lot of our women were experiencing firsts. We were able to see some good things and also a lot of things we need to work on. St. Ben’s is a top team in the conference so to hang around with them in game one was great for our team to realize we are in the mix,” Ries said.
Despite the team being held scoreless in both outings, there were many positive aspects to the way the Gusties played. Being able to remain competitive with one of the top softball programs in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) was certainly something to be happy about regarding the team’s performance.
“St. Ben’s has definitely been climbing the ladder over the years and are definitely a tough team to play. Two years ago when we faced them in a doubleheader we beat them which was a huge win for us and then we lost game two by one run,” Junior Pitcher Amara Packey said.
Previous matchups between these two MIAC powerhouses have delivered tightly contested games. Gustavus is hoping to bring its program back to the top of the conference as it was when it last won a title in 2009. The team is certainly a young one, but still has talented upperclassmen leading the way. Senior Pitcher Ashley Neuenfeldt had a notable season debut in the doubleheader. As the only senior on the roster, she holds a special role. Her skills both as someone to look up to on the team and as a standout pitcher were on display Sunday.
“The games went well for me overall, though there are definitely areas I am working to improve. I am most happy with my pitching performance, especially since it’s been more than a year since my last game. I was able to attack the zone and not give up any free bases. My personal highlight was getting a triple in my first at-bat, but overall it was exciting to see the team come together and compete. We also had lots of players get their first at-bats, first hits, and first defensive put-outs at the college level,” Neuenfeldt said.
Neuenfeldt was the sole pitcher in game one and tallied four strikeouts. The Gusties are a young team with many players getting their first collegiate action in these games. The firsts don’t stop there, however. With this being Ries’ inaugural season as head coach, the doubleheader against St. Ben’s was a new experience for her as well.
“Coach Ries has done a great job so far in her first season. She’s been a really clear communicator, which has been important as things can change day to day. She definitely has a lot of softball knowledge and playing experience, and the team has really connected with her. I’m excited for the future of the program under her leadership,” Neuenfeldt said.
Athletic Director Tom Brown introduced Ries as the new head coach of the Gustavus softball program shortly before the start of the academic year. Prior to beginning her time as a Gustie, Ries held the position of head pitching coach for Mankato State’s softball team. Her inaugural coaching season is certainly a unique one with many new obstacles resulting from the pandemic.
“I think Coach Ries has done a great job managing the team and COVID. She has really been emphasizing keeping us safe. There is a lot more stress on top of the normal amount since she has to deal with COVID and practice and games. So considering everything going on, she has been handling everything really well, especially during her first season,” Packey said.
Making the most of an unusual season has been at the forefront of Ries’ mind in her first season. Remaining flexible and taking the opportunities presented to the team have become priorities for the team.
“COVID has affected us just like it has everyone else in the world, we have to be prepared to change on the fly and adapt. Our team has done a great job of just being prepared at all times and being ready to play when they have the opportunity,” Ries said.
No matter what the rest of the season brings, both Coach Ries and the young team will gain beneficial experience. Sights are set on the future of the program as it gets a fresh start with a new head coach and a young roster.
“The biggest thing with this team is just the experience. I’m excited to see what this group puts together. I truly believe we have what it takes to complete in this league and make the conference tournament. These student-athletes are committed to making Gustavus softball the powerhouse it once was and I feel we are on our way to great things,” Ries said.