The caliber of softball continues to be on the rise in North Dakota and it's leading to more and more competition across the state. In Class A, I think the defending state champs from Dickinson have a great chance to repeat with a loaded roster. But, you can never count out the West Fargo programs and I'm interested to see how the Bismarck schools do under new leadership. On the Class B side, Central Cass is a simple choice at the top but you better believe that several talented teams across the state are ready to put the pressure on the Squirrels. Read up on some of the top competitors in each class below.
Class A Softball
After being so close multiple times, the Dickinson softball program finally got over the proverbial hump and won the program’s first state title last year. The Midgets’ run in the state tournament was dominant. They opened with a 5-2 win over Sheyenne before outscoring Valley City and Bismarck by a combined 16-0 in the semifinal and championship games. The good news for Dickinson fans is that only two players graduated off last year’s squad and they look poised to repeat. That means most of the pieces are back for an offense that scored fifteen runs per game last season and hit around .470 as a team. Sophomores Ava Jahner and Jenna Decker sparked the team in the circle last year and you can likely expect more of the same this spring. Meanwhile, seniors Reese Hauck and Taya Hopfauf along with Decker anchor an offensive lineup that can make double-digit run games look like the norm. Amanda Mickey has this program rolling right now and they’re the favorites to be back on top in 2022.
2. West Fargo
The Packers have always been the standard for a championship level program in North Dakota high school softball, but other teams have started to level the playing field. After winning the first nine sanctioned state tournament titles, West Fargo has claimed just one over the past four seasons (2020 canceled due to COVID). Pat Johnson’s team is young this year but does return junior starting pitcher Emma Johnson. Her classmate Mara Lick will move to the starting catcher role to create a tandem the Packers are excited about. Shortstop Sophie Ochocki is the lone senior on the roster, but she’s a superb talent that hit .486 a year ago. I expect big things from freshman Katelyn Kackman after boasting a .480 BA as an 8th grader for the varsity club. With some talented pieces and a great coaching staff, look for the Packers to be a strong contender come playoff time.
A strong class of six seniors will lead the way for the Demons in 2022 and they’ve already dealt with their share of adversity going through a coaching change just a few months before the start of the regular season. Long-time assistant Billy Schmidt has taken over the reins after Kurt Grensteiner resigned to become a co-head coach for the BSC softball program. Schmidt has been part of a staff that has led the Demons on an outstanding run the past five years. The Demons have played in three of the past four state championship games but have failed to win any of them. This year’s group is once again led by all-state pick and UND commit Logan Gronberg who enters her senior season as one of the most dominant players on the diamond. Gronberg is a lights-out pitcher and a stellar slugger. Prior to the state tournament last year, she had already logged over 100 innings pitched with an ERA of 1.60 and 129 strikeouts. Offensively, she hit over .650 last year and belted out 13 homeruns while driving in 62 runs. Senior all-region selection Ashlee Potter is back to help solidify the infield. Expect the rest of the seniors like Mia Hinsz, Cameron Schmidt, and twin sisters Payton and Sydney Gerving to be key contributors, too.
Each year the Mustangs show potential, but they still haven’t been able to break thru when it matters most. Last year, Sheyenne finished 18-9 and advanced to state where the Mustangs gave eventual champion Dickinson its toughest challenge in a 5-2 contest in the quarterfinal round. Junior pitcher and outfielder Kyra Narum returns after an all-state year as a sophomore. Narum was 10-5 as a starter last year and she’ll be called to help lead some younger pitchers with great potential like sophomore Reese Weishaar, freshman Mya Migler and 8th grader Briley Thompson. Head coach Mark Woodbury expects his defense to be a strength, “Our infield is tight and our outfield will be able to cover a lot of ground.” Expect Kate Geiszler and McKenna Alexander to be the leaders defensively and in the batter’s box.
Much like its rival Bismarck High, the Century Patriots will have a new leader for the program in 2022. Kevin Ziegler stepped down as head coach after last year’s state tournament. Ziegler had been the coach for all 14 of Century’s seasons. Darby Krivoruchka, an assistant on staff since 2016, was promoted to the head job over the summer. Krivoruchka played on the first two Century High softball teams and played collegiately at Jamestown College. The Patriots are coming off a very successful 2021 campaign in which they won 28 games, won the WDA tournament and finished third place at state. They’ll undoubtedly miss the production of graduated senior all-state pitcher Maddy Zander, but the cupboard isn’t bare. The Patriots have eight players back with varsity experience including five starters. Coach Krivoruchka anticipates UND commit Brooklyn Morris to be the team’s top hitter and pitcher. The team was dealt a blow when Hallen Mattern suffered a serious an injury during the basketball season. Mattern, a BSC softball commit, is expected to return sometime in early to mid-May. If you’re looking for a surprise player, expect 8th grader Mallory Held to make some noise in her first season of varsity softball. Coach Krivoruchka is focusing a lot on the team’s mental approach in hopes that it’ll help them succeed through any adversity this season. “We will need to remember that it won’t always be easy, but as long as we play for each other, stay together, and remain positive, we will always remain on the path we are meant to be on.”
Bubble Teams: Minot, Jamestown, Fargo North
Class B Softball
1. Central Cass
Nobody should be surprised to see the Squirrels atop these rankings. Afterall, Scott Kost’s program has won the past three state championships. Last year’s team finished 25-3 overall and took down Thompson 4-1 in the title game. The Squirrels will have to find a way to replace their top pitcher from a year ago, Aubree Lindstrom. Senior Peyton Nelson (5-2, 77 K) and junior Tori Richter (4-0, 34 K) will get the majority of the work in the circle. Nelson (.489 BA, 7 HR, 40 RBI) and Richter (.422 BA, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 24 SB) also get it done with the bat in their hands. Junior Catie Sinner led the team in RBI last season with 49 of those to go with a .489 average. It’s hard to find a weakness in this team, but Coach Kost says he'd like to see an improvement in the offensive output from last year. The Squirrels have put together another challenging schedule with six Class A opponents in the regular season. They’ve been on quite a run and have more than enough weapons to make a run at a fourth consecutive state title.
After reaching the state championship game for the first time last year, the Tommies will try to build on that success with an experienced group coming back. Six starters return for Matt Chandler’s crew that helped pile up an impressive 22-2 record in 2021. Both of those losses came at the hands of the Squirrels. The Tommies averaged 15 runs per game last year with a team batting average over .400. The team’s lone senior Mya Krogstad (.541 BA, 39 RBI) is coming off an all-state selection as a junior and should be one of the top hitters in the state again this spring. Krogstad has only struck out four times in her varsity career. The lineup also features great contact hitters junior Olivia Dick (.479 BA, 38 RBI) and sophomore Sydney Schwabe (.390 BA, 33 runs scored) along with sophomore Faith Stumpf (.390 BA, 3 HR) who can do some damage in the middle of the batting order. Schwabe and fellow sophomore Dru Schwab will be called on to pitch this season and while they’ve logged a lot of innings in summer ball, neither have extensive varsity experience. Coach Chandler’s scouting reports says, “Both pitchers throw a ton of strikes and are able to move it around in the zone.”
3. Renville County
Beware of the Muskrats! Westhope-Newburg has joined with Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood-Kenmare-Bowbells to become Renville County which, in my opinion, is much better than MLSKBWN. It brings together two programs that each had success last year. Westhope-Newburg paired with Bottineau last year and came up just one win shy of making the state tournament. Meanwhile, MLSKB finished fourth at state last year. This season, the Renville County co-op will rely on a pair of returning all-state picks in junior Ellie Braaten and sophomore Ginger Savelkoul. Last year, Braaten hit a ridiculous .620 at the plate for Westhope-Newburg-Bottineau to go with 10 HR, 50 RBI, 58 SB and a .714 on base percentage. Savelkoul will be the team’s ace after a virtually unhittable freshman season. She finished last year with 140 innings pitched, 1.85 ERA, 303 K and 5 no-hitters. The Muskrats were also expecting to have standout athlete Kate Zimmer (.492 BA last year) in the fold this season, but she suffered a torn ACL during the basketball season. Garret Wible is the team’s head coach after coaching Westhope-Newburg-Bottineau last season. He has some high-end talent, but the team’s success will hinge on whether they can focus on the little things.
After putting together a mostly strong regular season, Beulah stumbled at the end of last year winning just two of their last five games before state. The Miners followed that up with a respectable fifth place finish in Jamestown. Junior Taylor Christensen is a returning all-state selection for Kyle Christensen’s team. Christensen and 8th grader Addison Dale-Geiger are an excellent 1-2 punch in the pitching circle. The Miners held opponents to less than four runs per game last season and that’ll likely be their formula for success again in 2022.
The 3-time Class B state champs from Kindred/Richland find themselves at #5 on my preseason list, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the perennial powers rise to the top by the end of the year. The Vikings only have one senior to replace, but Abby McDonald was one of the best players in the state. Senior catcher Matti Burchill will be called to step up and lead a roster that played a combined 13 freshmen and 8th graders last season. Head coach Sam Brandt is just a few months removed from leading a veteran Kindred girls basketball team to a state championship. Now, she’ll try to mold a youthful softball roster into a title contender.