After seeing the west dominate at state in 2022, will we see the rise of the east in 2023? It was an all WDA final four last year with Legacy, Bismarck, Dickinson and Jamestown picking up quarterfinal wins at state. Of course, it was the Demons eventually clinching the program’s first state crown with a 7-6 win over Dickinson on the final day of the season. That makes it two straight years now that the state championship game has featured two WDA teams. I think there’s a good chance of that happening again with the depth in the west, but both West Fargo teams will look to spoil the party.
My top five teams are below along with bubble teams. This year, I’ve added my “extra innings” portion which offers a brief preview of additional teams that submitted a response to my preseason questionnaire. Thank you to all the coaches who took the time to respond! Enjoy the preview and let’s play ball.
Class A Softball
The Midgets are a perennial power in Class A softball and will once again have a target on their back. Dickinson has played in five of the last seven state championship games including two straight. They finished runner-up to Bismarck last June and I’m certain that’ll serve as motivation in 2023. The Midgets graduated a decorated senior class highlighted by a pair of all-staters in Taya Hopfauf and Reese Hauck. A third all-state pick returns though in junior pitcher Jenna Decker. Decker along with classmate Ava Jahner provide the best 1-2 pitching combo in the state. Decker and Jahner have been delivering clutch performances whether in the circle or in the batter’s box for a few years now donning the DHS orange. There’s a real deep passion for softball in the Dickinson community and Amanda Mickey has developed a track record of getting the most out of her program especially once the postseason rolls around.
Experience. Experience. Experience. It’s what every high school coach craves no matter the sport and this year’s Mustang softball team has plenty of it after graduating only one senior off last year’s team that claimed both the EDC regular season and tournament titles. Head coach Mark Woodbury has nine players on his roster with either full-time or partial starting varsity experience. “We have high expectations for our team goals, and we understand we need to commit and work hard to achieve them.” The Mustangs will rely on their trio of returning all-state picks senior P/OF Kyra Narum (St. Olaf commit), and junior infielders Katie Geiszler and Makenna Alexander (UND commit). Freshman pitcher Briley Thompson got her first taste of varsity last year and she did so while undergoing chemo treatments. Her toughness can’t be questioned after defeating cancer. She’ll have plenty of people cheering her on every time she takes the circle now for the Mustangs.
The Blue Jays finished 19-11 overall last year and earned a 4th place finish at state. They had some massive wins in the postseason defeating Minot 3-2 in a state qualifier and taking down West Fargo 4-2 in the quarterfinal round at state. Seniors Rylee Joseph, Jada Walter, Ella and Katie Falk will be the heartbeat of the group. Katie Falk was named to the All-WDA team last year and helps make up a great 1-2 punch in the circle alongside junior Makenna Nold. The Blue Jays showed no fear in picking up some big wins last year and playing Dickinson very tough in a 5-4 state semifinal loss. Head coach Mike Soulis had great success in his return to the coaching ranks last year and I think he has a team capable of making a deep run again this spring.
The Magi finished runner-up in the WDA in the regular season but failed to reach state. The returning players hope to use that outcome as motivation this spring. Head coach Gerard Cederstrom points to the players returning in the circle as a main reason for optimism. Senior Kirsten Galloway had a 9-4 record last year and junior Tayler Falcon finished with a 6-2 mark. Those reliable arms are a good starting point for developing a legitimate title contender. Offensively, Minot returns a pair of all-state picks in junior Ellington Anderson (.464 BA) and senior Cierra Erickson (.444 BA). Cederstrom likes Anderson’s ability to get on base and make things happen, while Erickson can really hit for power. It’ll be interesting to see if this experienced squad can get Minot back to the state title game for the first time since the program won its lone championship in 2018.
5. West Fargo
The Packers have won the most state titles in Class A history (10) since softball has been sanctioned in North Dakota, but it’s been four years since they last took home the ultimate prize. Last year, Jamestown surprised the Packers in the quarterfinal round at state with a 4-2 victory. The Packers ultimately placed fifth place at state and finished with a 17-8 record. Every player that was part of last year’s group returns except for graduated all-state senior shortstop Sophie Ochocki. Pat Johnson points to his experience as being a major strength entering the 2023 campaign with depth being a concern. Senior Emma Johnson and junior Grace Wehri make up the 1-2 punch in the circle. Johnson has also proven to be a major threat at the plate hitting .400 last season. Sophomore OF/C Katelyn Kackman is coming off a strong freshman season in which she hit .425. She’ll be counted on even more as her varsity career progresses. I’m not sure how many other teams will admit it, but I still feel that West Fargo’s long championship reign over the sport forced other programs to work harder. We’ve seen four different schools win the past four state tournaments and I feel the current parity of the sport can be traced back to teams trying to reach the same level as the Packer juggernaut for so many years.
The Roughriders made state for the first time in over a decade last year and are hoping to build off that momentum. Ella Speidel (10-4, 3.36 ERA, 105 K) was the youngest player to earn all-state honors last spring accomplishing that feat as an 8th grader. She’ll be back as a force in the circle along with current 8th grader Jocelyn Berg. Junior Rylie McQuillan (.477 BA) led the team with 28 RBI and five homeruns last year. Confidence is starting to grow for Hannah-Rose Rodriguez’s program. She told me the team has been intentional with mental toughness training and they’re seeing the positive impact.
The big question facing the defending state champs is how they will replace their talented class of six seniors including all-state pick Logan Gronberg. The cupboard isn’t bare by any means for the Demons. Junior Brielle Wrangham returns after playing a huge role in the championship game going 3-for-4 with 3 RBI. The roster is full of players that got to experience the thrill of claiming the program’s first state title. Now, it’s time to see how that championship taste motivates the group going forward.
The Patriots finished 10-18 last season and flashed at the WDA tournament with a big upset in the quarterfinals over 2nd seeded Minot only to lose the next two games and miss out on a trip to state. Century returns six starters and 10 total players with varsity experience. Look for junior P/3B Ashlynn Schumacher to be the ace of the pitching staff, but she’ll also need to help guide the younger arms. There’s a good core returning, and I think you’ll see the Patriots take a step forward this year.
The Firebirds only played eleven games last season, but the experience they did get should prove to be valuable for this young squad. The team returns eight starters including a pair of freshmen and 8th graders. Head coach Courtney Loegering has been pleased with her team’s effort to improve their hitting. She also knows how important getting games in will help with the team’s softball IQ which can suffer when you roll out a squad as young as the Firebirds.
After finishing with a winning record for the first time in program history (12-10) the Braves are hoping to keep momentum rolling in 2023. Head coach Mike Gustavsson really likes the athleticism of his team which features a roster littered with multi-sport standouts. The Braves have some good experience up the middle with junior pitcher Jenna Wandler (.369 BA, 9 RBI, 8 SB), junior catcher Savannah Gustavsson (.338 BA, 15 RBI, 9 SB) and Ellie McElvaney (.283 BA, 10 RBI) in center.
After coming up short in last year’s state qualifier game, North hopes to get the chance again with some good varsity experience returning. The Spartans have five players back that registered 10+ RBI last year led by sophomore OF Olivia Kalbus (.447 BA, 17 RBI, 29 R). A state tournament berth is within reach if the Spartans can make improvements in the circle.
After putting in work during the South high summer league, the Bruins are ready to show the rest of the EDC how much they’ve improved. Head coach Molly Lundon is excited to have a good amount of varsity experience back and feels her team is playing well together. Senior Kate Erickson and junior Mea Nylander each hit over .400 last spring and will provide a spark to the offense. The Bruins will look to Senior P/INF Hailey Schmitz for leadership on and off the field.
The Braves return six starters including a trio of seniors that played last year. Harley Bercier is back as one of the team’s top pitchers and hitters. Turtle Mountain finished 4-3 last year but did not play a WDA varsity schedule.
Filed Under Power Rankings | ND High School | Baseball/Softball