Kate Westmiller and her Marysville softball teammates proved a year ago what most coaches preach –rankings don’t matter.
The Vikings weren’t even an honorable mention entering the 2021 season, and entered the postseason outside of the top 10, before making a run to the MHSAA Division 2 Final.
Despite that run, and returning the vast majority of players from last year’s team, the Vikings find themselves outside the top 10 of the preseason Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association Division 2 poll.
They’re happy to prove everyone wrong again.
“We’ve kind of always been used to that,” said Westmiller, a senior infielder. “You say ‘Marysville’ and people say, ‘Who’s that? Where’s that?’ But we definitely can compete. Last year, it was our own little Cinderella story. But it’s better to be the underdogs because nobody expects you to do well. We definitely hope we start to get on people’s radars a little bit.”
It’s a bit of a surprise the Vikings aren’t on the radar already after making their first Semifinal appearance since 2007 and first Final appearance since 1991. They’re received honorable mention in the preseason poll, but 10 of the 14 players from last year’s Final – an 8-5 loss to Owosso – are back.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking for the rankings, but a couple people sent it to me,” Marysville coach Ryan Rathje said. “We did lose some important pieces from last year, but we don’t really worry about (the rankings) because we can’t control it. We’re not going to lose any sleep over that, but it’s definitely motivation.”
The graduated losses – Kristen Smith, Calle Perrin and Mackenzie Smith – are certainly big ones. Both Kristen Smith and Perrin started the Final and had home runs. Kristen Smith also served as the Vikings’ main pitcher throughout last year, although the returning Megan Liniarski has plenty of experience in that regard, as well.
One unexpected loss was that of sophomore Avery Woodard, who is out for the year with an injury. Woodard was a starter for the Vikings as a freshman.
But that still leaves six starters from the 2021 Final – Westmiller, Kaitlyn Cain, Avery Wolters, Anna Oles, Brandi Bassett and Meghan Winston. When you add Emma Curtis and Kylie Parent, the Vikings bring back eight players who hit better than .380 a year ago.
“We were really surprised and excited with how we did last year, and we had a lot of important girls who left, and we’re definitely going to miss them,” Westmiller said. “But if we all work together, we can reach some of the goals we set. We want to try and win our District, and potentially win the Regional. In the (Macomb Area Conference White) we’re facing a little harder competition, as far as our league, but I think that will definitely help us during the postseason. During our postseason run last year, we were just so close, so I think one of the biggest goals is to become that close again.”
Marysville is 4-2 to start the year, and has battled the elements to simply get on the field. Rathje said that as of Monday night, he had not had one regular practice outside with his entire team.
While the weather has played the biggest role in that, Rathje and a handful of his players had a hand in it, as well.
The Vikings basketball team made its first run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals this winter. Rathje is also the girls basketball coach at Marysville, and five players – Cain, Winston, Oles, Wolter and Kara Miller – play on both teams. Ryan Quain, who also plays softball, joined the basketball team for the postseason.
“I think that’s a big credit to the girls we have,” Rathje said. “The girls are obviously athletic, hard-working and super smart. They don’t shy away from the moment. They know how to play the right way and just go out there with confidence. It’s been a lot of fun to be along for the ride with them. I’ve been blessed with some fantastic athletes.”
Rathje, who has been coaching both sports at the varsity level for 19 years, also gave credit to his assistant coaches, many of whom have head coaching experience in basketball or baseball/softball, such as Tom Valko, Ryan Biewer, Mark Dickinson and Shawn Winston.
That didn’t surprise Westmiller, who said her coach never shines the spotlight on himself, even though he deserves it.
“He’s taught me so much,” she said. “He’s teaching us life lessons and how to be better for your community and society. He’s helped me grow as a student and an athlete. He’s been a mentor for me. He’s very shy. He doesn’t like to take a lot of the credit for things. In reality, he’s doing a lot. He’s allowing us to come in early if we want to. He takes no time for himself – this man is so selfless. He’s amazing. I can definitely say he’s turned into an amazing mentor for me, and I will keep this coach/player relationship for the rest of my life.”
Westmiller and several of her teammates have just one season left with Rathje, and they’re hoping to end on another high note. Having done it before, together, certainly should help.
“These girls in volleyball and basketball and softball last year, I think that no moment is too big for them,” Rathje said. “That’s a really big part of it. A lot of times, it’s mistakes that are the difference in those games. I always tell them to go in there and control what you can control. I think that experience is priceless, and to have that confidence that they have, you can’t really duplicate that.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kaitlyn Cain sprints to first base during last season’s Division 1 Final against Owosso. (Middle) Kate Westmiller, here warming up before the start of an inning last year, is another key contributor back for the reigning Division 1 runner-up. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Jada Bolhuis finished up her Otsego softball career this spring all over the MHSAA record book – and despite playing only three seasons because 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19.
Bolhuis owns 12 entries in the MHSAA record book including for 228 career runs (16th all-time), 230 career hits and a .622 career batting (sixth all-time) over 112 games and three varsity seasons.
She also made the hitting streak list twice, with a run of 44 straight games with a hit from April of her freshman year until the end of April of her junior season, and for a 33-game hitting streak during her junior and senior springs. The 44-game streak is the second-longest in MHSAA history.
Bolhuis also is a track sprinter and is slated to run at University of Tampa.
We’re continuing to catch up on adding record book listings. See below for more of the most recent added for softball.
Richland Gull Lake’s Savanna Disbrow had a par of significant run-producing games over the course of two weeks in May 2021. She drove in seven runs against Mattawan that May 5, then eight in a win over Delton Kellogg on May 20. She played this past season at Bemidji State in Minnesota.
Gabby Schloop put up a senior season to remember for Midland in 2021, posting the fifth-most runs scored (83) and tying for the fifth-most doubles (27) in MHSAA history, while also making the single-season hits list with 70 and career doubles list with 49 over three seasons. Taylor Sanborn also made the single-season hits list in 2021 as a senior, and also with 70. Sanborn continued her career at Calvin University, and Schloop at Northwood.
Maddisyn Miller also was added for RBI in a single game, driving in seven May 12, 2021, for Ovid-Elsie against Laingsburg. She is a junior this fall.
Rochester Adams earned its first softball record book entries in 2021. Then-junior Sabrina Lee was added for getting hit by 17 pitches over 34 games. Teammate Elizabeth Blaine, a senior that season, hit home runs in consecutive at bats, both in the second inning, of a game against Auburn Hills Avondale.
Potent offense helped drive Grandville to a 31-5 finish in 2019, with a number of top hitters in the record book. As a team, the Bulldogs are listed for 399 hits, 76 doubles, 34 home runs and 292 RBI that season. Then-senior Taylor Buiter was added for 10 home runs, including a pair in consecutive at bats, and then-junior Maddi Ungrey was added for three home runs in the same game all in consecutive at bats as well. Then-senior Lexi Dukesherer became the first player listed for being hit by a pitch twice in the same inning, and she also made the single-game list in that category for three. Additionally, former Grandville standout Carrie Mesman was added for her 17 doubles in 2015. Mesman went on to play at Aquinas College, and Buiter played at Ferris State.
Bath’s Bailee Buck has become the first entry for career times hit by pitches, as she totaled 30 over 99 games from 2017-19 (with her senior season of 2020 canceled due to COVID-19). She also made the single-game list with three HBPs as a junior. Teammate Ally Estrada was added twice for hitting consecutive home runs, five days apart during the 2019 season, and also for driving in seven runs in the first of those games May 18, 2019, against Algonac. Estrada graduated this spring.
Grosse Pointe South’s Shannon Dame became the second player added to the single-season hit-by-pitch list. She was hit by 20 pitches during the 2021 season, when she was a junior.
A trio of New Lothrop hitters were added for hitting during the 2021 spring, led by then-junior Jersey Hemgesberg who was added for 73 hits, 25 doubles and 12 home runs over 38 games – with the 25 doubles tying for seventh-most in MHSAA history. Additionally, Brynne Birchmeier was added for 20 doubles and Marissa Rombach for 17. Both are juniors this fall.
Bloomfield Hills sophomore Hannah Grant made the single-game lists for home runs and RBI during a win over Berkley on April 7. She had three homers and six RBI in the 9-7 win; the three homers tied for second-most in one contest.
Buchanan sophomore Hailee Kara also joined the single-game RBI list with nine during a 19-7 win over Vicksburg on April 21. The nine RBI tied for seventh-most in one contest.
PHOTO Jada Bolhuis makes a throw to first base during Otsego’s District Final win over South Haven this spring. (Photo by Gary Shook.)