No More Surprises: Marysville Brings Back Talent, Experience from 2021 Run
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
April 27, 2022
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.)
Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
January 4, 2023
Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.
Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.
She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.
See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:
Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.
Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.
A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.
Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.
Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.
Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.
Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.
Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.
A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.
PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.