No More Surprises: Marysville Brings Back Talent, Experience from 2021 Run

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

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.

Marysville softballBut 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 CostanzoPaul 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 [email protected] 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.)

She's Back: South Lyon Ace Bradshaw Returns for Another Title Pursuit

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 11, 2024

SOUTH LYON — Two words likely won’t sit well with a lot of Division 1 softball teams around the state this year. 

Greater DetroitShe’s back. 

Or to play on the words of former Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger after a Sugar Bowl win in 2019, and others who before and since have added dramatics to the phrase: “She’s baaaaaaaaaaaack.”

“She” is South Lyon senior pitcher Ava Bradshaw. And if anyone who follows high school softball in the state happened to forget that name, let’s do a little refresher. 

Back in 2021, Bradshaw burst onto the scene in her first year of high school and played like a freshman …. in college. 

Bradshaw was a dominant two-way force both pitching and hitting, so much so that behind her, South Lyon won its first MHSAA Finals title, in Division 1. 

In the championship game against Allen Park, Bradshaw threw a three-hit shutout, striking out nine and walking one in a 5-0 South Lyon victory. She also had two RBI.

“I didn’t realize how crazy what we did was,” Bradshaw said. “We really did make that run.” 

Bradshaw was even better as a sophomore and seemed destined to lead South Lyon to a repeat. 

However, a first inning against Mattawan during which everything that could go wrong seemingly did started a 3-1 Quarterfinal loss that stunningly ended those 2022 aspirations. 

But hey, no problem. Bradshaw had two more years to win another championship, right? 

Bradshaw, middle, celebrates with teammates after they won the 2021 Division 1 championship at Secchia Stadium.Then came the summer prior to her junior year, when Bradshaw suffered a torn ACL during her travel ball season. She was hoping to come back at some point last year as a junior, but understandably didn’t want to push anything too hard, especially since by that point she had committed to play in college for Duke. 

This year, it would have been understandable if Bradshaw would have just wanted to sit out her senior year, enjoy the countdown to graduation and simply gear up for the next chapter. 

But Bradshaw was having none of that.

“In high school ball, every day I’m practicing and I’m playing with my friends, playing for my town and for my school,” she said. “That’s an honor, and I have so much fun. I couldn’t imagine not playing my senior year. That would be so sad. When I look back on my high school experience, some of the biggest memories I have come from softball. I couldn’t imagine not finishing what I started.” 

So Bradshaw is indeed back and not only fully healthy, but stronger and hungrier than she ever has been during her high school career. 

Bradshaw said going through rehabilitation for her injury last year has made her better physically. 

“I was forced to do certain movements and exercises that I never would have done had I not been forced to go to (physical therapy),” she said. “I became a more well-rounded athlete. I improved flexibility and mobility.” 

In her first game this season, Bradshaw struck 12 of the 15 batters she faced and went 4-for-4 at the plate. 

“We just plugged her right in,” South Lyon head coach Dave Langlois said. 

Not having Bradshaw last year actually could end up making South Lyon even better this year. 

“I think we were the only ones to score a run on the state champs, Hartland, in our Regional,” Langlois said. “We were one hit away with a young, inexperienced team for the most part. Those kids got to get experience in crucial times (without Bradshaw) when they may not have gotten (it).”

South Lyon probably still would’ve been formidable if Bradshaw decided not to play this year. But adding her back to a talented roster of underclassmen who are a year older and better?

It’s no wonder why “she’s back” might be the most terrifying two words for softball teams not named South Lyon this spring. 

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) South Lyon’s Ava Bradshaw makes her move toward the plate during a game against Flat Rock this spring. (Middle) Bradshaw, middle, celebrates with teammates after they won the 2021 Division 1 championship at Secchia Stadium. (Top photo by Conner Lipke; middle photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)