A lot has changed for the Hastings softball team.
The Raiders went through tryouts and their first series of practices this past week, taking cuts in a makeshift batting cage and fielding ground balls off the hardwood floor of the Hastings gym. Above them hung the program’s 2011 Class 3A state championship banner.
It was the only link between this year’s squad and that title run.
“This’ll be the first time [since] we won that we don’t have a returning player from that championship team,” Hastings coach Dean Robinson said. “It’ll be different not having any girls who’ve gone through that type of run.”
Throw in a conference switch from the Suburban East to the Metro East, along with typical roster turnover in prep sports, and there’s really just one main similarity between the 2015 Raiders and other teams in Robinson’s seven years at the helm at Hastings:
The Raiders expect to win.
“We should have pretty good depth across all positions, and that’ll be a big key,” Robinson said. “Just looking at overall strength [of the team], this is one of the better ones we’ve had. ... These girls are very hungry to make it back to state, and will just work one game at a time and see what happens.”
Hastings’ season ended after three games in the Section 1 tournament last year. But, at 14-4, the Raiders finished tied with Forest Lake atop the Suburban East standings. Robinson said there’s little doubt that the league is one of the metro’s best, with many teams having the ability to pull off a deep playoff run.
He doesn’t know exactly what to expect from the Metro East, a conference headlined by St. Paul North, which finished fourth at state last season.
“I’d guess that we’ve never played three quarters of those teams,” he said. “Knowing how they play and how we’ll match up, that will be a big learning curve for us.”
Robinson said that, at least in the early going, his team is solely focused on its own strengths.
Hastings’ four senior captains will all play major roles. Pitcher Meagan Friederichs took the mound for most of the Raiders’ games last year and is expected to be a workhorse this year. Robinson said Paige Aherns, who can play all over the infield, will likely play catcher. Third baseman Brooke Weber and outfielder Autumn Kusske-Anderson, who Robinson said “can cover a lot of ground in the outfield,” will be keys on offense.
“They’re going to be key pieces for us this year,” he said. “Last year, we struggled as a team to hit for average, and we’re hoping that will be a big difference for us this year. Our pitching should be able to hold us in games, but we need to hit and we need to get hits in key situations.”
Hastings has six seniors returning from last year’s roster, and a slew of juniors. As Robinson said, depth will be a strength, even if it comes from players not accustomed to playing big varsity roles.
“A lot of these girls, they were all there watching when we won state that year,” he said. “They saw what it took to get there, and they saw how excited the players were to win — and how excited the whole town got about it. They want that same type of experience, and that’s what they’re playing for.
“A lot has changed since then, and they’re hoping this year will be different, too.”