Park softball coach Bob Loshek believed it was going to be a transition year for his team.
But his Wolfpack finished the regular season 15-5 overall, and 12-4 in the Suburban East Conference. That record “looks pretty good going into sections,” Loshek said.
No. 6-ranked Park of Cottage Grove’s softball team graduated six seniors after an 8-10 season in 2014. This year, the team has two seniors and a roster full of underclassmen.
“This year was an awesome surprise,” junior Gwen Warling said. “People don’t expect it from us, being so young.”
All-state senior shortstop Rachel Suter said she wanted her teammates to have the same good experiences she had at their age.
“We just knew that we needed to compete with ourselves,” Suter said.
Starting from game No. 2 this season, Park rattled off a 10-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 90-34 in that stretch.
What a contrast from last year, when the only streak of note was four losses in a row. This year their winning was a by-product of their hard work, according to Loshek. Being considered an underdog is just fine with them.
“We love it,” Loshek said. “We absolutely love it.”
Upperclassmen leadership is a key reason for the turnaround, he said. Players such as Suter and Warling don’t have to say much, “they just work hard,” Loshek said. “They [the players] just follow the lead of Rachel and Gwen and Autumn [Mortenson].”
One way they lead is with the bat. Warling leads the team with her .680 batting average. The third baseman describes herself as a spray hitter.
But her softball career has been filled with injuries and surgeries. Loshek is happy that she’s finally had a healthy spring.
What’s her secret to such a high batting average? She keeps it simple.
“I just swing hard,” Warling said. “I’ve gotten a lot stronger over the years.”
Suter is another important piece to the Park softball puzzle. She has brought her versatility to the varsity squad since eighth grade, playing right field and second base before moving to short. She plans to play for the University of St. Thomas next season.
For now, she’s helped lead her team to an impressive regular season record. They’ve worked hard in practice and things are coming together.
“We just go out there and we play our ball,” Suter said.
A common theme of improvement this year has been the fielding. There are a lot fewer errors and more players going after the ball, Warling said. The defensive game was “leaps and bounds” over the offense early on this season, Loshek said. The team spends 45 minutes to an hour each practice working on defense.
“Last year, we weren’t the best,” Warling said. “We put in a lot of work. … it’s all paid off, as you can see.
“Now we’ve got some goals. I expect us to do well in sections. Each team we face, we’re going to have to come out with the same motivation.”
In the Class 3A, Section 3 tournament, Loshek and his players will keep an eye on teams to beat including Bloomington Jefferson, Rosemount, Eastview and Lakeville North.
“Hopefully we’re starting to turn up the heat a little bit here,” Loshek said. “I wish the season would never end.”