The Prior Lake softball team has the returning talent it needs to contend in the South Suburban Conference and in Section 2AAAA.
It’s now up to first-year coach Erika Smyth to connect all the dots.
Smyth takes over the Lakers’ program from Kelsey Anderson, who spent two seasons guiding the team. Prior Lake had a 14-8 overall mark last year, 12-5 in the South Suburban Conference.
The COVID-19 pandemic completely wiped out Anderson’s first season as coach in 2020.
Smyth likes the talent returning, which includes seniors Tori Wietgrefe, Meg May, Meg Schultz, Mady Lyons and Macey Dahl and junior shortstop Brooke Holmes, who was all-state honorable mention last season.
“We are very lucky to have a good amount of returning players, both upperclassmen and underclassmen, who have seen time at the varsity level,” Smyth said. “Our team has had a great start to the preseason and the girls have been competing hard at practice thus far.
“I think it is very fair to say that our conference is one of the top conferences in the state and our section may be the best in the state,” Smyth added. “Regardless of the tough schedule in front of us, I believe our goals will always remain the same — respect our competition, fear no one, focus on the one game in front of us and compete hard to win.”
Sophomore outfielder Courtney Hennen and ninth-grader Bree Holmes got some varsity time last spring and will be part of the starting mix.
“We will be looking for both of them to really step into roles that were left behind by a talented group of seniors,” Smyth said.
Holmes and Schultz look to be Prior Lake’s two pitchers. Wietgrefe, who will play Division II softball next year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, returns to first base.
“I believe we have strengths in all facets of the game,” Smyth said. “We have two strong pitchers in Meg and Bree. Both have the full ability to win us ballgames single handedly, and it is always great to have two arms that can start and finish games in the circle.
“Defensively, we have an experienced infield that will be led by Brooke,” Smyth added. “Our biggest strength will be our offense where we have one of the best hitters to come out of the state of Minnesota in Tori and strong depth from top to bottom in the order.”
Smyth, a Washington state native, knows what it takes to compete at a high level. She’s also the director of softball at Starters Sports Training in Burnsville and has been the head coach of the Starters’ 16U team in the summer.
Smyth was standout at the University of Minnesota from 2012 to 2015. She was part of the Gophers’ first Big Ten championship squad in 15 years in 2014. That team also won the Gophers’ first-ever Division I regional championship, making their first-ever super regional appearance.
She’s also the only Gopher softball player in history to win back-to-back Teammate of the Year awards in 2014 and 2015.
Prior Lake has had some talented teams over the last decade. Under former coach Matt Haefner, who Anderson replaced, Prior Lake had a record of 123-46 in his seven seasons as coach.
Haefner stepped down after the 2019 season. He led the Lakers to a runner-up finish at state in 2013. He had a 23-13 overall record in the playoffs and won SSC titles in both 2017 and 2018.
Softball went to four classes starting in the 2016 season. The Lakers have a 10-10 playoff record since then. There was no 2020 season due to the pandemic.
Chanhassen has won three of the last five Section 2AAAA crowns. Shakopee won in 2018 and Eden Prairie claimed the crown in 2019.
In section realignment last April, seven of the eight section teams remained with Waconia replacing Burnsville. Minnetonka, Chaska and Bloomington Jefferson are also in the field.
Prior Lake tied for second in the SSC last year with Lakeville North and Shakopee. Rosemount ran away with the crown with a 16-1 mark.
The Lakers will open the season April 11 at Lakeville South. Prior Lake’s first home game is April 13 versus Lakeville North.