What a difference a year makes.
Just a year removed from having perhaps the youngest team in the Hawkeye 10 Conference, Glenwood girls softball coach Tim Stanton begins the 2009 season with perhaps the most experienced and deepest teams in the conference.
The Rams return nine of their top 10 hitters from last season's 22-20 team that finished fifth in the conference. Stanton calls his 2009 Rams his best team since his conference champion 2004 team.
“This is the most complete team we've had since we won the conference championship,” said Stanton. “We have five tough teams in our conference this year and we're one of them, and we just have got to win games against those four.”
Stanton called Kuemper Catholic, Harlan, Creston and Council Bluffs Lewis Central, who like his team return a lot of experience and talent, the contenders for the league crown with his Rams.
“There were only four seniors on the all-conference team,” he said. “So there are some good teams out there.”
Starting with his own team, Stanton returns three all-conference performers in outfielder Sophie Ringsdorf, shortstop Ana VanScoy and utility player and pitcher Molly Bryan.
Ringsdorf, a four-year starter in the outfield, his .460 and stole 33 bases last season. The senior has already signed to played softball at Graceland University next season. VanScoy, the Rams' leadoff hitter, batted .380 and drove in 19 runs.
As an eighth grader last season Bryan went 11-8 in the circle and shared the team lead with 25 RBIs while batting .320. She also was second in the conference with five home runs.
“Having her back on the mound is huge but her hitting is big too, she's a tremendous hitter,” said Stanton.
Bryan will pitch most conference games with junior Jordan Ruhr taking over in some non-conference games. The hard throwing Ruhr was 7-9 a season ago.
The Rams' entire starting infield returns intact with Kayla Martin at first base, Emily Robinson at second, Van Scoy at short and Monica Jones at third.
“Last year we were growing up on the field and getting better every game,” said Stanton. “This year, we're just a better team, our players are better, we're strong, we're smarter and overall we're just better ball players.”
So can this team match that 2004 team and win a conference title of their own?
“I think we can,” Stanton said. “Or we could get fourth. The tough thing about our schedule in the conference this year is we have our tough conference double-headers on the road. We go to Kuemper, we go to Harlan and we go to Atlantic. Kuemper and Harlan are tough places to play double-headers on the road.”
Stanton's biggest concern right now is his team believing they are good as he thinks they are.
“Our biggest weakness honestly is our kids have to believe we are a very good team,” he said. “They have to believe that and if they play like that, we'll be very good. If they don't, then that is our biggest weakness.”
The Rams scored 170 runs and hit .310 as a team last season. A recent “black and gold” inner-squad scrimmage that finished in a 15-15 tie with three homeruns hit in the game suggest the Rams could eclipse those numbers.
“We were amazed by how hard we hit the ball and we have pretty good pitching,” he said. “We hit it really well. We've had these games finish 2-0 and you scratch your head. But putting up 15 runs by each team shows me we're really hitting the ball.”