There will be a lot of new faces around Roberts Park this spring with the Hutchinson girls softball team — both players and the head coach.
Stepping up to take the reins of the team this year is Dustin Boeckers. He had planned to be an assistant coach last year under his wife, Mackenzie, but after losing last spring to COVID-19 she decided to step down from the position and he took over. Although he’s new as the head varsity coach in Hutchinson, he’s coached plenty of softball in his days, including 10 years of fastpitch. He also has a familiar face helping out, with assistant coach Tim Carroll back in the saddle.
“When we moved back just over four years ago, we actually, my wife and I, coached the 14U team for summer ball,” Boecker said. “So I thought it was a unique opportunity to coach some of these seniors and juniors that we had then who are playing now.”
“I have a passion for softball,” he added. “I’ve been playing for awhile, and I used to coach at St. Cloud Apollo for four years at all levels.”
Boeckers takes over a Tiger team with plenty of speed and senior leadership, he said. The Hutch’s 12-girl roster includes seven seniors, at least two of whom had varsity experience back in 2019, the last time Hutch played. But even though the team didn’t get be together much last year, Boeckers said he’s already seen improvements.
“We had a week of tryouts last year that we were able to do, so I got to see a little of them,” he said. “But there are some girls we have on varsity that last year we were like, probably not. The difference a year made is huge.”
Upperclassmen will compete for most spots in the infield: seniors Aaliyah Flores and Cassidy Caya at first base, seniors Alia Muellerleile at second base, and seniors Sara Bassler and Paige Telecky at third base. There is some youth on the team, such as freshmen Bryn Anderson and Jillian Martinez, who are competing for time at shortstop.
Hutchinson’s battery will be a mix of young and old, as senior Courtney Huiras and eighth-grader Paisley VonBerge handle the pitching duties, while senior Kendallyn Kalenberg, sophomore Savannah Schlueter and Anderson are behind the plate at catcher.
In the outfield junior Brynn Swift will work into the mix, along with others such as Flores, Anderson, Kalenberg, Schlueter and Telecky.
“It’s neat to see these seniors mixing in with the younger group and really getting along and teaching them some stuff about the game,” Boeckers said.
When it comes to the team’s strength this year, Boeckers didn’t hesitate naming speed as the Tigers’ main threat.
“That’s basically what this team is built on,” he said. “We have a lot of fast runners, so we’re working on being able to reach base to use that speed to cause some havoc on the base paths.
“On the reverse side of that, it’s great for defense, too, because our outfield can cover a lot of ground, and our infield has quick feet to get to a lot of balls. So that’s what we’re going to be mainly focused on.”
After losing all of last year to COVID-19, not much was known about the type of competition Hutchinson would face in the Wright County Conference East or in its section. But Boeckers said the Tigers have been eagerly awaiting the start of the season, which they opened last week with four home losses against Mound Westonka (13-9), New Prague (7-6), Worthington (9-1) and Waconia (12-3).
The 0-4 start was not what the team had hoped for, but there’s plenty of time to turn things around. And after coaching younger teams and moving up to varsity, Boeckers is confident Hutchinson players have the will and determination to keep getting better all throughout spring.
“There’s a little more passion for the game at these upper levels, and you can tell from some of the girls who have a real passion for the game,” he said. “Some of them, this is their only sport, so they really give a lot to it.”