Spray a diamond on the field, jump into the bleachers, and buckle up, because the time has come once again for the ladies to showcase what Sanpete County is really all about.
The 2022 softball season is just around the corner, and with high expectations as usual for our three local squads, we take a preemptive look at what is to come for the Bulldogs, Templars and Hawks.
GUNNISON—The Lady Bulldogs are entering a new era.
Gunnison softball returns a bevy of varsity talent this year and is primed for a stellar season, but they’ll be doing so without longtime head coach Tyson Brackett, who stepped down from his position after 10 years with the team.
The reins of the program fell squarely into the hands of a former product of the Brackett era, Coach Sara Ellsworth. Ellsworth played for Gunnison before continuing her softball career at BYU-Hawaii. She then was an assistant coach for the Lady Bulldogs in 2015 and then again last season after moving back to the valley. She graduated from BYU-Idaho with a degree in Marriage and Family Studies last year.
“My knowledge of the game of softball and background in psychology will positively influence my ability to coach these young athletes,” Ellsworth said.
The Lady Bulldogs are well-equipped to dominate the field this spring after graduating just one senior last year. Senior Raven Pickett looks like the offensive leader for Gunnison after getting 33 RBI last year. Senior Kennedi Knudsen returns as a threat as well in all facets of the game.
“I expect us to be a strong competitor in the 2A division this season,” Ellsworth said. “The girls have an understanding of the game and each other, and I believe that will be to our benefit as we approach this season.”
The 2A softball division consolidated this year, forgoing 1A spring ball and accruing some of the smaller 3A schools to form the 2A Central, 2A North, and 2A South. Gunnison is ranked No. 3 in 2A by Deseret News, but they will have tough competition in the region with the likes of No. 2 Duchesne and 3A dropdowns South Sevier and San Juan. They’ll also have former 1A schools Piute and Wayne.
The Lady Bulldogs begin their season on the road this Tuesday against a tough opponent in Richfield. They’ll then have their home opener on Wednesday against South Summit. Gunnison will play in the March Warm Up Classic in St. George next Friday and Saturday, but details of their opponents have not yet been released.
MANTI—We can only hope that the third time is the charm for the Lady Templars.
Manti softball has the honorable yet not quite satisfying distinction of being the two-time defending 3A runners-up going into this season, and based on early rankings, the expectation is for yet another sequel to the story.
The Lady Templars, led by head coach Susan Hatch, open up the season ranked No. 2 in Deseret News preseason 3A rankings. The No. 1, of course, is Grantsville, the team that has spoiled Manti’s dreams two years running.
Manti finished last season at 28-4 overall and were the No. 1 team in 3A for most of the season and in the tournament until being dethroned by the Cowgirls. Manti entered the championship understandably exhausted after they played the final one-loss game against Carbon just that morning. That game went into extra innings, pushing the start time of the title game and giving the Lady Templars all of about an hour’s rest to play for it all. Even still, they barely lost in a 6-5 showdown.
The Templars graduated three seniors last year. Those three seniors were very significant to the squad, including Katie Larsen, who is currently playing soccer at Snow College. Larsen was one of the top three homerun hitters in the entire state and notched an astounding 56 RBI.
Despite that, Manti returns a wealth of talent and is primed for success. Six seniors are projected to return for Manti, namely Tiffany Hermansen, Ashley Rasmussen, Hadden Taylor, Katelyn Crouch, Adalee Olson and Maquette Hansen. Junior HayLee Daniels also returns after being second on the team in total RBI last year with 41, including 12 doubles.
Hatch did not respond to requests for comment on this preview and therefore has not confirmed the lineup.
The Lady Templars begin their season on the road this Tuesday against 5A Lehi. They’ll then face 6A Layton, 4A Snow Canyon, 4A Bear River, 5A Springville, 4A Crimson Cliffs and 4A Desert Hills, all in two days this weekend at the Red Rock Invitational in St. George. Their home opener will be against 4A Cedar City next Tuesday.
MT. PLEASANT—It is a rare occurrence not to see the Lady Hawks in the championship discussion at the beginning of a season.
Nevertheless, it’s where North Sanpete softball find themselves in a season where they look to be one of the youngest teams in the division, being unincluded in the Deseret News 3A Top 5 in the preseason.
North Sanpete had an unexpectedly early end to their season in last year’s playoff bracket, losing to a lower seed in the first round of the tournament. They then got three games into the one-loss bracket before Carbon shut them down, 12-1, to end their season. The Lady Hawks finished 15-11 overall.
“We didn’t finish as well at state last year as we had hoped, and that always goes into the rankings for the next season,” head coach Landon Bailey said. “3A is highly competitive, and there are many fantastic teams that we hope to be able to compete with this season.”
Despite being incredibly young, the Lady Hawks still remain a threat in the region, with Manti being the only ranked team in Region 14. Having finished second in region last year, the bar is set there for future improvement.
The Lady Hawks underclassmen are all quite accomplished as well. Junior Lucy Oldroyd was second on the team in total RBI last year with 24. The returning seniors for the team are Heather Howarth and Jada Bailey. Howarth had 20 RBI last season, while Bailey led in triples with three.
“Even though we are very young, we still have high expectations for this season,” Coach Bailey said. “If they play like they are capable of playing, we should be very competitive this year. We have a very tough non-region schedule that is really going to test us. Hopefully, those games will help prepare us for a very tough region season. And then ultimately we are hoping to be playing our best ball by May when the state tournament happens.”
North Sanpete begins their season on the road against Enterprise this Thursday. They’ll then face 4A Crimson Cliffs, 4A Desert Hills, 5A Springville, 5A Tooele, and 4A Bear River between Friday and Saturday at the Red Rock Invitational at St. George.