When Alpena Community College softball coach Pat Anderson looks at his lineup for this season, he sees an awful lot of talent and an awful lot of potential.
In fact, the group of 11 women who will take the field for the Lumberjacks this year may be the best collection of talent Alpena has had in the last few seasons and makes the Lumberjacks a serious contender for the MCCAA Eastern Conference title.
"This year should be an outstanding year. I really believe coach (Kevin) Willis and I have recruited a very very talented team. The talent on this team is very very good," Anderson said. "I have not only girls that can play their position but I also have a lot of versatile players that can play any position."
News Photo by James Andersen
The Alpena Community College softball team will open its season today against Oakland. Pictured for the Lumberjacks, left to right, are: back: Head Coach Pat Anderson, Ondreya Willis, Brittany Maki, Brianna Grimm, Rachael Barnes, Lindsay Ponik, Erin Willis and Assistant Coach Kevin Willis; front: Greta Grambau, Karena Hipkins, Lauren Seibert, Christina Bednarski, Maggie Prevo and Kasi Swajanen.
The Lumberjacks will begin their quest for the title when they open the season today with two games at Oakland, which won the Eastern Conference with a 19-5 mark last season.
ACC returns four players from last season and brings in seven freshmen who offer a good mix of offensive skill and stellar defensive play.
Anderson and Willis have continued to branch out in their recruiting efforts and it's already playing off. Three of the freshmen, Lauren Seibert, Brianna Grimm and Kasi Swajanen, hail from the Upper Peninsula and aside from being solid position players, they also add power to the lineup.
Seibert, a third baseman from Marquette, helped the Redettes to a district title last season and had a career .341 batting average and .958 fielding percentage in high school.
Swajanen, a middle infielder from Chatham, won all-state honors three times in four years with the Cougars.
Grimm, a catcher from Escanaba was one of the top hitters in the UP last year for the Eskymos.
"Not only defensively, but offensively, those U.P. girls are really crushing the ball. I probably realistically have eight girls that can hit the ball over the fence consistently," Anderson said. "Grimm and Seibert are good on-base percentage hitters."
On the mound, Anderson will have a good one-two punch with returning lefthander Brittany Maki and freshman righthander Lindsay Ponik (Posen).
Grimm is slated to start behind the plate and will share catching duties with Karena Hipkins. Whichever player isn't catching could also play at first base.
The rest of the infield will see Swajanen at second base, Seibert at third base and Rachael Barnes at shortstop. In the outfield, Maggie Prevo (Alpena) will play left field, Christina Bednarski (Posen) will play center field and Greta Grambau (Rogers City) will patrol right field.
Ondreya Willis will see time for the Lumberjacks in both the infielder and outfield.
With such a talented group of players who can hit for power, Anderson said the Lumberjacks' lineup can be juggled around depending on the game.
Barnes will lead off for ACC, followed by Seibert, Maki and Hipkins in the cleanup spot. The rest of the lineup is open, but offers Anderson and Willis a lot of options for filling it out.
The Lumberjacks are the only team in the MCCAA to have not played a game yet this season, but the stretch of warm weather earlier this month allowed ACC to practice outside for an extended period, something that doesn't happen often this time of year.
"This is the earliest we've ever been on a field. Everybody else gets to practice outside, this is one of the first years we've been able to practice for about three or four weeks now," Anderson said. "It's really an advantage to us over the previous year as opposed to bouncing a ball off the gym floor."
At the beginning of last season, Anderson predicted that Alpena would finish around the .500 mark and the Lumberjacks validated that prediction, finishing 13-14 overall and 12-12 in conference play.
This season however, a .500 finish would be considered by everyone to be a disappointment. One of the Lumberjacks goals is to compete with the Eastern Conference's strong teams such as Oakland, Macomb and Mott, who finished 1-2-3 in the conference last year.
"If we only go .500 this year everyone will be disappointed because we know how much we got," Anderson said. "It's always Oakland and Macomb and Mott and I look to be right in the middle of all of them to compete. Not only just beat them every now and then, but to compete with them every game."