The Buena Vista softball team has made it into the Iowa Conference Tournament in two of the last three seasons, but the Beavers are still looking for that elusive first win in postseason play since the tournament was reinstated in 2006. Now entering her fifth season directing her alma mater, head coach Heather Hupke believes this could be the year the program turns another corner.
“We have a nice corps of returning players this year who have been around the block and now know what to expect,” she says. “As we move into the season, we’re going to be looking for a lot out of those players and expect to be more consistent overall.”
BVU is coming off a 2012 campaign in which it finished 17-17 overall, marking its first season at .500 or better since going 22-13 back in 2001. Despite a tough ending to the year at the conference tournament, the team has reason to be excited for this year, as six starters will be back, including four of the team’s top five hitters.
“We’re on our bus trip home from Decorah, and several of those players were already talking about how they wanted to get back out and play again the next day,” she says. “They are a focused and determined bunch, and the way it ended last year was tough.”
Sophomore Stephanie Hayden (Prairie City, Iowa/PCM), junior Brooke Berkey (Colfax, Iowa/Colfax-Mingo), and junior Sam Engleman (Hawarden, Iowa/West Sioux) are among the leaders of that group. Berkey and Engleman each made 34 starts with Hayden starting 33. All three are infielders and finished the year, hitting above .300. They also combined to score more than 46 of the team’s runs with Hayden and Engleman, tying for the team lead with 12 walks.
Sophomore Jessica Stocker (Des Moines, Iowa/Carlisle) joins that group to round out the returning infielders. She’s coming off a season that saw her hit .270 with a team-leading eight doubles and 10 sacrifice hits. Defensively, she committed just two errors in more than 250 chances at first base.
As a team, the defensive side was also much improved in 2012, with BVU committing nearly 30 fewer errors than it did in 2011. The team returns virtually every position player and Hupke feels that aspect of the game will be one of the team’s strengths.
One of the big focal points in the early going is finding the right mix of arms for the mound, after losing the team’s top-two pitchers from last year to graduation.
“It’s been the one area we’ve spent a good time evaluating,” says Hupke. “The fall gave us a good chance to see what we’ve got, and I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen.”
Brittany Kubik (Martensdale, Iowa/Martensdale St. Mary’s) and Molly Cox (Redfield, Iowa/West Central) are each junior college transfers and already have experience under their belt. Cox was a First Team All-Region pitcher for Iowa Central Community College with Kubik joining the roster after seeing action on the mound at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).
Competing with those two and adding depth to the position are also freshman Jenna Falline (Newell, Iowa/Newell-Fonda) and Faith Schmidt (Emmetsburg, Iowa/Emmetsburg). Schmidt was a two-time all-state selection for the E-Hawks, while Falline had a stand-out career with the Mustangs.
“They each provide a great deal of strength to the pitching staff,” states Hupke. “Each one throws the ball hard and produces a lot of movement. We just need them each to build off those strengths and be consistent.”
Sophomore Erin Kliefoth (Exira, Iowa/Exira) gives those individuals a veteran target to pitch to, as she started 30 games, committed just three errors and threw out 14 attempted base stealers as a freshman last season.
The team will be tested right out of the gate again this year with six games in three days inside of the Rosemount Dome up north in Rosemount, Minn. BVU opens the year on Friday, March 1 with a doubleheader against preseason #18 St. Thomas (Minn.). That will be followed on Saturday with a pair of games against Bethel University and on Sunday with another twin-bill against Gustavus Adolphus. Those three teams combined to go 81-30 a year ago.
“It’ll be a great test for us. We’ll see a lot of this same caliber of teams throughout our conference schedule, so it’s a good point for us to see where we’re at as a team. With our pitching depth, we can hopefully throw several different looks out there and see what happens.”
After heading north, the team will be play doubleheaders against three Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) opponents, including the home opener on March 15 against Nebraska Wesleyan University at 5:00/7:00pm.
After a spring trip to Claremont, Fla, the Beavers will then open Iowa Conference play with a road doubleheader at Coe College on April 3. The first IIAC home games take place on Saturday, April 6 against Wartburg College.
“We certainly have the potential to be among the top-4 teams in the league,” Hupke adds. “We were right there last year with a younger group and just let a few games get away late. We’re building off that experience, and with a few teams losing some key players from last year, we’ll see how it all plays out.”
Check out photos of our student-athletes in action in the Beaver sports photo galleries.