By Greg Gielczyk
GRAYLING – Of the 12 girls on the Grayling varsity softball team’s roster this spring, all but one of them were on the squad last year when the Vikings won their first district championship in 17 years.
Despite the low numbers – with 12 on the junior varsity, it makes for a total of 24 girls in the program this spring – coach Mark Golnick anticipates the Vikings’ experience to lead to good things again. Perhaps even taking it a step further in the post-season and winning a regional title.
Seven seniors will provide the experience and leadership, and they are joined by three juniors and a pair of sophomores. Four players — Hatfield, Junttila, Schreiber and Latusek — were all-district last year. Many of the girls participated in off-season activities, including open gyms as well as team camps and should be ready once the season starts.
Golnick, entering his fourth season as the Vikings head coach, has been encouraged by the buy-in he’s seen from the players, and is counting on last year’s successful run to carry over to this spring.
“We have some depth this year,” Golnick said. “I’m looking at pitching being one of our strength. Speed and athleticism is going to be good. We have to fill a couple of key spots. We lost a four-year starter at catcher, and a three-year starter at shortstop. But, the girls have a good work ethic.”
The senior group includes Tiffany Cook, who can play any position in the infield and outfield; Mallory Hatfield, one of the starting pitchers who also played in the outfield a year ago and could move to the infield this spring; Rebecca Latusek, who played second base and some outfield last spring; Carmen Reilly, an outfielder; leadoff hitter Kyla Roach, who started in center field last year; Olivia Schreiber, who played first base last year but might get a look at third this spring, and Carlie Wilson, who was an outfielder last year.
Juniors on the team include Kaylynn Chiders, Sabrina Junttila and Hailey Hartmann. The sophomores are Jenna and Jordyn Schwartz.
Hatfield and Junttila did 90 percent of the pitching for the Vikings last year. Hatfield was hurt right the end of basketball season, which means Junttila will have to carry the load early in the season.
“We’re going to give kids some different looks,” Golnick said. “What we put together in March never seems to be what we have in May. You have injuries, you have kids that really start hitting the ball, you have kids that really stand out.
“I look at the beginning part of the season when we’re playing non-conference games as a time to move kids around and find our niche. When we get into conference play and the playoffs on a roll.
“Boyne City, (Traverse City) St. Francis and Kalkaska are always tough in the (Lake Michigan Conference), and I expect them to be tough again this year. Last year we finished fifth (6-8).”
The Vikings want a little bit more than a taste of success in the post-season this year.