By KIRK HARDCASTLE
NIACC Sports Information Director
MASON CITY – The NIACC softball team is scheduled to open the Iowa portion of its schedule on Thursday and third-year coach Christi Weiser couldn't be more excited.
NIACC enters Thursday's non-conference twinbill at Marshalltown CC with a 9-7 record having played half of its games inside in Minnesota and half on a spring-break trip to Florida.
"I've watched this group since day one and we really struggled the first day out," Weiser said. "You expect that with 13 freshmen a little bit.
"Since then, we've started to find ourselves. This is as competitive a group, if not more competitive, than any team I've ever had. They really don't like to lose anything – ever. Whether it be a race to the van, a dance contest, a pitch, an at-bat, an inning, a game, they don't like to lose. They're focused."
NIACC returns three sophomores from last year's team that was 20-31 overall and 10-18 in the ICCAC. The three returners, who have all battled some sort of injury this spring, are Kendall Cornick, Elise Powers and Brittany Florea.
Powers and Florea have both played in 13 of the 16 games and Cornick has not played in a game this season.
Weiser said Cornick, who has a foot injury, is trying to get back on the field as quick as possible.
Cornick was a Fast Pitch News first-team all-American outfielder as a freshman. She hit .561 with 65 stolen bases in the 2016 season.
"She's working her way back," Weiser said. "She's doing everything they're asking her to do.
"She's trying as hard as she can. She's got a tough injury that she's battling back from."
Weiser said the three sophomores have been a leadership voice during the fall season and the early part of the spring campaign.
"All three of the sophomores have been injured and that hasn't stopped them," the coach said. "We challenge everyone to fill their role as best you can and every single one of them has done that to the best of their ability. They have led by example."
Offensively, NIACC is averaging 8.1 runs per game and has a team batting average of .390. The Lady Trojans have hit 27 doubles and nine home runs.
Freshman leadoff hitter Morgan Thesing-Ritter is hitting .672 with four triples, one double and 24 stolen bases from the top spot in the batting order.
"It always starts at the top with your leadoff hitter," Weiser said. "Obviously, coming into this season we had Kendall Cornick penciled into that role and due to circumstances beyond her control, she's not in that role right now.
"But we couldn't ask for anything more from what Morgan Thesing-Ritter has done. Holy cow. When she gets on base, we are able to feed off of that and the rest of the group just runs with it."
In the circle, Weiser has used four pitchers in the early portion of the schedule with all four of them logging at least 14 innings.
Courtney Johannes, a freshman from Pella, is 3-3 with one save. She has 30 strikeouts and 18 walks in 34 innings pitched. Wallace, a freshman from Carroll, is 2-3 with one save and has logged 20 2/3 innings.
"We're kind of by committee," Weiser said. "The thing that I understand after our spring trip is that all of them are going to be ready when I give them the ball.
"We don't have a clear No. 1. We don't have a clear closer. It doesn't matter which of the four I give the ball to. They've demonstrated that through their work ethic."
After Thursday's nonconference doubleheader at Marshalltown, NIACC opens ICCAC play Saturday at No. 6 DMACC and Sunday at Northeast CC in Norfolk, Neb.
The conference will once again be a tough one with three teams in this week's NJCAA Division II rankings. Kirkwood is ranked second, DMACC is No. 6 and Iowa Central is No. 17.
"Our conference is going to be fun this year," Weiser said. "I think everyone has improved over where we're at last year, including Kirkwood and DMACC.
"We start out with DMACC on Saturday. You might as well play one of the big dogs right away to see where you're at."