Forging an identity

Missing out on the state tournament should be motivation enough for the Minot High softball team this season.

But just in case the Majettes needed anymore encouragement to advance past the West Region tournament, the fact that the state tournament is in Minot should do the trick.

“It’s big, especially that it’s in Minot, it’s a big push,” senior infielder Ashley Gathman said. “In volleyball, we didn’t get in and it was at home and it was an awful feeling and watching the seniors last year for softball not getting in, you just know that you need to be in it.”

Before the Majettes can start thinking about state, they’ll have to improve on last season’s 10-11 campaign that ended with a 4-1 loss to Dickinson in a state-qualifier. The Majettes open this season at Bismarck on Tuesday. This year’s roster boasts four seniors, five juniors and two sophomores.

Among the seniors is pitcher Lexi Benno, who recorded a program-record 97 strikeouts last year. Minot coach Gerard Cederstrom said Benno will be relied on early in the season as Minot looks to fill holes in the lineup. Benno looks forward to the challenge.

“I like working under pressure, so I guess it’s not something I’m too worried about,” Benno said. “I got to play a lot more this last summer and went to Arizona and got more experience.”

Said Cederstrom: “Our pitching is going to be our strength and if we can hold teams down, it gives us a chance to get our bats going and figure out what our lineup’s going to be.”

Pitching isn’t an issue for the Majettes, but their hitting has been. Minot was held to two runs or less eight times last season and managed just one run in a pair of region tournament games.

“We have some definite holes to fill,” Cederstrom said. “This team’s gotta figure out their own identity and build on it. I don’t care what we look like as long as we win. We just gotta find a way to get it done. Hard work, hard nose and get after it. That’s our motto.”

A blow to Minot’s offense is the loss of Jessie Kongelf to graduation. She is the program leader in hits (86), triples (13), walks (49) and stolen bases (49).

“We need to hit,” Benno said. “You don’t score, you don’t win. We need to do that and I need to do as good as I can with pitching and we need to work together as a team.”

What the Majettes lack in power, they hope to make up for in speed on the basepaths. Minot has never had a long-ball threat in the lineup as Megan Ronnie’s three home runs is the most by any Majette in a single season.

“I think we’re going to be a lot faster this year,” Gathman said. “Honestly, we’re not very big this year so our speed is going to be our major thing.”

Advancing out of the region may be tougher than it’s ever been. Bishop Ryan remains the favorite after two straight trips to the state championship game. Dickinson returns the bulk of its lineup and Cederstrom expects both Century and Bismarck to be tough competition again this season.

The Majettes are hopeful that this could be their year to make it to state.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to get to state and I’ve been playing varsity since freshman year and we’ve never made it,” Benno said. “That is my ultimate goal and that will be where we will be at.”

Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics, the Minot Minotauros and the Minot State men’s club hockey team. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.