After posting their most successful season in the last five years in 2019, the Clarinda Cardinals are determined to continue that improvement this summer.
However, Clarinda softball coach Seth Allbaugh knows that will be a challenge since the Cardinals will be playing a shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After cancelling the spring sports season because of the threat of the virus, the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union has approved a four-week regular season for summer softball starting June 15.
“We want to improve on last year. We had nine wins, which was more than the four years prior. Since we only have 14 games, we want to be .500 if not better. If we play well night in and night out I think we can do that,” Allbaugh said.
The Cardinals opened practice Monday, June 1, and have 31 players out for the high school program this year.
“Monday was a bit of a struggle because we had to implement the new rules related to the COVID-19 virus and get some paperwork turned in. It took a while to get going, but once we got on the field, it was business as usual,” Allbaugh said.
Among the new rules teams must observe this season are proper social distancing during practice and games. To assist in that process Allbaugh said he divided the squad into three groups that rotate between stations in the infield, outfield and batting cages. Players also have their temperature taken each day when arriving at practice.
Clarinda returns four seniors this season. They include staff ace Aziah Smalley, catchers Hallee Fine and Kylie Shackelford and right fielder Bradlie Wilmes.
“It’s great to have them back and know they will get to play their last year. They are important players for us from a leadership standpoint and a skill standpoint. All four played a lot for us last year, so we’re expecting a lot from them this year,” Allbaugh said.
Also returning for Clarinda are three juniors. Makayla Fichter will play left field, while Maddie Sunderman is expected to replace graduated senior Addison Shane in center field. Kristin Smith played in a spot role for the Cardinals last season and could see expanded time this year.
Two other starters who are back for the Cardinals this season are sophomores Hailee Knight and Jordan McQueen. Knight served as the designated player for Clarinda last season and McQueen plays shortstop.
“Some of our younger kids will have expanded roles for us. We have to replace four seniors, so a lot of kids that didn’t get a lot of varsity time last year are going to have to step up. I’m confident we have the kids to do that,” Allbaugh said. “We are also going to be pretty diverse with our lineup. We want a lot of interchangeable parts in case of an injury or illness. You have to account for that, especially this year.”
Clarinda will open the season Monday, June 15, at Shenandoah. However, the Cardinals will not play their first home game of the year until Monday, June 22, against Creston.
Allbaugh said 10 of the 14 games on the Clarinda schedule will come against Hawkeye 10 Conference schools and will be played over the first three weeks of the season. The final week of the regular season will feature four non-conference games.
Although the Hawkeye 10 Conference lost several good players to graduation after the 2019 season, Allbaugh has no doubt the conference will still be a tough as ever this year.
Atlantic enters the season ranked in the state. Defending conference champion Harlan only lost one player from its title squad.
“The Hawkeye 10 is going to be tough every year. Even if schools lose a few players, they have others to fill those sports,” Allbaugh said. “You have to be able to compete day in and day out because there are no bad teams. If you don’t play well, you could get beat by any team you play.”