Bethel spring sports teams counter winter weather by competing down south over break
Sports | Jared Nelson
Unfortunately for spring athletes, they are at the mercy of mother nature for much of their season. Minnesota winters can stretch deep into April, leaving teams just a few weeks of green grass before finals week is here.
The athletic department does everything to ease these pains during spring break, as the teams often travel to locations in the southern United States to compete in warm weather. The baseball, softball, men’s and women’s tennis and the women’s golf teams all competed somewhere sunny last week. Here’s how they fared.
A trip to Marion, Ill. the weekend before break gave the team an opportunity to shake off some rust and first-game jitters, and the squad emerged with a 2-2 record heading into the trip to Florida. The Royals won their first six games in the Sunshine State before dropping three in a row and returning home with a 7-3 record.
“We got some great performances from our starting pitching, which gave us a chance to win every game,” said junior pitcher Joe Zorn.
Sophomore Jake Hanzalik got things rolling on the first day of competition with a two-hit shutout of the Edgewood Eagles to sweep the doubleheader and set the tone for the rest of the trip.
Fellow sophomore Tyler Heitmann finished on the mound for the Royals, capping the trip with an eight-inning performance and surrendering just four hits and one run, defeating the No. 24-ranked Augustana Vikings. Heitmann’s efforts were good enough to earn him the MIAC Pitcher of the Week award.
The pitchers are quick to credit the defense with the success, as Nik Anderson and Jarad Watts return to their positions at shortstop and second base, where they are both consistent and dependable.
The Royals welcomed contributions from newcomers at the plate during their trip. Freshman Bryce Marquardt has started every game in center field and leads the team with 18 hits and a .360 average. Marquardt was a standout on special teams this fall for the Royals football team, and he leads the baseball team with 16 stolen bases. Fellow freshman Bret Neuville has anchored the right side of the defense and has yet to miss a start at first base. Neuville leads the Royals with 11 runs batted in, and Marquardt is second with 10.
The team was able to go to the beach a few times and bond during their time in Florida.
“Spending time with the team and bonding on this trip has brought us so close together,” Zorn said. “Playing against good competition on this trip, I feel like we are very prepared to make a run at the MIAC championship this year. We're all pumped because we know how good we can be, and we just want to show it.”
The women’s softball team played a pair of doubleheaders locally prior to spring break, but their opening tilt against UW-Stout in Clermont, Fla. was their first game outdoors in 2014. Offense was the Royals’ calling card for the first four games, averaging over seven runs and recording wins in three of those games.
The Royals closed out their trip with defense and solid pitching, surrendering just four runs in the final four games and taking home two wins in the process. The ladies finished with a 7-4 record on the trip. Sophomore outfielder Abbie Bircher was kind enough to fill The Clarion in on who played well in Florida.
“Lindsey Edeen stood out this week pitching and was a huge contributor to our success as a team,” Bircher said. “Kelsey Anderson was incredibly consistent in the batter's box with base hit after base hit. Caroline Kivisto was solid behind the plate and caught the majority of our varsity games. Brooke Charleston also proved herself at the plate with several base hits and RBI's throughout the week.”
A potent lineup in 2013 got some sizeable contributions from newcomers and returners like MIAC Player-of-the-Year Angie Jackson, making for a successful showing on the field.
Perhaps the best performance of the week came from Courtney Saurer, who posted a 1.00 ERA in three outings, which included a one-run gem in a loss to the nation’s top team, the 2013 national champions from Tufts University. Saurer was honored by the MIAC for her performance, as she was selected as the Pitcher of the Week.
Away from the diamond, the team was able to head to the beach and enjoy the company of the masses of fans that came out to support them.
“On the field, we molded together as teammates and became much more comfortable playing with each other,” Bircher said. “Off the field, we had a great time hanging out and making some of the best memories together.”
Thousand Oaks, Calif. was the site of the women’s golf team’s spring break activities. The team was one of six competing in the Regal Invitational at Sunset Country Club on March 17 and 18.
Freshman Leah Swanson led Bethel on the first day of the tournament with a 16-over-88, led by a very impressive 41 before the turn. The team found themselves in fifth place after the first day of play.
Bethel was the only team to improve upon their score from day one during the second day of the tournament, moving up a spot in the field and finishing in fourth place. Freshman Abby Perrenoud was the key to the turnaround, dropping twelve strokes off her first round score, finishing with an 80, including three birdies. Her finish was the best among the Royals, placing her in a three-way tie for 11th place in the tournament.
Although the competition concluded on Tuesday of spring break, the team still took advantage of the weather and got in numerous practice rounds along the west coast before returning home to the snow. The Royals take a break before MIAC play begins, and the ladies hope that the snow will melt and temperatures will increase before the St. Thomas Invitational at Pebble Creek Golf Course on April 12 and 13.
The men’s and women’s tennis teams traveled to Orlando during spring break. The men returned with a 1-5 record and the women went 1-4. Unfortunately, the wins were hard to come by for both squads, but each team made great in terms improvements and found a little bit of their identity heading into the regular season back in Minnesota.
“Our play increased during the week,” senior Kirby Ronning said. “Ending our trip with a win gives us a lot of confidence as we gear up for the second half of MIAC play.”
Matt Schull is the No. 1 singles player for the men this season, and according to Ronning, he had a very strong showing in Florida.
A unique component of the tennis trip was that both teams did a lot of things together. The men and women were able to grow closer together as a single unit through a variety of activities under the sun.
“Our team spends a lot of time together, whether that’s eating meals together, spending time at the pool or sharing devotionals to get to know one another,” Ronning said. He added that the time spent with the other guys on the team will pay dividends when matches get tight, because they know that they have the support of one another.
Both teams begin play again next weekend, where they’ll draw from the experience of playing close matches against tough competition in Florida.
“We are very aware that every MIAC match for the rest of the season is incredibly important, and by fighting our way through tight spots in matches on spring break, it improves our confidence in those situations,” Ronning said.