EBEN - The Superior Central Cougars softball team has a new coach, lots of returning talent and raised expectations.
Boasting possibly the most talented and athletic senior class the school has ever had, first-year head coach Richard Swajanen says it's time to win.
"We have 19 kids on our team but they won't all see the field. We're playing to win," Swajanen said.
Swajanen may be new to the high school team, but he has been around the game a lot. He coached minor, major and junior Little League baseball and softball for a number of years and has also coached on travel teams over the years when his daughters Kasi and Molly played.
Molly Swajanen is one of six returning seniors and certainly carries the credentials. Following her high school career she will play at Lansing Community College.
"Molly has been in the outfield all her life, but I have her catching now," said coach Swajanen. "I had a catcher the last two years (Mikayla Barrows) but she moved, so Molly will be our main catcher."
April 11 - @ Hale (DH); April 12 - @ Oscoda (DH)' April 14 - Calumet (DH); April 16 - @ Marquette (DH); Aprl 18-19 - Spring Swing Tournament @ Superior Dome; April 23 - @ Rapid River (DH); April 30 - @ Munising (DH).
May 2 - Houghton (DH); May 6 - @ Calumet (DH); May 9-10 - @ Posen Invitational; May 17 - @ Rudyard Tournament; May 19 - Munising (DH); May 20 - Norway (DH); May 22 - Rapid River (DH); May 23 - Marquette (DH).
The rest of the senior class includes fellow basketball standouts, Vanessa Freberg, Brooke Pasanen, Teslyn Tyner and Bethany Pirman, as well as Nicki Lincoln. All are very athletic and versatile players,all of whom (with the exception of Lincoln) have been on the team for four years.
"Vanessa Freberg is a nice player. Her and Brooke Pasanen will pitch. Teslyn Tyner is one heck of an athlete. She can play at shortstop and cover a lot of ground, and she's going to have the green light on the bases. If she gets a good jump, she's going to go," said Swajanen. "Nicki Lincoln is a nice ballplayer and she'll help us a lot and Bethany Pirman has been playing for years. She's ready to hit the ball this year. She has a good arm in the outfield and she can hit."
At first base, Swajanen is penciling in junior Katie Trowbridge, who carries power with her bat.
"Katie is a heck of a hitter and she'll help us out a lot offensively," said Swajanen. "As far as filling in the holes, I might put one of my seniors in the outfield, but it will be hard because the infield is so important. There's three positions out there that six girls could fill."
The rest of the team has potential but is raw in other areas. Swajanen said some will play, and others need development before they see the field.
Junior Brooke Krysiak is tabbed to play at second base. Hailey Lintula, Abby Johns, Elena Torongo, Kali Tyner and Whitney Moore will all likely see playing time.
"They are kids that I will get in when I can, but we're focused on winning," said Swajanen.
One of the freshmen on the team, Rachel Stemen has a powerful swing and a 6-foot-1 frame, making for an intimidating presence at the plate, but she isn't quite ready to contribute yet.
"I have to teach her how to hit, but when she swings you can hear the whiff of the bat. She swings hard," said Swajanen.
The Cougars will open the season Friday at Hale, Mich. before playing at Oscoda on Saturday. An earlier game last Monday was called off and a home game on Monday is also likely to be called off as the Cougars' field is still under over a foot of snow.
Superior Central will however play in the Spring Swing Tournament at the Superior Dome, where they are scheduled to play Norway, Kingsford and Calumet.
Included in the Cougars' nine-team district that will be played in Pickford at the end of May is perennial nemesis Rapid River along with established programs like St. Ignace, Rudyard and Newberry. There are also a handful of new programs such as Pickford and Brimley, as well as Mackinaw City.
Swajanen however is most concerned with Rapid River, and it matters little to him that the Rockets are a young team.
"Rapid still has Savannah Stenlund, and she's a very good pitcher. Those kids have been playing travel ball and they have kids that can and will step up," said Swajanen. "We haven't won a district game in about 4-5 years, and we have to get past Rapid River. Newberry had a real nice freshman pitcher last year, and I'm sure she's still around. All it takes is one good pitcher."