West Liberty High School fourth year softball coach Chad Libby says his Comets have the same goals as every year – win the River Valley Conference South Division, get to Ford Dodge for the Iowa State Tournament and win a state championship.
And why would they be any different? Loaded again with talent from a team that went 14-2 overall and 10-1 in the conference after just missing a crack at going to state in losing to Davenport Assumption, the Comets return three strong pitchers, senior Janey Gingerich. Junior Sailor Hall and sophomore Brooklyn Buysse among six returning starters that include some big bats and great gloves defensively. While Hall threw a perfect 6-0 won/loss season, Gingerich put forth an 8-2 record including an Earned Run Average of 1.38, making the RVC Elite team as a pitcher.
One of those big bats will be Isabel Morrison, a senior who hit .306 last year but had a slugging percentage of .551 and the first baseman had a .985 fielding percentage as she made the first team all RVC South team last season.
Another big hitter returning is sophomore Finley Hall, a third baseman/catcher who hit .471 last year including a slugging percentage of .630 and a fielding percentage of .946, making the Elite RVC team in 2020.
Those three pitchers aren’t just good on the mound either. Sailor Hall, who also plays second base, hit .358 with a SLG of .467 to make the first team in the RVC South while Gingerich hit .252 and Buysse batted .412, with a Slugging percentage of .625 and a fielding percentage of .910, getting honorable mention honors in the RVC South last year.
The other returning starter is left fielder Rylee Goodale, a sophomore who had a fielding percentage of .910.
Other fresh faces on the team include senior Martha Pace, an outfielder who was an all-state volleyball player that Libby says, “improves every day.” Kylie Struck will play third base and infield and has some power offensively while classmate McKenzie Akers, an outfielder and second baseman, should be a contributor offensively and defensively.
There are also three eighth graders on the team including infielder Pearson Hall, who is expected to be a starter and has “excellent speed.” Sophia Buysse also had a lot of speed and will be playing in the outfield for the Comets while Ady Bell is a second baseman with a lot of club softball experience.
Other members of the team including junior outfielder Grace Evans, sophomore outfielder Taylor Eason, freshman outfielder Paige Werling, junior outfielder Rachel Aird, freshman first baseman Maelyn Wainwright, freshman third baseman, catcher and outfielder Laney Esmoil, junior outfielder Magay Kivi freshman outfielder Skylar Jackson and sophomore outfielder Vayda Bryant.
A number of eighth graders also will be part of the team including outfielders Addi Beaver, Kahly Thammavongsa, Mia Gingerich, Daisy Kivi and Ava Morrison. Libby described the eighth grade class as being “extremely talented.”
The coach said while it may be difficult to replace some “exceptional seniors” from last year’s team, he is working on filling the positions of shortstop, catcher and centerfield. “It will take some time for us to find the right combination of players to be out best,” Libby said.
The veteran coach said it’s been nice to be able to compete this year without COVID-19 “being in the front of our mind.”
“The attitude and effort of the girls on this team is excellent,” he said.
The girls opened their season on May 24 against hosting Mid-Prairie in a double-header before their outing with Bellevue on Thursday was postponed due to inclement weather, but the team played Saturday in a tourney at Williamsburg and hosted their first game of the season Tuesday against West Branch in a double-header.
The team plays North Cedar at the softball diamond behind the West Liberty Elementary School on Thursday beginning at 7 p.m. before hosting Tipton on Monday in a double-header beginning at 5 p.m. followed by a visit from Anamosa at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
The regular season concludes on July 2-3 in a multi-team tournament at the University of Iowa Hawkeye Softball ‘complex.
The coach says Wilton and Durant will be strong competitors in the RVC South along with Iowa City Regina and West Branch.