Familiar roster looks to 'compete with anyone' for Jayettes
The 2019 season proved at least one thing: Perry softball can “compete with anyone.” That's what head coach Tina Lutterman said looking back at the loss against 28-8 Harlan in the opening round of the postseason.
Games like that opening regional matchup and going toe-to-toe with Ballard earlier in the season were shining moments against proven rosters. Now the hope is to build upon those experiences that were just steps away from wins to improve upon the team's 5-24 finish.
A young roster has laid the foundation for the bounty of hope this season. Only two full-time seniors are absent from this year's roster compared to needing to replace five top performers from 2018. With the addition of a captain's council to help keep tabs in the offseason as well, Lutterman said she felt there's a clear difference in the team's synergy.
“Last year, I feel like our team was so small, I think we finished the year and had 13 actual players left,” Lutterman told the Perry Chief. “The cohesiveness and sense of team is really big. We don't have room for drama.”
Along with the year of added experience for an underclassmen-dominated lineup, there are 24 Jayettes out for the team. That growth has also added some age as three seniors — Molly Lutmer, Hannah Peterson and Carly Herrera — bring an abundance of experience from other sports.
And while the conference looks largely the same as well in terms of personnel as only 21 seniors played last year, Lutterman said that similarity could be an advantage entering her 11th season as she's familiar with every team's tendencies more than ever.
The first two stepping up to the plate this season will look familiar as freshman Lydia Olejniczak and sophomore Jayna Kenney return at the top of the order. Olejniczak, of course, lit the scene on fire as she earned all-state designation before ever stepping foot in high school.
“There's potential to mix it up but I do like Lydia as a leadoff because she finds ways to get on base and Jayna has got good bat control,” Lutterman said.
Olejniczak ranked 16th in the conference with a .405 batting average and found her way back to home plate 22 times. That can only rise as that was good for a run 24.7 percent of her plate appearances (17th in the conference with at least 25 appearances).
Kenney will be part of that equation trying to advance Olejniczak further, as will junior Kennedy Tunink. They held a .264 and .270 average last year to complete the top third of the order again. Though there is room to change.
“It's just gonna be depending on who's swinging the hot bat, especially early on we want to make sure that we try to get those runs early. That's one of the keys for our team this year, to not leave the runners stranded on base.”
Leaving runs off the board was a true issue last season as the Jayettes put up 76 runs, half as much as any other RRC team in 2019.
Though much of the batting card looks identical to last year, there is a mixup in the field. Jayna Kenney returns as the starting pitcher with two years of experience behind her now, and with the shortened season without tournaments, could see an even greater bulk of innings. Kenney has the full trust moving forward in the shortened season.
“With the tournaments cut out, we have three games the first week so it feels like there's some pressure to perform but it's not quite so much like the night after night after night,” Lutterman said.
That has also allowed last year's co-starter Peyton Tunink to move back to catcher where she has experience before high school. Lutterman said it's been great to see her get work with both ends of the pitch, and should be a good transition that opens up an opportunity in the circle for more young talent.
Backing up Kenney, some games may see a sister-duo as Macy Tunink is expected to see some action throwing heat who Lutterman said will be a “great number-two” even as an eighth-grader.
There is also a bit of a position battle at second base that could play out through the season. Newcomers Lutmer and Herrera come in after missing out on soccer to close out their Perry careers. Freshman Taylor Atwell may see action as well after largely working as a pinch-runner last season. All three have proven themselves in other arenas as accomplished Jayettes.
2020 Perry Softball Schedule
6/30 Des Moines North
7/10 Collins-Maxwell - SENIOR NIGHT
7/13 @Des Moines Christian (DH)