Perry softball recap: Success in a new conference

Sean Cordy, Correspondent
Special to the Chief
Jayette players head back to the dugout after getting an out to end an inning against Greene County on Monday, June 6, 2022.

This was the season that the Jayettes seemed to be waiting for, but there’s plenty more to aim for in the future.

A New Heart

After battling in the Raccoon River Conference for years, how did the Jayettes fare in their new home in the Heart of Iowa?

Just like their season overall at 13-13, Perry found itself with a .500 record of 7-7 in conference play. That was good for a fourth place finish of eight schools, the best conference finish for the program since the 2017 season.

Instead of having square off with multiple state qualifiers like the RRC routinely produces (including the Class 4A champ this year), the Heart of Iowa had only Class 3A Saydel that qualified for the Elite Eight. For further comparison, look at how former HOI schools Gilbert and North Polk did in their transition to the RRC. 

In 2020, North Polk won the HOI in the Comets’ final season with the conference. Gilbert finished third. The following season, the finished seventh and eighth of 10 teams. This year, they fell to sixth and eighth place out of nine teams. 

While both schools along with Perry moved conferences for more than just the softball season, the trade certainly shows how Perry has immediately benefited along with some increased enthusiasm that could help the program grow beyond the often deafening Raccoon River could allow. 

Lydia Olejniczak waits for the pitch during a game against Greene County on Monday, June 6, 2022.

Olejniczak heats up

A threat all four seasons she’s been a Jayette, there’s no doubt that Lydia Olejniczak seized the opportunity playing a new list of opponents. But that’s not all that helped her make a jump from her sophomore season.

Batting .506 on the whole season, Olejniczak ranked sixth among Class 4A players. She swung at a rate of .429 last year, .333 as a freshman and .405 in her first season.

Against league competition, Perry’s star shortstop was still dominant this season with a .434 batting average and hit three of five home runs this year. In essence, there was little difference between the Olejniczak that played against the Heart of Iowa, or the Olejniczak that played the dozen other games. Yes, her conference stats were career-highs, but so were non-conference marks. Her improvement at the plate was a natural progression as an athlete, just like she showed during basketball season.

This year, she finished with a line of 45 hits, five home runs, 31 RBI, 81 total bases and 20 steals on 106 plate appearances. Compare that to her past two seasons combined totals of 57 hits, three home runs, 17 RBI, 83 total bases and 43 steals on 161 plate appearances. 

The only question, how much better could her senior season be if this is the type of growth she was capable this year?

Karagyn Whelchel runs to second base during a game against Greene County on Monday, June 6, 2022.

Moving Forward

Not since Olejniczak’s first season has an eighth-grader stepped in to make such an immediate impact. But this year, Karagyn Whelchel proved to be a worthy addition as an incoming freshman.

Whelchel stood tall with a .372 batting average, 35 hits, 39 total bases and 19 RBI among eighth-graders in the Heart of Iowa. Those were all top-ranked categories among not only her grade, but freshmen as well.

Emmalee Bell strikes a hit during a regional game against Boone on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Perry.

While Emmalee Bell isn’t a freshman, as a sophomore, this was her first season on the varsity field and was an immediate contributor that should make for a dangerous trio with Whelchel and Olejniczak in 2023. She was responsible for 44 total bases on a .329 batting average. Her three home runs ranked second on the team, at last giving the Jayettes a second power hitter.

More backup will come in the form of Taylor Atwell, Aidan Hood and Callie Steva among other returning starters, all of which made strides this year. Macy Killmer is the lone player that graduated. She leaves behind 29 RBI and 37 total bases, opening up a space for another player to help drive in Olejniczak’s leadoff hits.

Macy Killmer gets a high-five from Kathryn West after scoring a run during a game against Greene County on Monday, June 6, 2022.