Softball projected to finish second in NAC

Danny Spatchek, Sports Editor

The Lakeland softball team was picked to finish second in the Northern Athletics Conference (NAC) for the 2010 season in a poll taken by the conference’s coaches.

Perennial power Aurora was selected to finish first, accumulating 150 points on eight first place votes. An NAC title this season would be the Spartans’ fourth straight.

Lakeland earned 132 points with one first place vote. The Muskies return ten players from the previous year when they ranked first in the nation in slugging percentage (.592) and triples per game (.75), second in doubles per game (2.23), and sixth in batting average (.363).

The core of that record-breaking team returns this season, including the 2009 NAC player of the year KC Blahnik, a senior infielder. Joining her are senior outfielder Chelsea Coenen and senior infielder Sara Roberts.

Softball coach Chad Buchman talked about the adjustments that his young players have had to make during the first weeks of practice without players like Blahnik and Coenen, who were unavailable due to their obligations with the basketball team.

“It’s a big adjustment for freshmen in the sense that our practices are more complex—there’s always three balls going at once. We try to incorporate all positions in one drill, and players need to pay attention or they won’t know what’s going on,” Buchman said.

Buchman said that he believes basketball players Blahnik, Coenen, and freshman (in terms of athletic eligibility) Alyssa Schuttenhelm will be in softball form quickly.

“They’re all fast and athletic, and they have cannons. Getting them back in the swing of things will be a matter of putting them on the pitching machine and letting them put the ball in play. I’m looking forward to having Blahnik and Coenen back for their leadership,” Buchman said. “(Their presence) affects the team in a sense that the younger players will have another person holding them accountable who isn’t necessarily their friend. They’re people that are stable and reliable, people the younger players can go to.”

Buchman expects his team to have success in their first competitive setting this season when they travel to Tucson, Ariz. over spring break to play in the Tucson Invitational Games.

“The top five teams in the nation won’t be there, so it won’t be the same as last year. There will be a wide variety of competition. Some teams will be like the teams in our conference and then there will be some high end teams—Otterbein, St. Scholastica, and North Central to name a few. If we don’t come back over .500, I’ll be very disappointed,” Buchman said.

Buchman believes that his squad can challenge for the conference title this season.

“We were three outs from beating Aurora last year. Being in a position to do it, to win against Aurora, has given us a lot of confidence,” Buchman said. “We’ve become one of the best teams in the conference on paper with the players we have—and that makes the team a lot easier to coach—but now we have to go out and beat the top teams and beat the teams we’re supposed to beat.”

Lakeland plays two games on Sunday, March 14, their first day of competition. The first game will be against Dickinson at 1 p.m. and the second against Minnesota-Morris at 5:30 p.m.

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