The Central softball team was back on familiar ground, making its 25th NCAA Division III softball tourney appearance, then advancing to the national finals for the 13th time and the first time since winning it all in 2003.
Winners of a share of their 12th Iowa Conference title, the Dutch tied for seventh at the NCAA finals in Eau Claire, Wis.
All this despite absorbing more than their share of misfortune. Senior Rhianna Fleetwood, a first-team all-conference pitcher, was sidelined much of the year by injury and junior Brie Haycraft was slowed as well. Sophomore second baseman Abbey Strajack, a returning all-America honoree, and junior left fielder Jordan Overland, missed nearly the entire league season.
Yet Central also had some pleasant surprises. Sophomore pitcher Mallory Schulenberg rolled up a 16-4 mark with a 1.51 earned run average and received third-team all-America honors. Freshman Kelsey Stender was 10-4 with a 1.31 ERA. Senior catcher Caitlyn Meyer, recovering from two off-season surgeries, surged to a .381 batting mark with eight homers and 29 RBIs and was named the league position player of the year. Sophomore third baseman Whitney Sowers hit .344 with 13 doubles and 27 RBIs while senior right fielder Emily Te Brink hit .332 with 41 runs and 19 stolen bases. And sophomore Katie Canney, who wasn’t even on the team until transferring to Central in January, won the first base job and hit .314 with five homers and 24 RBIs.
Schulenberg and sophomore designated player Karlee Rock were first-team all-conference picks while Stender, Canney, Sowers and junior shortstop Annie Sarcone were named to the second team. Joining Schulenberg on the all-region squad were Meyer on the first team and Te Brink on the third team.
The Dutch hosted an eight-team NCAA regional tournament in Pella, and advanced in thrilling fashion with a 4-0 mark, including a tense 2-1 triumph over top-seeded St. Thomas (Minn.) in the title game to secure a berth in the eight-team NCAA finals.
At the national tourney, Overland won the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award for having the highest grade point average of any athlete in the national finals. She carries a 3.96 GPA with a major in exercise science.