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Two years ago as a senior on the La Salle-Peru softball team, Laio said she wanted to go to state.
Three months later, the Lady Cavaliers advanced to the state title game and placed second in Class 3A.
Now, as a sophomore on this year’s IVCC softball team, Laio didn’t hesitate when asked what her goals were for this year’s squad.
“Nationals,” she said. “My senior year (at L-P) I said we wanted state and it happened, so I hope in my sophomore year we can get to nationals.”
Getting there is a long, long ways away for the Lady Eagles, who finished 23-20 last season and placed third in the region.
However, in the 14th season under coach Cory Tomasson, it’s a goal that Laio knows this year’s team can achieve.
“It’s a very, very long season,” Laio admitted. “It’s going to take a lot of dedication and heart and determination.”
The quest toward her goal starts this weekend.
Despite the area’s winter weather, the Lady Eagles open their season Friday in Florida where IVCC will play four games in three days.
“I really hope we can make it to nationals,” sophomore Lindsay Schmitz said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there. We’re going to have to be more mentally prepared than we were last year.”
Both Laio and Schmitz return as part of a six-player sophomore core for IVCC, which has advanced to at least the region’s final four in each of the last 12 years under Tomasson but has never qualified for nationals.
After playing at shortstop for parts of last season, Schmitz will move to third base this year, while freshman and L-P alumna Micky Fassino takes over at shortstop.
Sophomore Katie Huss — who missed the beginning of last season with an injury — will return at second base, while freshman and L-P graduate Taylor Schmidt will play at first base.
Fellow L-P grad and freshman T.J. Chapman will catch.
In the outfield, sophomore Paige Hill returns as does sophomore Karly Huss, Katie’s twin.
Hall graduate and freshman Johnna Schultz is expected to round out the outfield. However, all three outfielders will pitch this season meaning Laio as well as freshmen Olivia Harcar and Madi Shanks could see time in the outfield.
Freshman Brynn Johnson and sophomore Katie Nauman also will see action in the infield.
Hill — who hit over .400 last season — will be the lead-off hitter, while Fassino and Schultz should anchor the middle of what Tomasson feels is a solid lineup.
“Up and down, offensively, we’re pretty solid,” he said. “Everybody is playing for a spot, but we have a bunch of girls who we can put at other positions and we’re not going to miss a beat. Every player has the ability to hit over .300 and, quite honestly, a couple of them are probably going to hit over .400 this year.”
Hill is expected to be the ace of a four-player pitching staff that includes Nauman, Karly Huss and Schultz.
“Pitching-wise, we should be a little better than we were last year,” Tomasson said. “I think Paige coming back this year will be big. She had a bit of an off year last year, but this year I think we’ll be able to throw her out there and eat some innings while being really effective.”
IVCC starts its season at 11 a.m. Friday in Florida against Macomb (Mich.) and has games scheduled against teams that have already played 20-30 games this season.
“If we go down there and lose every game but play well and get better, then we’re OK with that,” Tomasson said. “What we don’t want to do is go there, play roll-over teams and feel really good about ourselves because we beat everybody in five innings but not learn anything or accomplish anything toward getting better.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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