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Photo Messenger by Britt Kudla: Returning winners for the Fort Dodge softball team are, front row (left to right): Maggie Elsbecker, Lydia Lara and Reese Pederson. Back: Jalen Adams, Tory Bennett, Mariah Myers, Haley Wills and Lucy Porter.

Ten months ago, the Fort Dodge softball program fulfilled a collective lifelong dream by winning its first-ever state championship.

On paper, many of those same Dodgers players will be back on the court this season as head coach Andi Adams’ team goes for gold again.

However, this team is not taking a traditional approach to attempting a rare repeat of the high-class title.

“Our motto is ‘Defend nothing'” said Adams, who is entering his 22nd year at the helm. “The slate is wiped clean. What we did in 2021 no longer matters today. We pursue the same thing that everyone else pursues.

“This championship (a season ago) was a special moment for our program, our players, our coaches, our school and our community. But it’s just a memory now. We cannot live in the past.

All-state winners Jalen Adams, Tory Bennett and Mariah Myers return in a roster that still has a familiar feel of star power. With Adams, Bennett, Myers, senior mainstay Haley Wills and freshman phenom Lucy Porter back in the stable – representing 24 combined seasons of elite-level college experience – Fort Dodge will no doubt be a serious contender once again. in the coming weeks.

However, a number of newcomers fill the bottom five spots of the roster, making the Dodgers an intriguing combination of proven talent and untapped potential.

“We will get there,” said Adams, who is 672-277 in the FDSH and 725-310 overall as a head coach in her Hall of Fame career. “Right away? We have a lot of work to do and a lot of questions to answer. But (the playoffs) don’t start today. It’s in seven weeks. We’ll be a very different team in early July compared to the fourth week of May.

Only three programs – Cedar Rapids Jefferson (1997 and ’98), West Des Moines Valley (2007 and ’08) and Pleasant Valley (2017 and ’18) – have successfully succeeded each other as champions in the biggest class in the world. ‘Iowa during the modern era.

Launch

Adams, the coach’s daughter, is back for a senior recall in her fifth season of college action. Already the most decorated and statistically dominant pitcher in school history, Adams’ next act is to establish herself among the all-time greats of becoming a high school softball player in the school. Iowa.

The University of Iowa rookie is poised to become Fort Dodge’s career leader in strikeouts (26 against Kylee Jones) and wins (15 against Suzanne Stripling). Adams has a career record of 88-9 with 660 Ks, and has been an all-stater four times in as many years – including a first teammate in three consecutive campaigns.

“Jalen always approaches all of this like she has something to prove,” says Andi Adams. “Winning the state (in 2021) was a goal for her – not ‘the’ goal. She’s the kind of athlete who is never satisfied and doesn’t rest on her laurels.

“As an elder, she discovers that her leadership role is changing. And like I said from day one, one player can’t win everything by himself. She would be the first to tell you how important her teammates are. They collectively make the difference here; it’s not just about Jalen.

Adams went 3-0 at State a year ago, with 21 innings pitched, just three earned runs allowed, two shutouts, one no-hitter and 26 strikeouts. She was the captain of all the tournaments.

Quietly but convincingly, Porter delivered one of the most impressive eighth-grade kickoff seasons in program history as a twinbill complement to Adams. The first all-CIML Iowa Conference team selection posted a perfect 13-0 record with a 1.11 ERA in 2021. Combined with Adams (25-1, 0.66), the duo worked more than 200 innings and lost only once – a 1-0 loss at Muscatine that was followed by 18 straight wins and the state crown.

“Lucy’s behavior is wise beyond her age,” says Andi Adams. “She is confident and trusts her defense. We didn’t necessarily expect her to emerge like she did at the start of the season, but in the end, we couldn’t keep her out (of the rotation).

Junior Lydia Lara and sophomore Olivia Totten are also in the mix for FDSH.

Infield

Bennett, the shortstop, and Wills, at third base, are one of the formidable left sides in the state. The two seniors have played 307 combined career games, and the Dodgers have a staggering 138-22 overall record with Bennett, Wills and Adams on the court together.

“Tory and Haley are our rocks”, says Andi Adams. “Tory just has this calm swagger, with no hesitation or question that she’s going to make the play or get the hit. She thrives on pressure and enjoys being a leader for young players.

“It’s Haley’s time. I really believe that she will take a big step forward. She absolutely crushed the ball and she is as stable as possible on the pitch.

Bennett, like Adams, a University of Iowa draftee, was No. 3 in all states after batting .455 with 36 RBI and 50 runs scored a year ago. She also stole 23 bases. Wills hit .316 with 34 runs, 21 RBIs and 11 steals. And the duo combined to make just six mistakes in 2021.

Eighth-year sensation Mariah Myers moves from first base to catcher, where she will replace three-time first-team first-teamer and current Iowa Hawkeye Tristin Doster. Myers stormed the high school ball as an intimidating presence last summer, hitting .431 and coming just one RBI off the school single-season record with 57.

“Mariah is a rare and incredible talent,” said Adams. “Her softball IQ is off the charts – I’ve never really seen anything like it in all my years as a coach. She’s also gaining confidence as a leader. She’s just so strong and versatile.

“It’s funny, because I think of our senior class and Mariah, who just turned 15, like kind of the same group. And she just keeps getting better.

Adams and Porter will advance to first base when the other pitches. Haley Wills’ younger sister, rookie Ashlyn Wills, will be ninth and play second base.

Freshman Macy Brown should catch when Myers occasionally fills in for second place.

Outfield

Fort Dodge is in full rebuild mode here, with a slew of contenders battling for three starting positions.

Juniors Maggie Elsbecker (left field) and Lara (right) will be in the corner spots, with either rookie Meah McCaleb, rookie Cadence Touney or second Mackenzie McIlrath patrolling center field. Junior Reese Pederson is also an option, as pointed out by Adams “everything is still a bit wide open.”

“It’s hard to replace a Sophia Klinger (in the center) or a Chloe Wertz (on the left)”, said Adams. “They gave this program everything they had; that senior class (’21), with Tristin and Dallas (Richardson), were all you could ask for both on and off the court. But I trust what we have here. It’s just going to take some gaming experience. Everything will work itself out over time.

“We need each of these children. They all bring something different to the table. They all work hard, and even though I’m not the most patient person in the world, I have to keep reminding myself not to worry so much at first, especially as they take time to improve each day.

Sophomore Sienna Attig is currently injured, but “again, has a lot of potential,” said Adams. “There is a short-term and long-term need here for many of these children. Their roles are obviously important (in 2022), but when these seniors graduate, it is also the future of the program.

Elleena Dunn will be a courtesy runner, along with Pederson, who is “the elite on the basic paths…incredibly smart,” said Adams.

Schedule and coaches

The Dodgers will once again face the best in the state. Fort Dodge is participating in the CIML Iowa conference with heavyweights Ankeny Centennial – state runner-up last year – Ankeny and Waukee Northwest.

Traditional powerhouses West Des Moines Valley, Dallas Center-Grimes and Ballard are also on the list, and the FDSH Invitational — June 17-18 — is Iowa’s toughest court every year.

“Waukee Northwest is going to be loaded,” said Adams. “And of course Centennial and Ankeny are always tough. Ames, Mason City and Marshalltown have talent.

“The idea is to challenge each other and prepare for (the tournament). We have never been shy about taking on a challenge and never will. I’d rather lose a few games than beat inferior competition and create a false sense of security.

Adams retained his championship coaching staff, which includes Molly Matthes, Aaron Miller and Tom McClimon. Doster and Wertz will coach the college team.

“These are the best – what more can I say” Adams smiled. “All of them are invaluable and so incredibly important to me for different reasons. I can’t do it without them… period. And that extends to TK and Chloe, Bre and Cassie (Tjebben) before them (at college level) , (coach) Bre (Drees), parents who help in the system and everyone else. It takes a village. This is a Fort Dodge program in every sense of the word.

“We just want to keep making our community proud. It’s a fun bunch and I hope everyone is excited to see Dodger softball start again. Believe me, they want to start all over again: winning, of course, but having fun and creating memories. So we are all looking forward to that. It is the culmination of many years of success and heartache; tears of happiness and disappointment. We all live here.

The Dodgers open at 5 p.m. Monday night at Rogers Park against Mason City.

2022 FORT DODGE SOFTBALL

LIST OF DODGERS

Elders – Jalen Adams, Tory Bennett, Haley Wills.

Juniors – Maggie Elsbecker, Lydia Lara, Reese Pederson.

Year Two – Mackenzie McIlrath, Olivia Totten, Macy Brown, Sienna Attig.

Freshmen – Mariah Myers, Lucy Porter, Ashlyn Wills, Meah McCaleb, Cadence Touney, Elleena Dunn.

CAGE SCHEDULE

May 23—Mason City; 24 – at Dallas Center-Grimes; 27 – West Des Moines Valley; 31 — Centenary of Ankeny.

June 2—Northwest Waukee; 4 – at West Des Moines Valley Shootout; 8 — at Ames; 10 — in Ballard; 13 — Ankeny; 15 – in Marshalltown; 16 – in Mason City; 17-18 – Fort Dodge Invitational; 20 – to the centenary of Ankeny; 24-25 — at the Marion Linn-Mar tournament; 27 – Ames; 29 — in Ankeny; 30 – in Northwest Waukee.

July 1 – at the Dallas Center-Grimes Invitational; 5-Marshalltown; 12 — regional tournament.

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