By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
If competition breeds success, then the Nixa Lady Eagles will be in a good spot this fall.
Nixa returns six full-time starters to a 15-win team. Behind that, the Lady Eagles feature some unprecedented depth.
“One of our strengths is that we have a strong group of ‘non-starters’ that will be able to push the ‘starters’ each and every day at practice,” said Nixa coach Matt Walker. “We have not had that in the past, so everyone will be pushed each day.
“With us really only needing to replace one position this season, we look to hit the road running.”
Katie Faulk, Dakota Hale, Kaylee Schlenker and newcomer Apryl Zeno highlight Nixa’s senior class.
Faulk, the team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder, is a four-year starter who ignites the Nixa offense. She hit .340 with 26 runs and 15 steals last season.
Hale will hit in the middle of Nixa’s batting order and play right field. She hit .300 with two homers and 10 RBIs last season.
“Dakota’s worked hard to improve her power and looks to drive the ball more this year,” Walker said.
Schlenker is one of Nixa’s most versatile players. She could see time at catcher, third base or left field. Schlenker primarily played third base last year and hit .242 with 16 runs and 13 steals.
“Kaylee has a very strong arm and great speed and looks to have a breakout year after having a good summer and improving her consistency at the plate,” Walker said.
Zeno adds a big presence to Nixa’s lineup.
The former all-state catcher at Bolivar moved to Nixa last November.
“She has a great arm and a solid bat with power,” Walker said. “Apryl will hit in the middle of our order and see most of her time behind the plate, along with some third base.”
Nixa returns an ace in the circle with junior Maddy Meierer. She pitched 140 of Nixa’s 171 innings last season and earned all-region honors in Class 5.
Meierer was the winning pitcher for every Nixa victory and had a 1.45 ERA and 158 strikeouts. Meierer’s also a capable hitter; she hit .412 with two homers and 20 RBIs in her sophomore season.
Junior Phoebe Gardner gives Nixa experience on the infield and plays a big role as the team’s two-hole hitter. She hit .440 (40 hits) with 23 runs last season while only striking out two times.
Gardner has started at shortstop since her freshman season.
“She grew more and more confident with her glove as the season went on last year and we look for her to be an anchor defensively for us,” Walker said.
Junior second baseman Chloe Krans hopes for an injury-free 2021 season. After battling injuries much of the season, she emerged as a starter late in Nixa’s 2020 season.
“We look for good things from Chloe,” Walker said. “She has a good bat and can provide us with some needed power in our lineup.”
Sophomore first baseman Sara Sweaney earned a starting role as a freshman. She hit .333 with 16 RBIs.
“Sara continued to improve all season long,” Walker said. “She’s also had a really good summer and is driving the ball with authority and should have a big impact for us this season.”
Nixa finished 15-12 overall last season. The Lady Eagles have won 15 or more games each season since 2016.
Expectations are high for 2021, as the Lady Eagles return one of the more experienced teams in the area.
“We need everyone to step up and play hard this season to accomplish our goals,” Walker said. “Returning as many players as we will, we have some high goals for ourselves. As always, we play in a very difficult conference and look to compete for a conference championship as well as a district title.”
No matter the position, expect plenty of competition for playing time.
Nixa graduated just two seniors from its 2020 team: Emma Vincent and Morgan Delloma.
Vincent was Nixa’s best hitter, averaging .451 at the plate to go with seven homers and 30 RBIs. Vincent, a first team all-conference and Class 5 all-region selection, is now playing at Crowder College in Neosho.
Several new names are gunning for varsity playing time.
Juniors Lauren and Lane Loney played well on JV last season. Both posted a batting average above .400.
“We also have several more sophomores and freshmen who I could see stepping up to get some varsity at-bats,” Walker said.
Nixa welcomes in a freshmen group stacked with pitching options. Walker said freshmen Paige Garetson, Bri Chilton and Rachel Clemenson could all see time in the circle this fall.
“All three have seen some varsity time this summer as we try to get them ready for the season,” Walker said. “This will allow us to keep (Meierer) a little fresher this season and hopefully be strong at the end of the season.”
Nixa opens its regular season August 27 at Kickapoo.