2021 Fall Preview: Walnut Grove Softball

By Chris Parker

Walnut Grove finished over .500 for the fourth consecutive season last year finishing with a 15-8 record. If the Lady Tigers are to make it five seasons in a row, they will have to replace a group of six graduated starters.

That group included: Morgan Hailey, Faith Gilkey, Makayla McVay, Lauren Johnson, April Countryman and Maddy Hughes. Hailey, Gilkey, McVay and Johnson all four earned all-conference, all-district and all-region honors. Johnson was also named all-state.

“This group of seniors will be greatly missed, a very special group that doesn’t come around very often. They were an extremely competitive, athletic, hardworking, and fun group to coach,” Walnut Grove head coach Dana Meinders said.

Three starters and six total players return from last year’s roster including: Anna Bourke (senior first base), Skyler Boyd (senior right field), Jaedyn Johnson (shortstop), Raygan Dougherty (sophomore catcher), Harlee Maxwell (junior right field) and Lexi Buckner (sophomore centerfield).

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Meinders on Bourke: “Anna will be a senior this year. She’s a lefty with a solid glove and will be relied upon heavily for her varsity experience. She is a silent leader with an exceptional attitude that always puts the team first. I look for her to be a great role model to our young team.”

Meinders on Boyd: “Also one of the few players that has varsity experience. She was a starting designated hitter, and started off and on in right field last season. She is a vocal leader that communicates well with her teammates. We look for her to be a strong senior leader.”

Meinders on Johnson: “A speedy athletic player that we really need a big season from. Last season she was our center fielder but also stepped up and did well at shortstop when Gilkey was out with her broken foot. We will rely on her to be a leader in the field as well as a key factor to our offense at the plate.”

Meinders on Dougherty: “Another speedy athletic player. She will make the move from 3rd base to catcher this season. Over the summer she made improvements every game behind the plate, I expect the same during the season. She hit the ball well this summer and we will also need her to be a contributor at the plate.”

A large freshman class will look to help Walnut Grove at the varsity level right away. Those athletes include: Ellie Smith (pitcher), Jaycie Gavisk (third base), Kelli Albert (second base), Lillie Leighton (outfield), Brittany Anderson (outfield) and Faith Moore (outfield)

Smith will be the team’s primary pitcher.

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“(Smith) is an all-around athlete that will be a key factor offensively and defensively,” Meinders said. “She’s a lefty with a lot of natural movement on the ball with unlimited potential. I have a lot of confidence in her and in her ability to step in as a freshman and compete.”

The sophomore trio of Abby Blakemore (outfield), Keirsten Leeper (third base/first base) and Kaitlyn Dueralt (second base/outfield) will also be new to the varsity level.

“With only three starters returning from last season, I expect to see a lot of growth throughout the year. With our numbers, we will have competition at each spot,” Meinders said. “We had a good summer and made great progress. Our goal this year is to compete every time we take the field and to get better every day. We have a good group of girls that work well together, have good work ethic and are eager to learn.”

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