By Chris Parker
Walnut Grove softball will chase its first district title since 2019 with key players back from last season’s 12-win team.
“We return seven key contributors to our squad,” Walnut Grove head coach Dana Meinders said. “That experience should bring a high confidence level with more consistency on the field. These athletes know what they have to do to compete and be successful.”
Raygan Dougherty (senior catcher), Kinleigh Bolin (senior pitcher/outfielder/third base), Kiersten Leeper (senior first base), Lexi Buckner (senior outfielder), Ellie Smith (junior pitcher), Rachael Kruger (junior centerfielder), Kelli Albert (junior second base), Kenna Tuter (sophomore) and Kaylea Dougherty (sophomore pitcher/outfield) all return to the program.
Raygan Dougherty hit . 282 with 22 hits, 18 RBI and a .544 slugging percentage on her way to all-district and all-conference honors last season.
“Raygan has become one of the top catchers in our conference,” Meinders said. “She has a quick release and does a great job of keeping runners on the base. At the plate, she has added a ton of pop that should prove beneficial going into her senior season. She is an encouraging teammate and a leader. We expect her to continue that role and have a standout season.”
Bolin hit .275 last season.
“Kinleigh put in a lot of work this summer and grew exponentially,” Meinders said. “She is a versatile athlete and could get looks at third, in the outfield or on the mound. We look forward to watching her have a breakout senior season.”
Leeper hit .333 at the plate with a .925 fielding percentage as a junior.
“Kiersten had a great season last year,” Meinders said. “She has excellent contact at the plate and a consistent glove. We expect her confidence and play to be a key factor this year as she steps into a senior leadership position.”
Buckner brings speed and a .374 on-base percentage back.
“Lexi is a speedy player that can cover a lot of ground in the outfield,” Meinders said. “She is the true definition of a team player willing to do whatever is asked of her. Her experience in the outfield will be a key factor to our success.”
Smith earned all-district and all-conference honors as a freshman and sophomore. This past season she had a .614 on-base percentage with a 1.311 OPS, 23 RBI and 27 stolen bases. In the circle, she posted a 3.46 ERA.
“Ellie is the heart of our team,” Meinders said. “She is a true leader and difference maker. Her athleticism and high softball IQ make her one of the top athletes in the area. We can’t say enough good things about Ellie. She is a work horse on the mound pitching nearly every inning of every game. She is a silent leader that will need to step into more of a vocal leader role as she heads into an upperclassmen role.”
Kruger also earned all-conference and all-district honors last season. She hit .361 with a .444 on-base percentage and a perfect fielding percentage.
“Rachael has battled injuries in both her freshman and sophomore seasons,” Meinders said. “She has been working hard this summer to strengthen her knee after an ACL injury and surgery. She is an impact player that can play multiple positions with pop at the plate. She has a lot of grit and is a huge asset both offensively and defensively. We look forward to watching her excel this season.”
Albert is the final returning all-conference and all-district player. She brings back a .436 batting average with a 1.041 OPS, 26 RBI and 22 runs scored.
“Kelli had a breakout season her sophomore year dominating at the plate and making huge strides in the field with her range,” Meinders said. “With her high softball IQ and excellent arm strength, she will more than likely make a transition from second base to shortstop this season. We can’t wait to see what she can accomplish as she moves into an upperclassman leadership position.”
Tuter scored 21 runs and drove in 16 with a .265 batting average as a freshman.
“Kenna earned a starting position as a freshman,” Meinders said. “She has an excellent work ethic and has really grown in confidence this summer offensively and defensively. We love her versatility and that we can put her anywhere in the infield or outfield. She is a team player willing to play wherever we need her to put the best lineup on the field.”
Kaylea Dougherty will look to make more of a varsity impact this season.
“Kaylea has the potential to earn more varsity time this season,” Meinders said. “She has a good read on the ball and continues to put time in on the mound.”
Freshmen Maeli Holman (infielder/outfielder) and Kolbi Albert (infielder/outfielder) will look to make immediate varsity impacts.
“We are looking for Maeli to compete for a starting position. Maeli is extremely athletic with a ton of potential. She had a great summer and yields a big bat with a lot of power. We are looking forward to watching her compete and anticipate big growth throughout the season,” Meinders said. “Kolbi is also looking to compete for playing time. She has a high softball IQ and good contact at the plate.”
Abby Blakemore (senior), Faith Moore (junior), Zoie Glenn (sophomore), Aubrey Hanak (sophomore), Ahrianna Vinson (sophomore), Brittney Bornholt (sophomore), Aubrey Hailey (freshman), Aveline Corlett (freshman), Laramie Zibell (freshman) are other players to watch.
Walnut Grove opens the season on Aug. 25-26 at the Morrisville Tournament.
“Our goal is the same as it is every year, to compete every time we take the field and to get better every day,” Meinders said. “We have a great group of student athletes that work hard, have fun and support each other making this team a pleasure to be a part of.”