After making a trip to the class 3A regional finals during the 2022 high school softball season, Algona is ready to pick up where they left off.
Algona finished 2022 with a record of 11-17, finishing seventh in the North Central Conference with a 5-9 record in league games, but the Bulldogs overcame injury to beat Forest City 12-0 in the regional quarterfinals and Garner Hayfield Ventura 12-2 in the regional semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Mount Vernon 5-2 in the regional championship, a game in which the Bulldogs led for four innings.
Algona graduated lone senior Kenzie Carrigan from that team, but are ready to run it back with most of their lineup intact for 2023. Coach Todd VanOtterloo feels a sense of excitement around his group heading into the season.
Algona is a team anchored around their senior class. First baseman Lily Elsbecker returns after having her season cut short to just 11 games due to injury. Elsbecker, a four year starter, hit .500 in limited action last year to lead the team. The senior class also includes Lillian Etherington, who led the team with 24 runs batted in and earned second team all-conference honors last year. Outfielder Tora Solbach was a third team all-conference selection last year as a junior, batting .309. Senior Moriah Knapp is a four year starter for Algona, and has the ability to both play outfield and catcher. VanOtterloo feels the team’s experience will be an asset this season.
Sophomore Ryan Haynes returns to the pitching circle for her third year for Algona. Haynes posted a record of 9-12 last season, striking out 119 batters and walking 87 in 133 innings, finishing with a 4.05 ERA to earn second team all-conference accolades. Haynes had similar stats her eighth grade year in 2021, with a 9-10 record, 130 strikeouts and 81 walks in 115 innings with a 4.14 ERA. VanOtterloo feels the next steps to Haynes’ game are improving her command and trusting the defense behind her.
Algona will face a stiff test trying to climb to the top of the North Central Conference standings. St. Edmond and Webster City split the conference title in 2022 with 13-1 marks in the league. Webster City won the conference outright in 2021, also with a 13-1 mark in league games. The league also features a Humboldt team that consistently competes for the conference title, having won the North Central every year from 2016-2020 and finishing in the top 3 seven of the past eight years.
The Bulldogs open up the season with three straight non-conference games at home, starting with Pocahontas Area on May 22nd. Algona then faces Newman Catholic on the 23rd, before hosting the crosstown game against Bishop Garrigan on the 24th. The first North Central tests for Algona will come at home on the 26th and 31st against Webster City and Humboldt respectively. After five straight home games to open the season, Algona plays their first road game on June 1st at Southeast Valley.
Coach VanOtterloo feels the outcome of the season will come down to the leadership of the senior class and the team being locked-in on a nightly basis.