As in baseball, North Branch softball is a Class AAA team that plays in the largely AAAA Mississippi 8 Conference, meaning that its regular season results may not hint at its destiny once it moves on to the playoffs and matches up against similar-sized schools.
That was certainly the case a year ago, when the Vikings finished sixth in the M8, but third in Section 7AAA. The Vikings went 4-9 within the conference, but 8-4 otherwise.
“We’re one of the smaller schools in the conference; we end up playing up against larger schools,” head coach Brian Robelia said.
There are early hopes that school size may not matter as much this season: the Vikings have already beaten AAAA squads Cambridge-Isanti and St. Francis, en route to a 3-2 record overall.
The Vikings have no seniors, so they will look to junior pitcher Sam Pederson for guidance on the field.
“She’s our leader,” Robelia said.
Pederson, who is 3-1 in starts and has also batted a scintillating .571 so far, was named to the all-conference team last year, as was junior outfielder Katelyn Berg. Junior second baseman Amber Yoch has been in the varsity lineup since she was in the eighth grade.
To fill openings left by graduating seniors, junior Cassie Sinn will take over at first base and sophomore Anna Carlson will start in left field.
Younger players taking on starting roles include freshman Macy Brodin (shortstop) and eighth-grader Emma Hurd (catcher).
Freshman Kristi Pilz and seventh-grader Lydia Kuhlman have made pitching appearances, and Brodin is listed as a pitcher on the roster.
“We’re very young,” Robelia said, echoing a theme common to many of North Branch’s athletic squads.
Pilz and Carlson are both batting .333 in the early going, and Carlson stands at .308.
Rogers and Buffalo are the most likely contenders for the M8 crown. Within the section, Hermantown holds an uncountable streak of state tournament appearances.
“Hermantown is the one that everyone’s going to be gunning for,” Robelia said.
In a show of their continuing strength, the Hawks toppled the Vikings 10-0 April 8.
The Vikings will face off against one of the top conference teams when they travel to Rogers on April 20.