KEARNEY — In year No. 4 in charge of the Kearney softball program, Katelyn Hochard believes she has her most versatile group yet.
Hochard, who’s been on the team’s coaching staff for six seasons, will lead the Bulldogs this fall, this time after the team went 16-12 and earned co-conference champion status with a 10-2 league mark last season.
Hochard said her favorite attribute of this squad is each girl on the team plays multiple positions.
“It’s really great to see that these girls are willing to play in multiple positions. We’re deep in a lot of areas, which should help us go to the next level,” she said.
That next level is to get past the district tournament. Kearney, who fell in last season’s district title game to Oak Grove, hasn’t been to the state tournament since 2009 when it appeared in the state semifinals.
“This year we want to keep building the program, have a few more wins, but ultimately our goal is to get over that district championship hump,” Hochard said. “The last several years we haven’t quite won that game.”
Senior Sierra Culver wants to be a part of the team that breaks the streak.
“I feel we’ve grown closer together throughout the years and we’ve been working to get the district title this year,” she said. “We’ve lost it my first three years.”
Culver, a first team all-state selection, is one of the five returning starters after four graduated from last year’s team. Culver set a single season home run record last season with her 10 long balls.
“She just has a phenomenal bat,” Hochard said of Culver. “She’s a great hitter and she’s smart; very good behind the plate and a good blocker. She’s just an overall great athlete. I’ll expect some big things out of her this year.”
Other starters Hochard will count on this season are senior and second team all-conference member Katie Blodgett and all-league honorable mention selections Maddyx Kirkland and Kylauna Smith.
Kirkland, who played in the outfield last season, will shift to second base this fall, Hochard said. Speedster Lillie Filger is a returning starting outfielder while Blodgett will see time in the circle and plays the infield.
The Bulldogs, who open their season against St. Teresa’s at 10:15 a.m. Friday, Aug. 30, at Adair Park, also welcome four freshmen.
“We have some great talent with the freshmen,” Hochard said. “I’m excited to see them the next three years and keep building on their talent.”