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While many other softball coaches and teams are lamenting the miserable, dank and wet weather that has overpowered much of southern Wisconsin for the last few week, Whitefish Bay mentor Jessica Middendorf and her Blue Dukes are happily celebrating their two-year old, well-draining turf field, getting in much needed work and prepping for the big April and May push.

"We are so fortunate to have the turf field and really have only spent a few days inside due to the rain," she said. "We've gotten in one game against Sheboygan South (a 4-3 loss) and a scrimmage with Dominican. Both really good learning experiences and helped to gauge where individual players were at at the start of our season."

The Blue Dukes are coming off a competitive 11-14 season where they managed to reach 7-7 in North Shore play. They return several starters who should help the team become even more competitive this season.

They, include senior pitcher Greta Wollmer, senior catcher Sabrina Dornan (honorable mention All-North Shore), senior third baseman Rachel Price, senior second baseman Sarah Spector (honorable mention All-NSC), and outfielders junior Sophie Hess (honorable mention All-NSC) and senior Carmeil Bowler (honorable mention All-NSC).

Sophomore Hayden Nelson was also honorable mention All-NSC last season and will switch from the outfield to shortstop this season.

"Cameil (Bowler) was our DP last year, due to an arm injury that kept her from playing defense," said Middendorf. "With surgery and recovery this winter, she is back at full strength and will contribute greatly for us both on offense and defense this year.

"(Sophomore) Ava Alt who will be an important key to success this year filling in for two senior pitchers who left last year along with playing first base for us. She brings a lot of game knowledge and power to our defense and offense. We have a freshman (Gretchen Stock) who is an incredible athlete and will spend some time catching for us when Dornan is out and will otherwise start in centerfield due to her great speed on the ball."

Middendorf likes the coachability of his group. She added that they are eager to learn more about the game and a lot of fun to work with. There's another big plus, too.

"By far, this is the most overall knowledgeable group of softball players I have had since I started as head coach," Middendorf said. "Most have now played with our youth program from a young age; this will help us on defensive plays in games and most have a few tools they can use on offense."

One disadvantage for the Blue Dukes was an early spring break, which left them short-handed for both the scrimmage and the South game. They will still be missing players when they host Nicolet in their North Shore Conference opener at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 6.

"Thankfully, we have a lot of players who are comfortable with multiple positions that we have flexibility for many girls to play different positions as the team needs," said Middendorf.

Overall, Middendorf feels good about this team.

"We are returning with a lot more offensive power than past years," she said. "Greta Wollmer has improved her pitching in the offseason and we will count on her to split time on the mound with Ava Alt. As long as our pitchers can control their pitches and limit walks, we will be solid defensively to compete against anyone. Offensively, I'm predicting we will score more runs than last year to help us compete."

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