While the Northland Pines softball team did not play last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are high expectations for the 2021 squad, according to coach Jacob Schueller.

The Eagles ended up with a 6-13 record two years ago and lost 4-3 in the Regional semifinal on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to top-seeded Nekoosa. 

The main player who won’t be back from that year is Taylor Olivotti, who did most of the pitching for the Eagles.

Returning letterwinners this year include senior Lucy Lurvey and juniors Madison Stebbeds, Grace Wittkopf, Halle Kerner and Kelty Neff.

“Lucy Lurvey will play everywhere in the field for us and will be one of the top power hitters in the conference,” Schueller. 

Lurvey hit four home runs her sophomore year and has committed to continue playing softball in college at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee.

“Our core junior group contains four kids, all of whom are very solid ballplayers,” said Schueller. “They’ve all benefited from our youth program we got rolling roughly six years ago. Each can play anywhere on the field and all of them have the ability to go 4-for-4 in a game and put the ball over the fence.”

Schueller said a couple sophomores and two freshmen also will see plenty of playing time.

“Tommie Springer is a sophomore who will do most of our catching. She’s a great defensive catcher and with an extremely powerful bat. She’s an exceptionally strong athlete overall who, via club softball in the summer and fall, has as much softball experience as anybody on our team,” said Schueller. “Savannah Satterburg is a sophomore who will pitch a lot of innings for us. She won’t overpower anybody yet, but commands her location well and has a changeup that can make batters look very silly.”

Aubrey Beyer and Carley Huelskamp are both freshman who will take on starting roles for the Eagles.

“Each has played a lot of youth and club ball for me and will be among the better freshmen in the conference,” said Schueller.

The coach said the team’s strengths will be defense and experience.

“We don’t have a weak spot defensively. Our pitchers will pitch to contact and we might not strike out 10 per game, but I think the kids in the field will make up for that,” said Schueller. “In my first few years here, half or more of the varsity starting lineup had not ever played softball outside of the high school season. Our top nine this year all had multiple years with me in some form or fashion. We’re doing a lot less teaching and getting more repetitions which will hopefully pay off in our game play.”

Schueller said pitching, though three players will share time on the mound, could be a challenge for the Eagles in 2021.

“Our pitching is much better, but we’re still young. Lucy Lurvey can be an effective pitcher for us, but her major strengths are in the field and at the plate,” said the coach. “Savannah Satterburg has a ton of potential as a sophomore and the work ethic and attitude to make the most out of it, but she’s still a sophomore. Aubrey Beyer is our third pitcher who’s made major gains recently, but is a freshman who hasn’t had the opportunity to show consistency throughout a full game or over multiple games.”

Depth also could be a challenge for the Eagles.

“As mentioned, our top nine have a lot of experience, but after that the experience level drops off mightily,” said Schueller. “Nobody has varsity experience beyond those players already mentioned.”

Helping Schueller develop the Eagles this spring will be varsity assistant Jeff Stebbeds and junior varsity coaches Mike Wallner and Melissa Ryan.

Schueller said the Great Northern Conference (GNC) is wide open this season as no teams played last year during the pandemic when in-person school and high school sports were shut down. 

“Mosinee is always tough and I’m sure will be again. Tomahawk and Antigo have good youth programs going and I’m sure their varsity will be solid again. Rumor is Medford has a nice pitcher which will make them competitive. Rhinelander will be stronger this year also as they’ve got a sophomore pitcher who will be a major upgrade for them,” said Schueller. “Overall I think a good goal for us would be third in conference, but I think we’ll hang with anybody on any given day.”

Pines will open the season at Medford next Tuesday, April 27, with the GNC game starting at 5 p.m. The Eagles will then travel to Lakeland Thursday, April 29, for a 5 p.m. contest.

The first home game will be Friday, April 30, at 5 p.m. as the Eagles will meet Three Lakes in a nonconference game. Schueller is excited about this year’s team.

“This will be the best NPHS softball team to take the field in decades,” he said. “In 2019, we won our first playoff games since anyone can remember. This year we’re poised to take it up to another level.”