PREVIEW: Versatile Panthers are ready to step up for unusual season

The Monticello High School varsity softball team, first row from left: Tori McDonald, DeLainy Fellinger and Reese Cox. Second row: Piper Hansen, Karle Kramer, Kylee Van Dorn and Emma Sperfslage. Third row: Hayley Manternach, Mallory Steiner, Katie Roher, Jaelyn Aitchison, Brea Stahlberg and Keziah McQuillen. Not pictured are head coach Bret McDonald and assistant coach Kim McQuillen. (Photo by Pete Temple)
Pete Temple
Express Sports Editor

     If there is one word that describes the Monticello High School softball team most accurately this season, it may be this one: versatile.

     This summer’s Panthers will have to be versatile, based not only on the unique scheduling and safety circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the number of players who will be playing multiple roles.

     “I think the girls are just excited to get to play and to be able to see their friends again in person,” said Bret McDonald, who is in his seventh year as Monticello’s head coach. “With no conference champion for either division, I really believe their goal is to go out and play softball and enjoy their season, as they realize now how quickly it can be taken away from them.”

     The Panthers return six letter-winners: juniors Tori McDonald, Reese Cox and DeLainy Fellinger; sophomores Piper Hansen and Karle Kramer; and freshman Jaelyn Aitchison. Freshmen Katie Roher and Brea Stahlberg also saw some field time last season.

     “Where they play this year will really depend on who is pitching, so it may be that we don’t play the same lineup on defense every night,” McDonald said.

     Cox and Aitchison did some of the pitching last year, while Mallory Steiner and Stahlberg give Monticello even more depth from the pitching circle.

     “(Eighth-grader) Keziah McQuillen will play multiple outfield positions and possibly some infield as well,” coach McDonald said. “Mallory Steiner will give us some depth on the mound and add a good bat to the lineup. Katie Roher has looked good at third and behind the plate. Brea Stahlberg has filled the gap left by Jordan Kuper, who was unable to go out this season due to a volleyball commitment to her new college team.”

     Tori McDonald was at or near the top in several offensive categories last season, leading the team in batting average (.336) and hits (39), and was second in doubles (12), on-base percentage (.386), slugging percentage (.491); and tied for second in home runs with two. She also knocked in 21 runs.

     Cox had seven stolen bases, tied for most on the team. Aitchison a team-high two triples and was third in the squad with nine doubles.

     How quickly these Panthers come together will go a long way in determining how much they can improve over last year’s 14-23 record.

     “With only 12 games there won’t be a lot of room for growing pains,” the coach said. “The players won’t get nearly as many reps at the plate or on defense. With no tournaments and only playing (River Valley) Conference schools one time, it really makes for a short season.”

     McDonald said Anamosa, West Branch and West Liberty might be among the strongest opponents on the Panthers’ abbreviated schedule.

     “Ours is a good softball conference, and if you don’t play your best softball each night, you could get beat,” he added.

     In all, there are 30 girls out for Monticello softball, on three teams. Kim McQuillen is the assistant varsity coach and JV coach, and Andrea Janssen is the freshman-sophomore coach.



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