SOFTBALL: Monarchs looking to make 30th straight state tournament | In the game

After becoming state champions three out of four years, Papillion-La Vista took a small step back last year. But there are high expectations for this year.

“The first goal is always to qualify for the state,” Monarchs head coach Todd Petersen said. “From there, it’s to put us in a position to win. Qualifying for state is always special, but this year it may mean a little more because it’s the NSAA’s 30th high school softball tournament, and we’ve qualified 29 straight years – which is really a incredible accomplishment.

Even in a year the Monarchs finished 23-12 with a two-game state championship loss to Lincoln East, several players who will return this year have stood out.

Senior First Team All-State Emmie Wills played in 32 games, batting .533 with 30 RBIs and six homers. Fellow senior and second-team All-State Haley Wilwerding played in all 35 games, hitting .442 with 35 RBIs and seven homers.

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Wills and Wilwerding will be captains, with Emma McGrath, who also played 35 games, batting .365 with six RBIs.

Juniors Kamira Botos (30 games played, .389 RBI with 21 RBI and nine doubles), Kloey Hamblen (35 games played, .377 RBI, 23 RBI and eight doubles) and Morgan Byrd (34 games played, .397 RBI, 14 RBIs and two doubles) will also be key players.

In the circle, the monarchs return Carly Bertolini (14-5 record with 3.15 ERA in 18 starts in 26 appearances) and Amanda Gibilisco (0-1 with 6.00 ERA in two appearances).

“(We have) many of the same girls as last year, except we lost a few starters,” Petersen said.

Those starters include pitcher Grace Anderson (9-6 with 3.86 ERA, ten starts in 22 appearances), Alex Stoner (35 games played, .442 average with 41 RBI and 13 homers), Eden Ford (35 games played, .274 average, 18 RBIs and three home runs) and Sydney Kotz (31 games played, .500 average, four RBIs). Other seniors with at least 28 games played are Maddie Delos Reyes, Sofia Hurst and Kaleyn Hamblen.

“(The) most important thing is that we have experience this year that we didn’t have last year,” Petersen said. “I hope it will be huge for us. The other thing is that we have very good depth. I think 15-16 kids have a chance to start.

The biggest challenge for the Monarchs this year is that the competition continues to get tougher.

“There’s more parity in high school softball because there are so many more kids playing every year,” Petersen said. “I also think coaching has improved tremendously in my 16 years as a head coach.”

Petersen added that he would put the Monarchs coaching staff against anyone else.

“We just have to focus on ourselves, work hard and improve every day and learn to become a team willing to make sacrifices to achieve our goals.”

The Monarchs will open the season at home against Skutt Catholic on Thursday, August 18 at 6:30 p.m.

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