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April 5, 2012
By Todd VanderLoop of SPASH Softball

Prep softball: SPASH out to defend state championship

12:47 AM, Apr. 5, 2012  |  
Stevens Point Area Senior High’s Nicole Simcakowski delivers a pitch during a recent practice. The Panthers are aiming to defend their WIAA Division 1 state title. / DOUG WOJCIK/STEVENS POINT JOURNAL

Pitchers like Kelly Franks come around once in a coaching career at the high school level in Wisconsin.

All Franks did in her remarkable Stevens Point Area Senior High career was play a huge hand, or arm, in helping the Panthers win three WIAA Division 1 state titles.

Of course, when you're the juggernaut that the Stevens Point Area Senior High program has been over the past 15 years, you simply turn to your next ace.

"What we say is next woman up," SPASH coach Tom Drohner said.

Franks will pass the softball to junior Angela Lange, and the venerable coach sees no reason why the Panthers can't continue their winning ways.

The important thing, Drohner said, is Lange doesn't try to be Franks. Her coach wants Lange to play to her strengths, and the results will speak for themselves.

Lange also won't have to carry the load in the circle as Nicole Simcakowski and Nicki Hauser are capable of chewing up innings.

"I have a ton of confidence in Angela and believe she will make a name for herself this year. If we want to get where we want to go, Angela will get us there," Drohner said. "The thing is I hope people don't compare her to Kelly. She can't be the same kind of pitcher as Kelly Franks.

"I hadn't seen a kid throw as hard as she did in all my years of coaching. She had the ability to get herself in and out of jams."

Lange, who will be working closely with catcher Paris Kurszewski, also should benefit from being surrounded by a cast of talented and experienced players.

Senior third baseman Melanie Leopold is the anchor of what on paper should be an air-tight defense for the Panthers.

In addition, Kallie Krueger, a senior, along with junior infielders Taylor Smola, who will also vie for playing time at catcher, Molly Williams, and Hauser at shortstop, are as reliable as they come. Sophomore Megan Roth also has huge potential. Shelby Fields, a senior, along with juniors Heather Woyak, Leah Soik and Carly Lass can cover all kinds of ground in the outfield.

"Defense is a priority for us. We've got to play great defense, and make the plays behind Angela, that has always been the focus of our program," Drohner said. "When you have great pitching and defense, you'll be in every game."

While they enjoy flashing the leather, the Panthers may be even more dangerous with a bat in their collective hands this season.

From the top of the order to the bottom, SPASH should boast one of its most dynamic attacks in recent years, although the power numbers -- the Panthers belted a school record 18 home runs last season -- may take a hit.

"On paper, right now we're every bit as good offensively as we were last year, and we were pretty good last year," said Drohner, who pointed out a number of newcomers could be key contributors either at the plate or on the bases. "I think we're going to be fun to watch."

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