Minnesota West softball: New coach, new recruits planning for real spring season

Minnesota West softball: New coach, new recruits planning for real spring season

By Doug Wolter on Mar 22, 2019 at 8:00 p.m.
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Minnesota West softball head coach Tanner Gunnink (standing) works with student M'Kayla Mike at a recent spring practice indoors. ( Tim Middagh / The Globe )

WORTHINGTON -- K'Kayla Mike planned to play softball for the Minnesota West Lady Jays last year. She had played the sport since the sixth grade.

She was unable to perform, however, because the Minnesota West softball program was suspended due to a lack of players. Now, things are different. Players are signing up, the team has a new head coach, and Mike -- after helping the Jays through a solid winter women's basketball season -- has her glove and bat ready.

Softball is fun, she says. And the uniqueness of the upcoming 2019 Lady Jays season could make it funner still.

"Just the feeling of your teammates and fans cheering you on. Even if you're in the dugout, you're in the game. You never feel like you're out of the game. No one's going to look at you like you're making too much noise, because there's never too much noise in softball," the sophomore explained, adding that since there are no holdovers from 2018, it's one for all and all for one.

"There aren't, technically, any veterans. We're all on the same level. We should be more connected. Basically there's no hierarchy," Mike said.

Beginning her first year of coaching, former Minnesota West athlete Tanner Gunnink said this week that there are eight firm commitments for the team. Expectations are that more will join.

Mike, who hails from the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a catcher. Stephanie Kazemba, a Round Lake product, is in line to handle a lot of the pitching duties.

Gunnink was hired in July of last year.

"I was fired up after I got hired. I really was," she said. "I think that any job you get offered, you have to think about the pros and cons. And this job, there were more pros."

For one, she's already familiar with West, and with the softball program, having participated in it for two seasons. She also likes the people she's working with, including her assistant coach Kristen Andersen, who also has deep ties to the college.

Gunnink knows the challenges ahead.

"It's kind of hard to fire-up a program that was dead last year," she explained, pointing out that there are no veteran Lady Jay players at all. None of the 2019 recruits have ever played softball at West.

"We're at a clean slate," said the coach.

She plans to put a high premium on player camaraderie, strong work ethics, and the basics -- like putting the ball in play and making the plays in the field.

She'll surely appreciate Mike, who was a gung-ho basketball player for Minnesota West for two seasons. Now she will let loose in the spring sport.

"I'm pretty aggressive," Mike said about herself. "I any sport I'm aggressive."