WAVERLY — The spring sports season is at hand for Wartburg College, and somewhere under the current cover of snow there are games to be won and championships to chase.
In some sports, the Knights begin their respective quests with rosters built around experienced veterans. In others, it’s time for new names to rise to the top.
BASEBALL: The bad news for the Knights? They lost 12 seniors from last year’s 33-14 conference championship team. The good news? They return 12 seniors from that squad.
It’s a team that will be strong up the middle with proven veterans Cody Hyler at catcher (.363, four homers, 34 RBIs, first-team all-IIAC), Clay Henning at shortstop (.269, all-conference in 2016), Eric Willis at second base (.386, 20 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, first-team all-IIAC) and Blake Mahoney in center field (.353, 40 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, first-team all-IIAC), but one that will lean on a number of newcomers on the mound.
Other returning position players include Zach Hovick, David Fitzgerald, Tyler Hovick and Tyler Nunemaker.
“We’re excited about the positional side of it. Very athletic,” veteran head coach Joel Holtz noted during Wartburg’s spring media day Tuesday. “We feel like we’ve got four or five guys who can steal bases for us, so we feel like that’s going to be a strength.”
Holtz has 20 pitchers in camp. Tanner Eckhart, Austin Bohling, Chris Tomkins and Ben Milewski are the veterans. Eckhart will look to return to the form he showed as a first-team all-league sophomore two seasons ago. Bohling is coming off a 6-1 season when he had a 0.89 earned-run average in 40 2/3 innings of relief.
“We feel like we’ve got some good young pitching,” said Holtz. “We’re hoping we can develop the depth we’re going to need to be successful.”
SOFTBALL: It’s largely about pitching for this year’s Knights, who head into the season with just one experienced veteran in the circle in former Waterloo West standout Brenna Gray.
Wartburg has nine freshmen, including four rookie pitchers, as the Knights try to build on a 22-16 season that included a 9-7 record in a powerful league.
Mara Forsyth of Charles City is back after a monster season (.425 with 14 homers, 11 doubles, 60 RBIs, first-team all-conference honors), along with regulars Kailee O’Brien (.397, second-team all-IIAC), Liz Roby-Miklus (.377, 27 stolen bases, first-team all-IIAC) and Erica Countryman (second-team all-conference in 2016).
“You can expect to see a lot of freshmen on the field for us this year,” said head coach Jamie Mueller.
“Two seasons ago, we made the conference tournament for the first time since 2009,” noted head coach Jamie Mueller. “Last year we improved. We were fourth in the conference behind three nationally ranked opponents, all three of which made the NCAA Tournament.
“This year, we’re looking to continue to climb in the conference and it’s our goal to make the NCAA Tournament.”
MEN’S GOLF: Head coach Jason Steege returns his top six players from the fall season, starting with two-time IIAC runner-up Tanner Randall. Matt McAleer, Austin Newbrough, Joseph Zittergruen, Brandon Russell and Caleb Bushbaum are also back.
Wartburg will host the final two rounds of the Iowa Conference Championship May 4-5.
“We want to position ourselves to play well in the first and second rounds of the Iowa Conference Championships (at Iowa City), and then have the home course advantage for the third and fourth rounds and play it out as it will,” said Steege.
WOMEN’S LACROSSE: Anna Meerbach begins her third season as the Knights’ head coach with a blend of experience and youth she believes will serve her fourth-year program well.
“This year, that first recruiting class is finally seniors,” said Meerbach. “For the past two years that I’ve been here, I’ve kind of been saying that we’ve been missing some upper-class knowledge out on that field.”
Marisa Falco, Allie Stahmer, Kyra Saragaglia and Sierra Lovato are the seniors. Stahmer was the second-leading scorer a year ago with 38 goals and four assists, and goalkeeper Laura Sinkovitz is also back. There are talented veterans in the junior and sophomore classes, too, and six athletic freshmen could make an impact.
“These girls are really hungry,” said Meerbach. “We were right on that .500 year last year (8-9 overall, 4-7 Midwest Women’s Lacrosse Conference), and a lot of our games were lost by one or two points.”
Fans will see a faster-moving game on the field with a couple of significant rules changes. Division III has adopted the 90-second shot clock that was used at the DI level last year and players now have freedom of movement that puts a premium on athleticism.
MEN’S TENNIS: Wartburg’s season is already three meets old and coach Chris Gustas has a largely veteran group that he expects to be competitive all year long.
Connor Barnard (Waterloo Columbus) is playing at No. 1 with Sam Nettleton at No. 2, Jeremy Ellerby at No. 3, freshman Nate Meister at No. 4 and Grant Kincaid, Nate Kolz and William McDonald at the No. 5 and No. 6 spots.