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The Antelope

Loper softball reloaded and ready for 2024

After a MIAA tournament appearance during the 2022 season, Loper softball seemed primed to take the next step in their 2023 campaign.

Which made the pain of a 16-34 season that much worse.

“It was a tough season,” said coach Katie Ackermann. “When things are going well right before preseason, you have all this optimism and we just shut down a little bit.”

UNK entered last spring picked to finish eighth in the preseason coach’s poll after a 25-27 season that ended with a loss to Missouri Western in the MIAA tournament. In that tournament, the Lopers upset No. 5 Central Oklahoma in the first round and would get another win over Emporia State as well as they went 2-2 in their first appearance in the MIAA tournament.

UNK returned a veteran lineup known for its slugging abilities in 2023 with expectations of great things.

Those expectations were never met.

The Lopers’ team batting average dropped from .263 in 2022 to .249 in 2023. UNK’s slugging percentage also dropped from .407 to .378.

The Lopers reloaded in the offseason, adding 10 newcomers to their roster while returning eight veterans. Five of the newcomers are transfers, with three of them recording double-digit steals at their previous stops.

An important statistic for a Loper offense that finished 13th in the MIAA in runs scored.

“If our offense is down a little bit we’re going to be able to have some speed at the plate and put some speed on the bags,” Ackermann said. “They swing it well, they’re used to bringing in a lot of offense and that’s something we really needed.”

In a locker room full of new faces, the veterans are excited about the breath of fresh air the newcomers provide.

“Having the new faces come in that are enthusiastic about having a new chance, a new opportunity I think is going to be good for us,” said junior outfielder Kelsey Cordes. “Coming back from the down is only an opportunity for us to get better.”

The veterans are also excited about the new bonds the team has formed.

“I love all the girls, we mesh really well,” said junior infielder Leah Jurgens. “We all work well on the field and we get along off the field, so I’m really excited for the season.

The Lopers were picked to finish 12th in the MIAA preseason coach’s poll. They will open the season on the road for two consecutive weeks, first at the Division II Cactus Classic in Tucson, Arizona. Then they will head to Oklahoma next week for an invite before coming home to face NAIA Briar Cliff in back-to-back doubleheaders beginning Feb. 23.

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Traeton Harimon
Traeton Harimon, Sports Editor
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