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Lady Braves hunting for three-peat


Banks girls have a target on their backs as they try to capture the program's third consecutive state title

Success breeds success. No one knows that better than Jenny Compton.

The Banks softball coach has guided her program to two consecutive Class 4A state titles, and the Lady Braves have advanced to the state finals three times in the last four years. On top of that, many of the girls on this year’s softball team also have extensive postseason experience as members of the school’s volleyball and basketball teams.

“I think it’s something that’s been bred within our girls sports programs,” Compton said. “When those teams make it to the playoffs or the state tournament, the kids aren’t scared of the unknown because they’ve seen the unknown. They’ve been in a playoff atmosphere, they know what that’s like, so they’re not shellshocked.”

This year’s Banks softball team will have some new faces after the graduation of four-year starters Kaylin VanDomelen, Riley Gerlinger, Lexi Chung and Courtney Engeseth, but the Lady Braves return four starters from their 2013 state championship squad, including reigning Cowapa League and 4A state player of the year MaKenna Partain.

Partain led Banks in virtually every offensive category last year as a freshman, batting .574 with 10 home runs, 35 extra-base hits and 60 RBIs.

“I sure wouldn’t want to pitch to her,” Compton said with a laugh. “I’m looking forward to having her for three more years, that’s for sure.”

VanDomelen was the last Banks softball player to sweep the league and state player of the year awards as a freshman, and she went on to a wildly successful career that included two state championships and a scholarship to the University of North Dakota.

“I see some similarities between them,” Compton said of Partain and VanDomelen. “They’re both phenomenal players who are always working to get better.”

Partain and VanDomelen split pitching duties last season, but this year that responsibility will fall largely to Hannah VanDomelen, Kaylin’s younger sister. The junior lefthander will give Banks a different look in the pitching circle after featuring a number of hard-throwing righties over the last few years.

“Hannah is going to take a more prominent role on the mound this year,” Compton said. “She’s gotten stronger than she was last year and she’s throwing harder. She really worked hard in the offseason.”

Fellow juniors Tiffany Snyder and Kortni Ragsdale will also see time in the pitching circle after extensive offseason work.

“These girls work really hard in the offseason on their pitching because they know it’s so competitive,” Compton said. “I think that’s why we have such good pitching in Banks — everyone knows how hard they have to work to earn time on the mound.”

Other returners include catcher Madison Soper, a junior, and first baseman Molly Hammond, the team’s only senior.

“Molly is really encapsulating the senior role with her leadership,” Compton said. “You may look at the roster and see only one senior and think, ‘Oh gosh, we’re going to be light on leadership,’ but Molly is definitely going to handle that role.”

Elsewhere, junior outfielder Madison Seed returns after missing last season with a torn ACL, and junior third baseman Kindel Bailey — a two-sport star who is also a state qualifier in the javelin for the Banks track team — will feature more prominently after seeing spot duty last season. Junior JoJo Wren will see playing time in the outfield after breaking in as a pinch runner last year.

Among the newcomers, Mary Schorn is likely to start at second base, becoming a rare three-sport varsity athlete as a freshman. Fellow freshman Shakayla Snyder will serve as a backup catcher and potential designated hitter, while sophomore Gabby Eckhardt also competes for playing time.

All in all, Compton says the team is embracing its role as a favorite to win both league and state championships while also enjoying its time together.

“We’re having a blast with these girls,” Compton said. “You can tell how much fun they’re having and how relaxed they are. They’re doing a great job of living in the moment.

“I think it’s very, very much the same outlook as last year. We know the expectation is that we’ll be at the top of the league, but we’re not going to take anybody for granted. We’ve had a lot of fun so far, but they know what they have to do to take care of business.”

With two straight state title runs under their belts, these Lady Braves know exactly what is expected of them.

“They know what it will take,” Compton said. “That’s one thing that’s a real luxury when you’ve been able to get there before. These girls know what it will take to get back there again.”