Amy Russell will be back on the field this summer for the Colfax-Mingo Tigerhawks, and this time, as an equal among her peers.
Her peers, however, could reasonably view her as something more than that.
Russell, now a freshman, is one of multiple young pitchers that has Colfax-Mingo head coach Bryan Poulter believing his pitching staff could be a strength for the Tigerhawks this summer.
Russell pitched the overwhelming majority of her team’s innings last year as an eighth grader (218 1/3 of a possible 224 1/3) and ended the season with a 2.46 ERA.
“She exceeded expectations,” Poulter said of Russell’s first year of varsity softball.
Poulter, who is in his 15th year as head coach of the Tigerhawks, anticipates using two more eighth graders in the pitching circle for his squad this summer. He mentioned Reis Wilson and Mackenzie Garrett as others who could see time on the rubber.
Colfax-Mingo, which finished last season 17-16, will be looking to fill voids this summer at shortstop and one outfield spot left by departing seniors Sydnie Fahrney and Rachel Forschler. Both were everyday players for the Tigerhawks, and Fahrney drove in a team-high 24 runs last year.
Poulter said his team could be “improved offensively” despite those losses. Russell returns as Colfax-Mingo’s top hitter from a year ago when she led the team in several offensive categories, including batting average (.396), hits (40) and on-base percentage (.496).
The team also returns junior Erin Earles, who was right behind Russel in terms of batting average (Earles batted .380) and hits (Earles had 35).
Poutler mentioned another eighth grader, Rhiannon Hayley, who could make contributions this summer as an eighth grader.
Injuries were one of Poulter’s biggest concerns given his small roster. Colfax-Mingo has only 11 high school players as well as a handful of eighth graders on the varsity squad.
“One or two [injuries] could have a real domino effect,” he said.
Concerns aside, Poulter has his team’s sights set on getting back to the state tournament for the first time since 2001, when the Tigerhawks won a state championship, and believes playing in the Heart of Iowa conference could prepare them for such an accomplishment.
“If you’re on top of your conference, you’re playing at a high level,” he said.