Colfax-Mingo’s Bryan Poulter started his 20th season as head softball coach when the Tigerhawks hit the practice field on June 1.
But he has never had to deal with a season like he will this summer.
Aside from graduating 122 runs, 133 RBIs, 33 doubles and 21 home runs, Poulter also must weave his way through a season full of restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year’s roster went 22-8 overall and placed second in the South Iowa Cedar League with a 14-2 record. More than half of the starting lineup from that team has graduated so Poulter will once again hit a reset button to open opportunities for a very young roster.
“To say that I enjoyed last year’s senior class and what they each brought to our program is certainly and understatement,” Poulter said. “It is always tough to say goodbye to those people, but that is what we do in education. Graduation losses happen.”
They won’t happen after the 2020 season as this year’s roster doesn’t have a senior and only features one junior who saw significant playing time last year.
Sophomore Kylie Doty is back this year after batting .316 with 31 runs, seven doubles, 19 RBIs and 14 walks last year. She was an honorable mention all-conference selection in 2019.
This season, Doty moves to the top of the pecking order because of talent and experience.
“Since the end of last season, Kylie has been talking with me and sharing her excitement for the season. I can tell that she is ready to move her components of the game to the next level,” said Poulter, who became head coach at C-M in 2000 after serving as an assistant coach the previous three seasons.
“The time has come for her to show her leadership skills, and share those lessons she has learned from previous players.”
While the offensive numbers lost to graduation are large, the pitching numbers were just as big as Colbee Cunningham pitched in nearly every game.
Taking over for Cunningham this season is expected to be her younger sister Caylee Cunningham as well as Doty.
Doty pitched in two games last year and made one start. She tossed 9.3 innings and had an earned run average of 6.00.
Poulter is unsure how the innings will get divided up but does expect both Doty and Caylee Cunningham to be inside the circle a lot this summer.
“Kylie and Caylee have been throwing this offseason and working with a pitching coach,” Poulter said. “Both of these young ladies are fantastic athletes and both of them have been making great strides with their pitching
Aside from Doty, junior Brennan Rhone, sophomore Mariah Webster and freshmen Caylee Cunningham, Carley Underwood and Abi Rawlins all made double-digit starts in the field last year for the Tigerhawks.
Cunningham, Underwood and Rawlins are all looking to get out of their older sibling’s shadows. After playing one season with Colbee Cunningham, Delaney Underwood and Braedynn Rawlins, the freshmen trio get to make a name for themselves in their second high school seasons.
“Last year they were seen but not heard much from. They assumed their roles and gave us their best efforts,” Poulter said. “I see a difference this year. They are not in the shadows of their sisters and each of them are excited to show their level of play and to form their individual identities.”
Carley Underwood started all 30 games in the outfield last year and batted .203 with 23 runs, six RBIs, 22 walks and eight steals. She was an honorable mention all-conference selection.
Caylee Cunningham started 16 games and batted .189 with seven runs, seven RBIs and five walks.
Rawlins made 15 starts and batted .189 with nine runs, five RBIs and 10 walks.
Webster made 11 starts and got 29 at-bats. She hit .310 with six RBIs and two walks. Rhone started all 30 games in the field last year and had 16 at-bats, finishing with six runs and six walks.
“Both (Rhone and Webster) will need to show us leadership skills and will be needed to fill multiple roles for us,” Poulter said.
The rest of the varsity lineup is expected to be filled out by freshmen Joslyn Chadwick and Holland Robinette and sophomores Danica Linn and Melany Vry. The overall roster features 20 players, 13 of which are eighth-graders and freshmen.
The COVID-19 pandemic will present Poulter, his coaching staff, the players and fans with challenges both at practices and games.
Things will feel different this summer in a lot of ways. Poulter said the pandemic did not affect numbers at all.
“I have been excited for the girls to get together — I could see it on their faces that they were very happy to see teammates and people other than their families,” Poulter said.
In past seasons, spring sports have run right into softball so Poulter was sharing athletes going from one sport to the next. That hasn’t been the case this summer obviously, which Poulter sees as a positive in a short season.
Knowing that the game itself, for the most part, won’t change much is another positive for the coaches and players.
The challenge for Poulter is dealing with the unknowns. He is unsure how transportation to and from games is going to work. He also is concerned about the rule that doesn’t allow the players to eat or drink on the buses.
“As of right now, parents are allowed to take their own children to and from games,” Poulter said. “I am not sure yet how many of our parents are planning on transporting their child. From how things sound, bus capacity will be limited.
“It isn’t uncommon for us to be gone for seven to eight hours on a road trip. Concession stands won’t be open and if we can’t take food and drinks on the bus, it will make for an even longer evening because we will have to eat/drink before traveling home.”
Colfax-Mingo is slated to play 16 games in 2020. It will play 11 SICL games and non-conference contests against PCM, Pella Christian, Baxter, Saydel and Martensdale-St. Marys.