Prep sports team’s go through roster turnover on a yearly basis.
It’s just the way things go with seniors graduating on to bigger and better things in college, making way for younger players to finally get their chance in the spotlight.
Following the lost 2020 season however, some teams have been hit harder than others and nowhere more than the Poynette softball team.
After consecutive WIAA Division 3 state titles in 2018 and 2019, the Pumas graduated 11 seniors in the class of 2020, making up two-thirds of its varsity roster and nearly its entire starting line-up. Coupled with the heavy roster shakeup — Poynette brings back just five varsity returnees — Matt Ramberg inserts himself as the program’s new head coach this year following the retirement of two-time Hall of Famer Bob Tomlinson, who hung up his scorebook after 41 years leading the Pumas.
It’s certainly created a difficult challenge for Ramberg and the Pumas to start off the new season with, including carrying a 53-game winning streak into the 2021 campaign.
You wouldn’t know from how the team has performed so far as Poynette has passed every test with flying colors so far, opening this year with three straight wins, all of which haven’t been close. After throttling rival Lodi, 21-0, in five innings in their season opener, the Pumas pummeled Lakeside Lutheran, 10-0, in another shortened game before racing past DeForest, 10-4, last Friday.
It’s been a combination of new and old that’s helped to fuel the Pumas hot start as they’ve stretched their win streak to now 56 games.
Seven separate players have four or more hits so far this year, including a team-high seven from sophomore Brooke Steinhorst, including three doubles. Fellow sophomore Holly Lowenberg has a second-best six hits, including two home runs and a triple, while senior Peyton Gest has five hits with a pair of doubles.
Junior Abby Klink, sophomore Laken Wagner and senior Peyton Kingsland each have a pair of doubles to their credit and combined the team is hitting .459 from the plate with an on-base percentage of .548.
The plethora of production so far has been no surprise Ramberg.
“We have five returning players from the 2019 program and many young new comers who we expect to contribute immediately,” he wrote in a team preview sent to Capital Newspapers.
Among the top leaders, Kingsland carries the most experience as she was the Pumas’ starting shortstop in their run to a fifth state title in 2019. Along with Kinglsand, Klink and junior Ashia Meister saw some time in running situations mostly, while seniors Alanna Borgen and Maysa Clemens were also part of the varsity squad.
The rest of the roster is getting its first varsity experience this season in which Ramberg wrote he and his staff “expect to see a significant amount of growth.”
The bar has been set pretty high so far at the plate, as well as in the circle. On top of their hitting prowess, Lowenberg and Steinhorst have shined as the Pumas top two hitters, allowing a combined five runs on just seven hits through three games.
Lowenberg has truly dominated allowing just one hit in eight innings pitched with a walk and 17 strikeouts. Not to be outdone, Steinhorst has recorded nine punchouts to just two walks and six hits.
The pair provide the Pumas two dynamite arms, which will be backed up with a strong infield.
Steinhorst and sophomore Alli Ripp will be the team’s primary third basemen, while Kingsland returns at shortstop. Meister moves to second base while Gest will be the lead first baseman. Sophomore Laken Wagner takes over behind the plate and gives Gest sound backup at first.
Poynette also boasts a bevy of outfielders, including Clemens, Borgen and Klink. Ramberg also has senior Tia Bauernhuber and freshmen Genevieve Berner, Kaitlyn Suchomel, Val Heth and Jocelynn Nehls at his disposal, as well as Lowenberg, when she isn’t pitching, and Ripp.
Despite the significant changes, Ramberg believes the Pumas can be competitive with the top teams in the Capitol North Conference. Poynette will truly get to see what it’s made of this week when it heads to Watertown Luther Prep on Tuesday before heading to Lake Mills, Ramberg’s conference favorite selection, on Thursday.
And while the program’s win-streak is still alive amid a torrid start, the young team can’t rest on its laurels.
“We need to continue to work hard and get better at every practice and game. We are always striving for better,” Ramberg wrote.
Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.