By Robert Whitmire
The SPASH Panther softball team is busy preparing to take the field for their home opener Tuesday, April 5. The Panthers will host Wausau East at Woyak Park with the first pitch scheduled for 4:30 PM.
The defending Wisconsin Valley Conference Champions return eleven players from last year’s team including the WVC Player of the Year, junior pitcher Aubrey Drohner. She finished the season with an 11-1 record and an ERA of 0.73. At the plate she recorded 20 hits including 9 doubles, 14 RBI’s and scored 9 runs with a batting average of .476.
“I’m extremely excited for the season to start and I’m hoping we will finish off the year on a high note,” said Drohner.
“We have a veteran team that understands the game well,” said Tom Drohner, Panther’s head coach. “We have to learn how to take our game to the elite level. We were close last year and this year we need to take that step.”
Tom Drohner, who has been at the helm for 18 years, has led his teams to 17 Wisconsin Valley Conference championships – including a string of 16 straight – and seven WIAA Division I state titles.
Backing up their ace pitcher on the bases — at the plate and in the field — this season include four-year starter Jordan Kawlewski behind the plate along with Payton Gaber and Brittany Flugaur and second team all-staters Shaylee Kluck and Ally Miklesh, all among the leading hitters in the conference last season.
Miklesh, a sophomore, lit up the board last season with 15 runs and 12 RBI’s and a .439 batting average while Kluck scored 7 runs with 18 RBI’s and posted a .395 batting average. Flugaur finished the season with 14 runs, 13 hits and eight RBI’s with a .382 batting average while Gaber scored six runs, belted eight hits and posted a .381 batting average.
“We are only a couple weeks into the season but it is clear that our team has a lot of potential this year,” said Kluck and Kawlewski. “We have a lot of depth in every position and the majority of our players have a lot of experience in the program.
Along with an experienced squad on the field, Tom Drohner welcomes back a veteran group of assistant coaches, to include Todd Vanderloop, who has coached with Drohner for 18 years; Mike Maultra; Emily Mallek, a former SPASH softball standout who went on to play at UW-Oshkosh; and Rachel Graves, the Red Panthers Girls Hockey Coach.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how much we have improved from last year,” Drohner said. “We lost two seniors and basically return the nucleus of our team. We should be very exciting to watch and look forward to the challenge in front of us.”