Softballs were already firing across the Glacier High School gymnasium just after 6 a.m. last week. With gloves and bats in hand, the Wolfpack were wide awake and at work, their conviction strong and their mission clear.
“We’re not done,” said Glacier’s senior leader, Jena Willis. “I believe in these girls.”
The Wolfpack have made believers out of a lot of people this season. After missing out on state a year ago with an 8-13 record, the team entered this season with only two seniors and a handful of freshmen and sophomores to fill open spots in the lineup.
Twenty-seven homers and 14 victories later, the Pack are first-time conference champs and a contender at this week’s Class AA state softball tournament in Great Falls.
“I knew we had it in us, I just didn’t know if we would step up, and we definitely have,” Willis said. “We’re peaking at the right time.”
The Wolfpack are rolling into state and face a familiar nemesis right away. The Wolfpack have lost to Butte in the opening round all three previous trips to state.
Glacier (14-5) will try to snap the streak at 2 p.m. on Thursday, May 23. Butte (13-9) is the fourth seed from the East and the 2011 state champ.
“All year long they’ve been dedicated and willing to come in and work hard,” first-year head coach Andy Fors said during a recent early-morning practice.
“I don’t know if there’s a lot of groups that would be eager to come practice in the morning like this. They’ve always just shown up and gotten it done. It’s been fun for the coaches to work with a group like this.”
The Wolfpack earned an automatic berth to state as the top seed from the West, and defending state champion Great Falls C.M. Russell claimed the top seed from the East. CMR will play Missoula Sentinel in the opening round. Billings West plays Helena Capital.
Missoula Big Sky ended Flathead’s season last week in two playoff games. The Bravettes finished 6-17. Big Sky takes on Great Falls in the opener.
Glacier is making its fourth postseason appearance since the program started in 2007. Fors, a teacher at Glacier and assistant boys basketball coach, served as an assistant under previous softball head coach Joel Bemis from the start before being promoted last offseason when Bemis stepped down.
Glacier advanced to state for the first time in 2009. The team continued its rise the following season and compiled the second most wins in the conference — 18 — but Butte dropped the Pack in the state opener. Glacier rebounded to win its first tournament game, beating Capital in loser-out action before bowing out with a 19-5 record. In 2011, Glacier went 12-11 and lost out in two games, to Butte and Capital. Last year’s squad lost to Missoula Hellgate in two playoff games and missed out on state.
But there’s renewed confidence surrounding this latest squad. Offense has not been hard to come by, as the Wolfpack have seven players hitting better than .300 with more than 50 at-bats each.
Willis is leading the way as one of two senior leaders, alongside Marysa Rogozynski. As the team’s ace, Willis is undefeated on the mound and piled up 79 strikeouts in 56 innings. In the batter’s box, Willis has eight homers, 18 RBI and a .394 batting average.
Freshman Ali Williams has emerged as a surprising success in her first season. Williams is Glacier’s top hitter, with nine homers, 30 RBI and a .590 batting average. She’s also stellar on the mound, with 51 strikeouts and only nine walks in 62 innings.
Kayleena Ikeda is second in hits with 35, and holds a .492 batting average. She belted five homers and 19 RBI. Hannah Atlee is hitting .436 with 24 hits in 55 at-bats and 16 RBI. Kayla Russell is hitting .379 with 22 hits and 11 RBI. Rogozynski is batting .355 with 19 RBI and three homers. Taylor Riggles has 18 hits and 12 RBI.
The season has picked up momentum for Glacier as the team defeated CMR in a five-inning game, and notched exciting wins against Capital and Sentinel.
“Just to compete with those teams let them know from day one that they had a chance at doing something this year. That was really big for us,” Fors said.
“They’re anxious. It’s a long break for us (before state) but they’ll be ready to go.”
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