The hallmark of many of the best high school sports programs is the ability to avoid the wild swings of fortune caused by constant turnover, and on the east side, there may be no better example of that than perennial Metro East Conference contenders North St. Paul and Hill-Murray.
North St. Paul split its regular-season series with Hill-Murray last season but edged the Pioneers by a half-game for the conference championship. Both teams lost several key players to graduation, yet each should be a contender for a conference championship and state tournament appearance. Both will have a better sense of their season goals following their showdown Tuesday.
"We've been fortunate that the youth program is pretty good here, and the girls who play B-Squad and JV step in and play pretty good when they get to the varsity level," North St. Paul coach Cliff Charpentier said.
The Polars will have to prove that this season after losing seven players to graduation, including three all-conference players. Sophomore Jenna Rubbelke, who hit .370 last season, has moved to shortstop to replace Sophie Cave, senior Brittany Weber has stepped in for catcher Kellie McKane, and senior Abby Schell has moved to third base to replace Montana Thule.
The return of senior Ashton Putzier, who hit .366 and went 12-2 with three shutouts and 65 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings, means the Polars (1-0-1) are experienced on the pitching front.
Hill-Murray also has a new look. Gone from last season are pitcher Jayna Witzany and head coach Colleen Conway. Amy Kotzmacher and assistant Shelly Rowedder, who played on NCAA Division II tournament teams at North Dakota State in the early 2000s, bring their fiery competitiveness to the Pioneers (2-0, 1-0).