The Panthers lose their top two hitters and welcome a new head coach in Carla Smith after going 15-13 last year. Smith, who served as the freshman coach the last two seasons, feels comfortable stepping into the new position after previously having a relationship with the girls.
“Our season is looking good as we will have a good core group,” Smith said. “With this being my first year as the head coach, the girls know me and we have been communicating for the last two years on how I like things to be done. They are willing to do more for me than a head coach that they did not know.”
Leading the group of returnees will be second team all-conference selection Maddy Findley. The senior finished with a .391 batting average a year ago with one home run and 21 RBIs. She will be one of three seniors that will lead a group of young Panthers along with fellow seniors Madelynn Liston and Charlie VerMeer.
Also returning for Knoxville will be juniors Reilly Finarty and Cheyenne Tille, sophomore Olivia Maasdam, freshmen Emma Dunkin, Ashlyn Finarty and Melanie Sullivan.
Dunkin and Ashlyn Finarty return as impact bats in the lineup. Both hit well as eighth graders with Dunkin sporting a .357 batting average with 22 RBIs, which were second on the team. Finarty hit .351 with one home run and 16 RBIs as the two will look to take another big step as freshman.
Not only did Finarty have a big roll at the plate, she was also the team’s number one pitcher as an eighth grader. She performed well there, going 13-10 with a 3.39 ERA and 69 strikeouts against 87 walks in 148 2/3 innings. With a year under her belt, if she can limit her walks she can continue to mold into a potential all-conference pitcher.
Knoxville will also welcome a group of newcomers in Brittany Bacom, Kalli Wilson, Ciara Heffron, Tara Bacom and Jadyn Streigle.
The Panthers look to be strong at the plate this year with a good group of the core returning with varsity experience. What will be key is how some of the young players develop with a short season with not as much practice time. Will they be able to fill in the holes left in the lineup?
Knoxville will have a tough schedule with a four week regular season. Albia will likely be the favorite with many returnees from last year’s talented SCC title squad. Knoxville did well in conference play last year, finishing 9-3 while going 6-10 outside of conference play.
“We will have to come prepared to play everyone in the conference and not overlook any opponent this year,” Smith said. “With everyone being on the same playing field with all of the regulations this year, we are excited to get on the field and see where this season takes us.”