SJO Softball set to begin defense of state runner-up finish in 2017.

Randy Wolken has seen a lot in his many years as head softball coach at St. Joseph-Ogden, but this year should be a challenge that may be unfamiliar to him.

Wolken, who begins his 39th season as head coach of the Spartans, will be dealing with a numbers shortage, as well as losing four key contributors to last season’s Class 2A state final runner-up team.

“We lost four key seniors, all whom started for us since they were freshmen, and that is really going to be difficult to replace them”, Wolken said about the departure of his four seniors from 2017, Andrea Coursey, Tori Witruk, Katelyn Burch and Logan Frerichs. 

Even though the numbers are down this season, there is a lot of talent in those girls, with many of them eventually heading on to play at the next level at Division I schools.

Three girls will take care of the pitching duties, with sophomore Zoey Witruk and juniors Ashtyn Cromwell and Hannah Lewis holding court inside the circle.

The sophomore class is one has a lot of talent, with the aforementioned Witruk among them, as well as Hannah Dukeman and Bailey Dowling.  Dukeman garnered third-team all-state honors last season as a freshman, and according to Wolken, has potential to also play at the next level.

“Hannah (Dukeman) is someone that can definitely play at the next level, and as our catcher, moves really well behind the plate.  Bailey (Dowling) was hurt much of last season, but still managed to hit 22 home runs for us”, Wolken remarked about a couple of his key sophomores.

Dowling, who has been committed to the University of Alabama since her eighth-grade year, will once again handle duties at shortstop, while senior Emmy Graver, who is headed to Illinois State with fellow senior Kenzie Pence, will man the hot corner at third.  Pence will play the outfield, as well as Allie Place, who has given SJO some solid play as well.  An addition to the team, Aspyn Taylor, who is from Clinton, will boost the Spartans’ attack, as well as give them a different look.  Sydney Kelso will also be back as a senior to help boost the offensive attack.

Another player coming out for the first time in a while is Frankie Izard, who chose to run track the past three seasons. 

“We will be very quick team, maybe the fastest team I’ve ever had at SJO”, Wolken added regarding the speed makeup of his squad.

In his 38 years at the helm for the Spartans, Wolken has established marks that likely will never be eclipsed, including 1,012 wins against just 236 losses in that time span.  Under Wolken, the Spartans have been to the IHSA State Finals nine times, with two third-place finishes, as well as two fourth place trophies.  SJO won the title back in 2006, Wolken’s lone title at the school.

Regarding the schedule this season, Wolken wanted the slate of games to be challenging, and with the new Illini Prairie Conference beginning this season, he may have his wish.

“With a lot of tough non-conference games, I wanted the schedule to be challenging.  With Pontiac, Bloomington Central Catholic and Olympia now in our conference, we will have our share of tough games. 

The season officially begins on Monday, March 19th when the Spartans travel to Gibson City to face the GCMS Falcons.  The first opportunity to catch SJO at home will be Tuesday, March 20th when the Spartans host the Westville Tigers.  Game time on Tuesday with Westville is scheduled for a 4:30 pm first pitch.   




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