Storm Lake's Young Guns
Anna Paulsen, Trish Halder and Morgan Darrow aren't old enough to receive automatic invitations to the Prom, buy lottery tickets or call themselves upperclassmen yet.
They're just old enough to give Storm Lake the type of high-caliber pitching most coaches would love to see on their mounds this season.
Darrow, an eighth-grader, has joined Paulsen, a sophomore, and Halder, a freshman, to form one of the best young pitching staffs in the Lakes Conference this summer. The three hurlers have already led their team past the 10-victory plateau this season, and are looking to help the Tornadoes improve on their 27-win campaign of last year.
The trio of Tornadoes have succeeded this season despite routinely facing batters who have two or three more years of softball experience each game, and Storm Lake head coach Jason Stoltzfus said he has been impressed by how they have handled themselves on the mound.
"These three girls really go beyond what you expect," Stoltzfus said. "They've had to grow up very quickly and pitch against quality teams early on, and they constantly demand the best of themselves. Having that kind of depth in our pitching staff at such a young age is a luxury a lot of teams would like to have, that's for sure."
Each of the Tornado young guns experienced a wealth of success at the 14-and-under level growing up, striking out batters and posting shutouts on a regular basis. Each player also went through a learning process adjusting to the increased intensity found in the high school game, something Halder said she and Paulsen are helping Darrow with this year.
"We tell her not to worry about it if the other team gets a hit, because that's going to happen in high school," Halder said. "We're trying to help her out any way we can."
The elder Tornadoes are giving their young teammate advice based on personal experience, as Halder was called up to the varsity as an eighth-grader and Paulsen was asked to pitch when she was a freshman. While each occasionally made mistakes, Stoltzfus said his top two pitchers this season were able to make the adjustment relatively easily.
"Anna and Trish really had to learn on the go, because they got thrust into it right off the bat," Stoltzfus said. "They had to go from JV to varsity very quickly, and that isn't the easiest transition sometimes, but they handled it very well."
"I was scared at first going up against older hitters, but I have a lot more confidence now," Paulsen said. "I personally don't even notice it anymore when I'm out there pitching."
Darrow said she has also tried not to let her youth be a factor on the mound.
"I'm still getting used to it," Darrow said. "I try not to think about pitching against older players, but there are still times when it crosses my mind."
Paulsen said she and her two teammates have quickly learned not to depend on just their fastballs to record outs, as they have seen more experienced Lakes Conference hitters get a hold of the straight pitches and turn them into runs on the scoreboard.
"There are a lot better hitters in high school," Paulsen said. "That's the biggest difference. You can't put one down the middle like you could in 14-and-under ball, because that ball's going to be gone right away."
Both Paulsen and Halder have added a number of pitches to their arsenal since being on the varsity, including a fastball, changeup, riseball, overhand drop and underhand drop, and are also helping Darrow develop those same pitches this year.
In addition to keeping their team in ballgames, Paulsen, Halder and Darrow are being counted on to act as examples for even younger pitchers in the program, and Stoltzfus said they have done a good job so far.
"I look at other girls who are coming up, and there really is a wealth of talent there," Stoltzfus said. "If those younger kids continue to work hard and improve like these three have then it could be a good thing for Storm Lake softball in the future."