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Softball preview: Irish face a new challenge

Rosemount softball coach Tiffany Rose was asked this week about what to expect this season.

There was some apprehension from Rose. She wasn't sure how things would transpire this season for the Irish or the South Suburban Conference in general.

And it has nothing to do with the fact Rose is in her first season as head coach for Rosemount.

Much of the unknown in Minnesota high school softball this season is due to the pitcher's rubber being moved from 40 feet to 43 feet from home plate.

A sport that has been dominated by pitching in recent seasons might endure a bit of a change.

"Three feet is a big deal," said Rose, who was a co-head coach at Eastview last year. "It was moved back in summer ball and some of the best pitchers really struggled. It will depend on which pitchers adapt to the change in the shortest amount of time.

"You have to have someone on the mound that throws strikes, moves the ball around the plate and hits their spots."

Luckily, the Irish appear to have experienced and strong pitching as they open the season on Thursday, April 7 at home against Bloomington Kennedy.

One of the most experienced returners for Rosemount is pitcher Rachel Hoeppner. Hoeppner has been the Irish's main starter for the past two years, and Rose believes sophomore Melissa Seldon could be ready for more innings as well.

"Rachel hits her spots very well," Rose said. "She can put the ball anywhere she wants, which is great at this level. Melissa Seldon is a sophomore and I think she could be ready to pitch a little bit more."

The Minnesota State High School League made the decision for the change to 43 feet, which follows a similar move made by colleges not long ago.

"Rachel and Melissa both have experience from 43 feet," Rose said. "Some teams might have younger pitchers, maybe ninth-graders, who haven't thrown from 43 feet yet."

Hoeppner joins fellow seniors Paige Cero and Ali Fromme as team captains. The three are also the team's most experienced returning players.

Rose's first Irish team doesn't have many returning players with much varsity experience. Senior Makayla Newberry was also starting toward the end of last season.

Other returning players include senior Laura Bodurtha, junior Summer Lindelien, and sophomore Hannah Esselman.

Rose has had a unique scouting perspective on her new players. She's spent the past seven years in the same conference as Rosemount, coaching for five years at Eagan before spending the past two years with Eastview.

"It's a different vantage point," Rose said. "I got to watch them and they didn't know I was watching and seeing some different things than they were seeing. I've seen them in game situations, where other people don't get that walking into a new program."

The seniors have offered leadership and a smooth adjustment for Rose, who knew several players from her time at Rosemount Middle School. It's offered a quicker transition, but Rose understands much of her lineup will include underclassmen.

"We are a young team," Rose said. "We're inexperienced, for sure."

After being part of an Eastview team that ended the Irish season last year, Rose is hoping she can keep her first season going as long as possible.

"Really in our conference and section, it's loaded," Rose said. "It's really anyone's game."

And a different game, pitching-wise.