Pipers to open season with California road trip

Team will play a series of games in sunny weather as they look to build on last year’s end-of-season success.

Gino Terrell, Reporter

Hamline’s softball team will get their first crack at the bat as they open their season in La Habre, Calif. on Thursday against Puget Sound.

Last season, the Pipers finished 10-26. However, they won nine of their last 14 games to finish the season. Head coach Jim Rubbelke said his team was really young, and he views the past season as a learning experience.

“This year, going into [the season], we have an idea of who’s going to be playing what positions, what roles [they] are going to play,” Rubbelke said. “Hopefully being another year older and knowing what this level of softball is all about, we’ll be better.”

The Pipers have their first 10 games scheduled in California. He mentioned that the road trip would be challenging because some of the teams they will be facing will be around 20 games into their season, while the Pipers are just starting the season.

“They’ve been outside since day one. Obviously, 20 games being played while we’re only getting two in is a huge advantage for them and more of a challenge for us. When we get outside, we have to use our time wisely out there,” he said.

On their trip to California, they will have played in four cities: La Habre, Fullerton, Thousand Oaks and Los Angeles. Rather than seeing the trip as a distraction with all the tourist attractions, Rubbelke is excited to be playing outside in softball weather conditions.

“Getting outside right now is the most exciting thing for us,” he said. “It’s our only opportunity to play.”

He mentioned how he also looks forward to practicing outside. Since the weather condition hasn’t been good for softball in Minnesota, they have held all of their practices in the gymnasium of Walker Field House.

“When we land in L.A. and get to our hotel room, I’m hoping there’s still daylight available, and our first thing is [to] unpack our bags and get out to the field,” he said.

Rubbelke said he feels good about how the team has been preparing for the season.

“It’s probably been the best February practices I’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said.

Rubbelke has had many successful seasons under his belt during his tenure at Hamline, including his first in 2008, when he led the team to a second place finish in the MIAC with a record of 26-14.

The team’s commitment level is one thing that impresses Rubbelke. He explained further, saying they have avoided a lot of distraction.

“[Softball] is only part of their [college] experience,” he said. “They’ve done a good job of establishing themselves as wanting to do well this year. Their commitment level is pretty high. They know they can be a pretty good team.”

According to Rubbelke, the goal set out for the Pipers is to make one of the top four seeds in the MIAC to compete in the playoffs.

“From there, our goal obviously is to win the playoffs because it’s our only opportunity to get to postseason play,” he said.

Seniors Bethany Hine and Laura Randall will be returning for another season. Hine, who played shortstop for part of the season last year, has been switched to outfield to join Randall. Both athletes have played since day one and have earned All-American honors in their time at Hamline.

“Having those seniors have a great year for us, both offensively and defensively, is going to be key,” Rubbelke said.

Junior pitchers Lauren Clouston and Brianna Vela are two players that Rubbelke feels will have a breakout season. Rubbelke said they both were thrown in a situation last year where they pitched more than he anticipated. He feels the extra experience they gained last year will help their development.

“We’re hoping for them to have bigger years than they had last year,” he said.

An interesting addition to the Pipers is first-year infielder Jamie Rubbelke. She will be learning the collegiate level of softball from her father. Coach Rubbelke said they have a good relationship and that the scenario isn’t unusual for them.

“It’s a pretty smooth transition because I’ve coached her the last five summers,” Rubbelke said. “It’s great having her because she’s a great player.”