Royal softball program takes a step forward in 2021

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
Colo-NESCO's Jenna Hill hit .298 with 17 RBIs and led the Royals in runs (32) and steals during the 2021 softball season.

Improved hitting enabled the Colo-NESCO softball team to overcome untimely obstacles to take a step forward in 2021.

The Royals opened the season needing to replace their best player from a year ago in pitcher and shortstop Rylee Purvis, who is now playing college ball at Simpson. Midway through the season they lost starting pitcher Callie Kohlwes to a shoulder injury.

Starting catcher Abigail Hostetler also missed  10 games.

"Injuries were a challenge this year," Colo-NESCO head coach Candace Sutton said. "Losing your battery for a couple weeks can really affect the game plan and other players positions."

But thanks to big strides with the bat and a resilient attitude Colo-NESCO ended up playing its best ball at the end of the season. The Royals won four of their final five games to finish 10-18 overall and 6-7 in the Iowa Star Conference South Division — bettering last year's 6-12 overall record.

"The girls took this in stride and came out a better team,"  Sutton said. "We became better defenders, better at batting awareness and better at situational softball."

Colo-NESCO began the season 3-1 with dominant wins over BCLUW (17-4) and North Tama (18-8) and a 7-4 victory over GMG. The only loss in the first four games came in a 17-13 slugfest against Baxter.

The Royals lost to eventual ISC South champion and top-three Class 1A power Collins-Maxwell by a 12-0 score June 3. But they came back to crush GMG, 21-7, and edge South Hardin by a 5-3 score. 

Then Colo-NESCO hit a rough stretch. With the injuries to Kohlwes and Hostetler a factor the Royals ended up winning only one of their next 15 games.

The lone victory during the stretch was a 19-7 drubbing of Dunkerton June 16. That was the first career win for freshman pitcher Annabelle Nessa, who replaced Kohlwes after her injury.

But in the final two weeks of the regular season things started to come together. 

Colo-NESCO crushed North Tama, 13-3, on June 25 and followed that up with a 3-2 victory over Janesville three days later. The Royals opened July with a 4-1 victory at Montezuma to end the regular season.

Colo-NESCO picked up its fourth win in a row by pounding Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the opening round of Class 1A regional play by a 14-2 score at McCallsburg. In the regional quarterfinals the Royals again played at a high level and nearly upset AGWSR before falling in a 9-8 thriller.

"A lot of ups and downs," Sutton said of the season. "Every player had good games and bad games, but they all played together as a team no matter what struggles we went through. Giving a solid South Hardin team their first loss of the season was a highlight from early in the season. And going on our little win streak at the end of the season playing good team defense was a highlight. I have high expectations for this team in the future after the growth that took place this season."

Colo-NESCO posted a .293 team batting average and scored 184 runs — an average of 6.6 per game. Last season the Royals just averaged just 4.2 runs and hit .268.

Senior shortstop McKenzie Niemeyer had a landmark year as a power hitter for the Royals. Niemeyer set the single season and career home run marks at five and nine respectively.

"Kenzie breaking the season and career record for home runs was a major highlight," Sutton said. "After having to take her junior season off, I was not sure if she would reach the career record."

Niemeyer also had seven doubles and she hit .267 with 22 walks, a .440 on-base average, 28 runs and 20 RBIs.

Kohlwes hit .400 with five doubles and 21 RBIs in just 16 games, Natalie Swanson posted a .342 average with nine doubles and 16 RBIs and Izabell Voelker hit right at .300 with 18 runs and 13 RBIs.

Jenna Hill just missed a .300 average this season. Hill hit .298 with four doubles, 32 runs and 17 RBIs.

Rebekah Nessa hit .288 with 18 RBIs and was a valuable all-around contributor for the Colo-NESCO softball team in 2021.

Second baseman Rebekah Nessa recorded a .288 average with 18 RBIs, Annabelle Nessa hit .283 with six RBIs and Rylee Upchurch finished with a .281 average, 15 runs and 16 RBIs. Hostetler recorded a .278 average with four doubles, 15 runs and 12 RBIs, Taylor Cox tallied a .270 average with three doubles and 13 RBIs.

Hill led Colo-NESCO in steals with 24 in 25 attempts. Voelker was a perfect 13 of 13.

Molly Angell scored 11 runs, Jadyn Niemeyer crossed the plate seven times and Riley Handsaker finished with six runs.  

Colo-NESCO had an .855 fielding average on defense. The Royal pitching staff gave up an average of 9.4 runs with an ERA of 6.65 with 112 strikeouts and 97 walks in 153 2/3 innings.

Kohlwes went 5-8 with a 4.50 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 57 walks in 74 2/3 innings. Annabelle Nessa threw 74 innings and finished 5-9 with an 8.32 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 38 walks.

"Another highlight was seeing Annabelle grow as a pitcher after being thrown into the varsity role," Sutton said.

Colo-NESCO must replace Niemeyer and Swanson next season. But with everyone else back the Royals have the potential to produce a winning season in 2022.

"I have high expectations for this team in the future," Sutton said. "We will have to replace two very good seniors, but the youth of this team will be beneficial for next season."