West Central Area softball coach Bill Aufdenkamp is confident that the Knights team he would have fielded in 2020 would have been a talented one in conference and section play.

“This would have been a good season for us,” Aufdenkamp said.

Part of the reason he felt that way is because he had seven seniors to lean on in guiding this group. Hailey Bennett, Hailey Hansen, Ellie Herman, Kaleigh Anderson, Ryanne Long, Savannah Swenson and Ireland Winter were excited to see what this team could accomplish after going 19-5 in 2019. That run included a second straight trip to the Section 6A title game before falling to top-seeded New York Mills.

With the season being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Echo Press reached out to each of the WCA seniors as a way to recognize them. This story centers around four questions for each of the players who responded: Why do they play softball? What do they miss most about it this spring? What is a favorite memory from competing? What are their future plans after high school, and do they plan on competing again?

Kaleigh Anderson

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Kaleigh Anderson
Kaleigh Anderson

Why she plays: I love softball. When I was a sophomore, I tried track but I later realized that I liked softball so much more. I love the rush you get of making a good play or cheering on your teammates. I like that softball is almost an individual sport, but a team sport as well. You have to do good for your team to do good.

What she misses most: I miss everything. I miss the bus rides to away games or even the pregame jams in our own dugout. I miss playing and my teammates as well. We really were like a big family. We all described this upcoming year as “our year” and let me tell you, it really, truly was going to be our year.

Favorite memory: One of my favorite memories was the first game of my junior year. This was the year after I decided to join track. Our first game was in Upsala, and I remember when we got there they were plowing snow out of right field.

We all knew that today was going to be a rough one. I later found out that I was playing shortstop that game. I usually play second. During infield, Hailey Hansen tried to give me a crash course on how to play short. Later in the game, they hit a line drive towards third, and Hailey tipped it up with the top of her glove. I dove for it and ended up catching it and making a double play. It will forever be towards the top of my softball memories.

Future plans: I plan to attend (Minnesota State Community and Technical College) in Fergus Falls and play volleyball for the Spartans.

Hailey Hansen

Hailey Hansen
Hailey Hansen

Why she plays: I play softball because I love everything about the game. I love the adrenaline rush I get after a good hit/play or when a teammate does well. Being a part of a team and making memories together is also why I love the game.

What she misses most: I miss everything. I miss my teammates, bus rides, practices, games, but I especially miss playoffs. It’s always great to work together all season long and to see the hard work pay off by leaving everything on the field at the end of the year.

Favorite memory: Seriously, one of the best days ever was when Ireland (Winter) and I hit back-to-back, over-the-fence home runs during a playoff game last year!

Future plans: I plan to attend the University of Northwestern, St. Paul and major in elementary education. I plan to play softball for the Eagles, as well.

Ireland Winter

Ireland Winter
Ireland Winter

Why she plays: I started playing as a tee-baller and have loved the sport ever since.

What she misses most: Hanging out with my teammates and hitting dingers.

Favorite memory: Hitting a home run right after my teammate, Hailey Hansen, did.

Future plans: I am majoring in biology at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and then I plan to go to PA school to become a physician's assistant. I hope to play intramural softball in college and town leagues for many years.

Savannah Swenson

Savannah Swenson
Savannah Swenson

Why she plays: I play softball because it is exhilarating. In three seconds, you have to see the ball, make contact, and take off running. There is no time for thinking when in the field either. You just go.

What she misses most: I love sliding and running the bases, which I have found is an unpopular opinion to have! I think I will miss that the most, or the team chemistry we have worked up to throughout the years.

Favorite memory: I don’t really know which one to pick. There are so many! I think one of the best memories was when we were playing in the dome and we were getting our butts kicked by a (Class AAA) school, and we ended up scoring one run and cheered like we won the world championship. I sure do love my team!

Future plans: I will be going to MSUM to pursue a career in special education. It’s crazy to me that we (class of 2020) are now making plans for the future and going off to start working towards careers that we may or may not stick with. I definitely want to continue playing the game. It will be on the more non-competitive side, though.

Hailey Bennett

Hailey Bennett
Hailey Bennett

Why she plays: I have played summer rec. through our areas community education program ever since I was little. I played in it every year, and I just found a love for the game. As I continued to play throughout high school, my love for the game continued to grow.

What she misses most: What I miss most is spending time with my amazing teammates and friends. We always made practice, games, and bus rides so much fun. We also always found a way to make things fun while working hard and getting the job done.

Favorite memory: My favorite memories would have to be playoffs the last couple of years. I love the atmosphere of playoff games! We had a few huge underdog wins when I was a freshman, and it was so much fun to be playing in the section championship the last two years.

Future plans: I will be attending Minnesota State University-Moorhead. At MSUM, I plan to major in finance. As of right now, I am not going to play any sports competitively at the college level, but I hope to stay active by playing intramural or club sports.