Alexandria softball head coach Randy Albers isn't sure what to expect when the Cardinals take the field for the first time in nearly 23 months. He's just happy to be back on the diamond.

The Cardinals are scheduled to open their season at home on Thursday evening against Central Lakes Conference rival Willmar in a doubleheader. With the 2021 spring season starting two weeks later than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it altered season schedules, Albers is still feeling out what kind of team he has in practice.

"It's been fast and furious," Albers said. "We are still figuring out what we have in terms of placement. It would've been nice to be outside, but we got all the rain that's made things challenging. Starting two weeks later really puts us behind."

If there's one thing that Albers is looking to lean on in the early part of the season, it's his arms on the pitching rubber. Emily Harris has thrown in varsity games before, while some new faces look to take care of business when their number is called.

"Coming into this season, we knew pitching was going to be a strength," Albers said. "We have Emily Harris coming back, who has a lot of experience. Josie Steidl pitched a lot at the JV level, and Jordan O'Kane can throw too. We really have three pitchers that can do it for us, as well as our depth behind the plate with our catchers."

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Macy Tilleskjor does a hitting drill off a tee during the Alexandria softball practice at the Alexandria Area High School gym on Apr. 8, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Macy Tilleskjor does a hitting drill off a tee during the Alexandria softball practice at the Alexandria Area High School gym on Apr. 8, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

Despite the unfortunate weather that's kept teams practicing inside, the Cardinals are eager to step up to the plate. Even in the gym, the girls are taking their cuts against live pitching in the batting cages.

"We've been really pleased with our hitting," Albers said. "Just the aggressiveness in their approaches with the different things we've been doing has been really nice to see."

The rushed start to the season eliminated any chance of a scrimmage before the first game. Albers believes the teams that will have the most success early on are the ones that can learn on the fly.

"We haven't had a scrimmage, so it's hard to tell where we'll be at in those game situations," Albers said. "A lot of what we've been working on is positioning and what to do at certain points of the game. The defensive play is the biggest concern for us right away. I'd like to think we're not the only ones in this scenario. Everybody is faced with the same adversity. Everybody wants the experience from girls that would've played last season. We have girls that have to jump two grades and skip an entire level of play to get to varsity. It's a challenge, but everybody is in the same boat."

Even in dealing with inexperience, the goals of competing for the CLC and Section 8AAA titles haven't waivered.

"As coaches and a program, we enter every season with those goals," Albers said. "I think that's a natural thing. It's going to be some small steps in the beginning, but we want to compete. I think by the end of the season, and if we stay healthy and aren't affected by Covid, I think we can be pretty salty."

Albers also has to prepare for the unexpected. A potential quarantine is always looming, but the Cardinals remain positive after not getting a season last year.

"Other than promoting healthy choices and good habits, we find it best just to not talk about it," Albers said. "It's been with them and at the forefront of their lives. We are here to focus on softball and hope those things don't happen. When they're here, we're going to do what we're supposed to do with the protocols. It's out of our hands from there."

The wait has been long enough for spring athletes to get back on the field, and the Alexandria girls are taking in every moment they get.

"It's refreshing," Albers said. "The girls are excited to be back. The layoff gives everybody a bit of perspective of what you have and how much it hurts when it's gone."

2021 ALEXANDRIA SOFTBALL ROSTER

SENIORS - Paige Habberstad, Emily Harris, Emma Magaard, Maddie Magnuson, Josie Steidl, Maci Tilleskjor; JUNIORS - Madi Heid, Emma Jantzen, Jordan O'Kane, Brooke Stender, Erika Wentworth, Maddie Woodford-Buboltz; SOPHOMORES - Brooke Anderson, Kinzie Johnson, Bryn Loge, Emma Walters, Rachel Wegner, Sophia Wiseman, Briana Burtzel, Victoria McGrane, Emmalee Bugher, Olivia Nelson, Aubrie Porter; FRESHMEN - Peyton Goetsch, Chloe Loch, Sydney Jacobson, Tiahna Goeke, Ayla Rolin, Kylie Lattimer, Hailey Zachariason, Sydney Menk, Zoey Spear, Tatum Ketelsen, Amelia Williams, Kali Bitzan, Jadyn Steidl

COACHES - Head coach - Randy Albers - 10th season, 105-55; Assistant coaches - Mitch Loch, Jeff Dewanz, Jackie Stifter, Jake Smith

ALEXANDRIA SOFTBALL SCHEDULE

April 13 at Fergus Falls (DH), 4 p.m.

April 15 vs. Willmar (DH), 4 p.m.

April 22 at Bemidji (DH), 4 p.m.

April 27 vs. Rocori (DH), 4 p.m.

May 1 Alexandria Invite, 10 a.m.

May 4 at St. Cloud Tech (DH), 4:30 p.m.

May 6 vs. Sauk Rapids-Rice (DH), 4:30 p.m.

May 11 at St. Cloud Apollo, 4:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Sartell, 4:30 p.m.

May 18 at Brainerd (DH), 4 p.m.