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Western Dubuque’s 2021 varsity softball team: front from left, Shelby Rice, Audrey Biermann, Hallie Wilgenbusch, Sara Horsfield and Maddie Heiderscheit; back row, Abigail Kluesner, Sydney Kennedy, Meg Besler, Maddie Harris, Hailey Wulfekuhle and Meredith Hoerner.

Western Dubuque will have a new face in the coaching box this summer, but a host of familiar faces will be on the field, as the Bobcats return nine letterwinners and five starters from last year’s 11-8 squad.

First-year head coach Rex Massey likes the potential of this Bobcat team heading into the season.

“We have experienced pitching, maturity, and many players that have had success in multiple sports,” Massey said. “We had 47 athletes in spring sports, so we might get off to a slow start as they transition to softball.”

That pitching experience includes first-team all-Mississippi Valley Conference selection and Telegraph-Herald Co-Player of the Year Sydney Kennedy, who was 8-4 in the circle and hit .469 with 11 RBI in 2020.

Massey has a pair of veterans to turn to when Kennedy needs a break. Junior Meredith Hoerner started seven games last year on the way to a 2-4 record, and senior third baseman-pitcher Hallie Wilgenbush was 1-0 in three appearances.

Sara Horsfield hit .400 last year with eight stolen bases, giving Massey a weapon at the top of the order, and Meg Besler had a solid 2020, hitting .333. The Bobcats will count on senior first baseman Abigail Kluesner, junior catcher Maddie Harris and junior shortstop Shelby Rice to anchor the defense.

There are holes to fill after losing several key players from last year’s team that finished 5-2 in MVC play.

“We’ll be replacing four three-year starters and, with a shortened season last year, our younger players didn’t have many games,” Massey said. “We need to improve bat control and reduce strikeouts.”

Massey looks for the MVC to be strong again this year, and expects Iowa City High, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids Xavier and Cedar Falls to be in the hunt for conference honors, with his Bobcats also a contender.