Thursday, August 22, 2019
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Jim Ecker, President & Editor

Metro Sports Report

Young Cougars aim for winning record

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Second in a series of preseason Metro softball stories. Next: Linn-Mar.)

The Kennedy softball team is young again this season, but not as young as it was last year.

The Cougars are coming off a rebuilding season in which they went 9-22. The team lost just three seniors from that team, which had seven freshmen and three eighth graders on it.

“We are a really young team, but we are developing and we are getting better and communicating,” said Kennedy’s lone senior, pitcher Kassi Nunnikhoven. “We are learning a lot from each other and helping each other out.”

The Cougars are excited to see what they can do coming into this season, now that the team has some experience under its belt. The Cougars return both of their starting pitchers from last season in Nunnikhoven and sophomore Taylor Sohn. Nunnikhoven was 3-16  with a 2.97 ERA and Sohn 4-9 with a 4.65 ERA.

Kennedy is also excited to be bringing back a core of young hitters that lead the team offensively last season, led by junior infielder Amanda Gaffey who hit .402 with three home runs and 19 RBIs.

“They have already set the bar for themselves,” said Coach Katie Bova. “I think they will have to live up to that bar, or exceed it. They are going to have to push each other and challenge each other because this is a good group of girls. They are pretty talented.”


Stokes named to Parade All-America team

Linn-Mar senior Kiah Stokes received another honor Sunday when she was named to the 2011 Parade All-America basketball team.

Stokes, a 6-foot-3 center, was a triple-threat in high school in scoring (1,704), rebounds (1,239) and blocked shots (515). She averaged 16.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 blocks for her career and helped Linn-Mar win the 2010 state title.

Stokes will be a freshman at the University of Connecticut this year.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a 6-foot guard from Anaheim, Calif., was named the Parade Player of the Year. Mosqueda-Lewis also will be attending Connecticut.

A total of 40 players from 30 states were named Parade All-Americans.


J-Hawks seek 1st tourney berth since 1998

(EDITOR'S NOTE: First in a series of preseason Metro baseball stories. Next: Kennedy.)

The Cedar Rapids Jefferson baseball program lists all of its major accomplishments in school history on the pressbox at the J-Hawk field, but one of those categories has not been updated since 1998.

That's the category that lists trips to the state tournament. Jefferson's last trip happened 13 years ago, the longest drought for any Metro baseball team.

The J-Hawks nearly made it last year with a talented club, but they lost in the substate finals to Mason City, 3-2, on a bases-loaded walk to end their season.

"We were real close," Jefferson Coach Mike Kuba said. "That was a heartbreaking loss for us, a heartbreaking loss for those seniors that gave us five great years."

That club featured Matt Beer, Ben Rettenmeier, Joby Frey, Luke Montgomery and Kellen Sweeney, although Sweeney saw limited action after being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays. Sweeney played in the substate loss to Mason City, but received an intentional walk on all four of his trips to the plate.

Those talented seniors are gone, but Kuba thinks he'll have another competitive team. "We're looking forward to the opportunity we have ahead of us this year," he said.


'Burundi kids' add depth - and perspective - to Wash teams

Like their classmates on the Washington High School track team, they’re teenagers trying to balance the obligations of home, school and athletics. Beyond that, their early lives could hardly be more different from that of their American-born teammates.

The “Burundi kids” – five boys and four girls currently running for Wash – were all born in that African country during a civil war that has been described as genocide. They have few memories of their native land, having spent most of their lives growing up in refugee camps in Tanzania – some of them for more than 10 years.

Their families came to Cedar Rapids at various times under the auspices of Lutheran Family Services, and they quickly began the process of learning a new language and integrating into the Cedar Rapids school system.

“Wash has a directed program for ELL [English Language Learner] students so that they are able to receive the best possible education they could get in this country,” says Will Harte, the boys’ team long-distance running coach and an ELL math teacher.


New look J-Hawks want to return to old haunt

(EDITOR'S NOTE: First in a series of preseason Metro softball stories. Next: Kennedy.)

The Jefferson J-Hawks know exactly where they want to end up at the end of the season.

“We want to get back to the state tournament,” junior pitcher Hannah Petersen said. “Last year was obviously disappointing, but we all think that we can do it. We have really good team chemistry this year.”

Missing the state tournament is unusual for Jefferson. The J-Hawks are perennially one of the top teams in the state in softball, led by Coach Larry Niemeyer, who has racked up more wins than any coach in the country with more than 2,000.

This year's team is determined to get back after a disappointing loss with a tough draw in the regional tournament. The fourth-ranked J-Hawks had to travel to face No. 3 Muscatine in the final and got beat 7-2, to finish the season at 34-7.

“We just want to work hard and prove to everyone that we can do it," said senior pitcher Katie Naber. “(And) prove to ourselves that we can do it.”

Leading the J-Hawks will be a strong returning pitching staff in Naber and Petersen. Naber led the team last season with a 16-2 record and 1.03 ERA, but Petersen was not far behind with a 17-5 mark, 1.28 ERA. Petersen, who has been the ace of the J-Hawks' pitching staff since she was an eighth grader, was second team all-state last season.

“Our pitching will be our strength,” Niemeyer said. “I usually pitch Hannah in the first game because she throws harder and then we use Naber the second game because she has better control and can throw to spots.”


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