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Midgets softball readies for competitive 2024 season

Mar. 28—DICKINSON — Defending state champions, the Dickinson Midgets softball team, have eagerly awaited the 2024 season since last year's end. These girls are zealous to hit long balls, to fan batters, and to win decisively. It's not that success comes easy; it's within their culture to be competitive. They do so with good sportsmanship, a relentless work ethic, and a positive team spirit.

Notably, Dickinson finished third in the regular season and entered the state ranked sixth, reflecting the unwavering mentality they possess.

The Midgets are ready for an ambitious state run, especially with the honor of hosting the Class A Tournament, welcoming all challengers, and with one simple goal in mind: today is a new day, and past accomplishments are yesterday's glory.

"That has been my thought process since I was in high school myself," said the Midgets' head coach, Amanda Mickey. "Yes, it is a huge success what you did the year before, but you are only setting the bar higher for yourself next year and you can't lean on what you did previously. You have to work harder because someone is always going to get better, and you have to improve just as well."

They start the new season recognized as the Western Dakota Association (WDA) No.1 contender, receiving 8 first-place votes (98 points) in the coaches' preseason poll. The recognition across the West region comes with a sense of pride, but Mickey refuses to allow it to influence the team, given the hefty amount of competition within the West region.

Following them in the polls are last year's region tournament champs and state runner-ups, Minot, garnering 93 points with three first-place votes. Jamestown (71), Bismarck Century (70), and Bismarck High (69) ranked third, fourth, and fifth, respectively, with only one point difference separating them. Yes, it is competitive on this side of the state, as they also welcome conference newcomers Minot North.

Dickinson's years of success and consistent run-rule wins have competitors keen to knock down the powerhouse, but Mickey is no stranger to opposing pressure and mental games and ensures her athletes carry the same level of confidence.

"The West is strong this year, and you got to look out for a bunch of those teams," Mickey said. "But as far as the 'target on your back' goes, that's nice to have, but like I said, we need to compete like we are starting all over again, and I think we do a good job of that every single year."

Their arsenal is a healthy mixture of experienced upperclassmen and young prospects, making Dickinson an enjoyable team to watch. Two of their senior leaders and members of last year's all-state team, Jenna Decker and Ava Jahner, have had crucial roles since freshmen, and this final year will be no different.

Decker has been a colossal figure on the team, leading off since her freshman year, but she is just as valuable in the dugout with a positive attitude that spreads like wildfire. She has been an all-state athlete since her freshman year and thanks her senior class for the encouragement she received along the way. She hopes to provide the same support to the underclassmen and seventh and eighth graders.

"I feel like having a positive leader out there makes everyone more comfortable, and we are able to practice hard. If we do make a mistake, everyone is there to pick each other up," Decker said. "We have had so many great seniors in the past, and I just remember looking up to every single one of them and wanting to be just like them. The way they made me feel welcomed coming in as a freshman and because I was able to have such a great experience has made me want all the younger girls to have that same experience."

Jahner is a two-way player for the Midgets, who held the circle in last year's stingy state championship game. She can throw strikes but can also knock them out of the park from the batter's box. She has faced adversity and has used these experiences to benefit her younger squad members, with up-and-coming pitchers looking at her for guidance. Kyndall Peterson certainly had time on the pitching lane last year, but youngster Reagan Mcmahen will also have her chance to lead the defense.

"It is weird because I remember being little and looking up to those older leaders as pitchers, and it's weird to be in that position now," Jahner said. "There are younger girls looking up to me, so I will just say, always being open to teaching them what I know. I want to help the younger girls but still treat them as equals. I am not their superior. And we are all learning together, and there are things that maybe they can help me with."

Jahner is a paragon of hard work and determination in athletics, but the way she tells the story shows the support from her team as the protagonist.

"My success has all come from my team and my coaches," Jahner said. "I wouldn't be anywhere without my teammates. It is them pushing me in practices and my coaches always pushing me to get better. I have been with them since my seventh-grade year, so I have learned how to work with them and how to work best together."

They did lose big hitter Baylee Berg from last year's roster, which Mickey admitted was a bittersweet feeling. She has since joined Dickinson State's Blue Hawks softball team to begin her collegiate career, Mickey's alma mater. Berg was an effective cleanup hitter for the Midgets, and Mickey and her coaching staff believe newcomer Mackenna Medina will fill that role nicely. However, they also recognize their four seniors and group of juniors will compete for spots on the lineup.

"Losing Baylee Berg was a huge hit, but she has moved on to bigger and better things," Mickey said. "And with our depth, it is going to be fun this year because there are going to be kids competing for spots, and we are excited for them to do big things this season."

Due to the recent inclement snowy weather, the original non-conference season home opener for Dickinson could very likely be canceled, but is slated for Tuesday, April 2. If that is the case, the Midgets will begin their season on April 5, hosting the Century Patriots for a conference doubleheader.