Jenica Dietrich enters the 2022 fall high school season as the new head coach of the Highway 91 Cyclones after spending the last few seasons as an assistant coach. She takes over for Adam Indra, who stepped down from the position.
"I've been with this group of girls now for five years. Throughout the summer and the last couple years, I'm ready and excited," Dietrich said. "Adam Indra has done such a great job with this program. We hope we can continue that and put our own little mark on it."
Highway 91 reached the district final in each of the last two years. Last season, the Cyclones fell to Kearney Catholic in the district final completing a 21-11 season. The familiarity Dietrich has with the players, she said, is one of the most beneficial things about taking over.
"These juniors and seniors, I've been around them now for three, four years and I know their strengths, but they show up to different coaches so it'll be really great just to get started," Dietrich said. "We're definitely ready. The girls' attitudes is tremendous and I think they're ready to take on the change as well."
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Dietrich graduated from West Point GACC and she's been coaching ever since graduating from high school. She assisted the Nebraska Quakes organization, a Class A summer team. Dietrich, who played softball at Hastings College, said it was a great opportunity to assist the Quakes and when she got married and moved to Leigh, she joined Indra's staff.
Dietrich will be taking over a young team after the graduations of Lilly Praest, Jaedyn Ratzlaff, Faith Indra, Sasha Perrin and Abbey Pieper.
"We're going to be young, but there's so much adaptability and there's so much flexibility and they're so coachable. It's been interesting," she said. "I think they've had to play some different roles than they thought they were going to have to play, but like I said they've been so adaptable all summer long that we've had success. As long as we keep our head on straight and make easy plays, then I think we're going to have a good season."
In the circle, Highway 91 will use a pitching staff of three hurlers. Ratzlaff pitched 151 and 1/3 innings of the team's 163 and 1/3 innings last season. Ratzlaff's sister, Jordyn Ratzlaff, and two freshmen will comprise the pitching staff.
"It's just going to depend on who can take that mound time that night and what's going to be best for our team as far as a couple throw movement and a couple throw speed," Dietrich said. "We'll have to read and adapt and have our defense ready to go with how young they are. The balls going to be put in play and that's what we want. We're going to ride out being young and put our defense to work."
Offensively, Dietrich said the team will feature a little less power but a lot more speed. She said she expects Cassie Rayback, Nessa Krupka and Sophie Dvorak to lead the offense. Rayback hit .419 with 23 RBIs and a .996 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Dvorak, who's recovering from an injury she suffered at the end of the spring track and field season, posted a .368 batting average with a home run and 23 RBis. Krupka scored 28 runs, drove in 14 and hit .328 last season.
"I am foreseeing a little bit more small ball than just going out and having the power we had last year. I do think our five juniors and seniors will show up," Dietrich said. "They showed up all summer, they put in the work, they put in the weights. They've done what they needed to do to get our power numbers where they need to be when we need them."
Dietrich said the Cyclones' strengths this season is their flexibility and coachability.
"You never know whether someone is going to step in or everybody can have an off night, but I've got three or four girls that can really step up and play middle infield. With having three pitchers this year ... we've never had three in the years I've been here, so I just feel like that is something that if we utilize them correctly, that'll really help us as well," she said. "We can strengthen our defense depending on who's on the mound. It's going to be a year for experience, but as far as our defense, I'm happy with where we are and if we can get our seniors and juniors to keep their power numbers where they are, then we're going to be something to mess with."
Despite the team's youth, Dietrich said she feels a district final is certainly in the team's reach given what the players proved to her during the summer, in which 12 of the 14 Cyclones played on the team.
"For this season, if we can do the easy plays like we showed all summer, I don't see why a district run isn't in the cards for us. I really think that's something we need to be going for and if you just get the right poll for a district final, you never know. There could be a state bid there," Dietrich said. "We're going to have to work. We're going to make some upset games that we maybe haven't done in the past. We're going to have to do some big mental strides here, but if we win the games we're supposed to and pick up a couple, three, four, that maybe are not sure we'll get, we can easily make a district final run."
Sam Ficarro is a sports reporter with the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at SCHsports@lee.net.