December 6, 2021 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

It’s opening day for SJO softball

The expectations haven’t changed for the St. Joseph-Ogden High School softball team.


Even with a new coach for the 2019 season.


Larry Sparks replaces Randy Wolken, the state’s all-time winningest coach with 1,044 victories and the only coach the Spartans have ever had since the program started in 1980. Wolken retired shortly after the 2018 season ended.


But Sparks understands what he is getting into as the Spartans start the 2019 season on Monday with a 4:30 p.m. game versus Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley.


“I feel very lucky to be given the opportunity to head coach of such a storied program such as St. Joseph Ogden softball,” Sparks said. “I have a tremendous staff and a really great group of young ladies. Coach Wolken developed a culture that rivals no other program. Our girls live to wear the Spartan uniform.”


Junior shortstop Bailey Dowling leads the way for SJO. The Alabama commit is coming off a 2018 season that saw her bat .657 with 21 home runs and 68 RBI. But Dowling has help, too. Junior catcher Hannah Dukeman, a Ball State commit, is back after hitting .468 with 50 RBI a season ago.

Add in senior pitcher Ashtyn Cromwell (21 wins in 2018), senior second baseman Savannah Smith (.292 average in 2018) and senior outfielder Katie Poulter (.301 average, 18 stolen bases in 2018), and the Spartans’ cupboard is far from empty.

Fellow senior pitcher Hannah Lewis, junior pitcher Zoey Witruk, sophomore third baseman Kaylee Ward, sophomore outfielder/infielder Audry Short and first baseman/outfielder Lauren Trankina give SJO needed depth, too.


“The strengths of this team are experience in key positions such as pitcher, catcher, shortstop and in the outfield,” Sparks said. “I would love to see our younger starters gain confidence with experience they get with playing time.”


The Spartans are set to take part in tournaments in Rantoul (March 30), Mattoon (April 12), Clinton (April 20) and Galesburg (May 10-11) along with balancing a challenging nonconference schedule that includes quality teams like GCMS, Normal West (March 21), Maroa-Forsyth (April 1), Villa Grove (April 2), Mt. Zion (April 17) and Casey-Westfield (April 26), among others.


SJO begins play in the Illini Prairie Conference on April 4 at St. Thomas More before embarking upon eight more league games.


“Our schedule has to be one of the toughest in this area, if not the state,” Sparks said. “The Illini Prairie Conference is a really solid softball conference. Teams like Pontiac, Bloomington Central Catholic, Olympia, Unity and Monticello are all capable of winning games on any day at any venue.”


SJO won its fourth consecutive Class 2A sectional championship last season, but suffered a tough super-sectional loss to Williamsville last May in Athens. The loss ended SJO’s season one game short of the state tournament at the EastSide Centre in East Peoria, a venue the Spartans have visited three times already this decade. Sparks would love for his first team to wind up back there in late May.


“SJO softball is a culture that goes way beyond this season’s squad,” Sparks said. “It’s our job to continue the winning ways established by the 39 teams before us. Our girls work hard year-round preparing to be successful, and I’m grateful to be coaching a program that expects to be in East Peoria every year at the end of May.”

Banner
Related Posts

SJO awaits guidance from IHSA

January 27, 2021

January 27, 2021

St. Joseph-Ogden High School is anticipating getting additional guidance from the IHSA today regarding the start of high school sports...

Knott, sprint relay shine at GCMS Invitational

April 24, 2019

April 24, 2019

The St. Joseph-Ogden High School boys’ track and field team went two weeks in between competitions. Blame Mother Nature for...

Historic night: St. Joseph, PVO seventh-grade boys’ basketball teams playing for state titles

February 13, 2020

February 13, 2020

Sugg. Head: By Jim Cotter Thursday night will be one members of the St. Joseph Middle School and Prairieview-Ogden seventh-grade...

On the call: Sjuts delivers in PA role for Spartans

September 20, 2019

September 20, 2019

Even if you don’t know his name, chances are you know his voice. For nearly 20 years Keith Sjuts has...

Immke, Wagner represent SJO at state wrestling meet

February 20, 2020

February 20, 2020

Win four consecutive wrestling matches. That’s what’s needed to win a state wrestling title. Sounds simple, right? Well, easier said...

Finishing what they started: Panthers headed to State

October 1, 2021

October 1, 2021

Playing in Peoria is a dream come true for the St. Joseph Middle School Baseball team. The Panthers’ earned their...

Going the Distance: Smetzer excels at Western

October 17, 2019

October 17, 2019

Ross Smetzer has goals. The 2016 St. Joseph-Ogden High School graduate runs cross country and track for Western Illinois University...

Taylor reflects on SJO coaching tenure

August 16, 2021

August 16, 2021

Kevin Taylor realized he needed to make a change. But stepping aside from coaching the St. Joseph-Ogden High School girls’...

Red-hot SJO volleyball faces St. Teresa for regional championship

October 28, 2021

October 28, 2021

The St. Joseph-Ogden High School volleyball team concluded August with an impressive three-set win at St. Teresa. If the Spartans...

Bagby picks Indiana State

March 21, 2019

March 21, 2019

Next year, Cassidy Bagby will be a Sycamore. Earlier this month, St. Joseph-Ogden senior Cassidy Bagby signed her letter of...

Total team effort keeps SJO baseball on a roll

May 19, 2021

May 19, 2021

About the only opponent to slow down St. Joseph-Ogden baseball recently is the weather.Persistent rain postponed Tuesday’s home showdown with...

Burnett, Steinbach keep SJO volleyball rolling

September 15, 2021

September 15, 2021

The St. Joseph-Ogden High School volleyball team has established a standard of excellence in the past. This year is no...

Burnett, Jacobs carry SJO baseball past GCMS

April 24, 2019

April 24, 2019

Road wins aren’t to be taken for granted. Especially dominating road victories like the one the St. Joseph-Ogden High School...

Knap, Jones lead balanced SJO girls’ cross-country effort in Monticello

October 24, 2020

October 24, 2020

Consistent running is key for any cross-country team. Not having one runner separate themselves too far from their teammates or...

SJO students named to all-conference teams

May 14, 2021

May 14, 2021

The Illini Prairie Conference has named their All-Conference Volleyball team. St. Joseph-Ogden’s Kennedi Burnett and Payton Vallee were named to...

Comments
Leave a Reply