GREAT FALLS — For the second year in a row, the Great Falls CMR girls softball team starts the year as the defending state champion. But this year’s team has a lot of new faces in new places, bringing some possible challenges.
The Lady Rustlers are coming off one of the greatest seasons in state history, going 24-1 last year. But with the new season is now upon them, the back-to-back champions only return three starters from last year’s squad. However this year’s group looks promising, so don’t rule out the possibly of a three-peat just yet.
“They’ve really exceeded my expectations so far. This group has been working really hard and staying positive,” said head coach Lindsey Gustafson. “It’s just a different group. We don’t have a lot of returners back, we have three, so we have a lot of spots to fill and big shoes to fill. But they’re working hard and that’s all I can ask at this point. I just hope we get better every day.”
“We’re a pretty young team, we lost seven seniors. But we’re actually doing pretty good, a lot better than I expected,” said senior catcher and outfielder Madi Payne. “We only have four seniors, so we have a pretty young team. We’re just learning how to work together as a team this year.”
A big pitching change is coming to the Lady Rustlers after Gatorade Player of the Year Tristin Achenbach graduated, but Gustafson has a plan and she’s confident in the junior taking Achenbach’s place in the starting pitching spot.
“I think right now Madi Moore is our clear number one,” said Gustafson. “She’s put in a lot of time in the off season, I’m really proud of the way she’s matured mentally and physically. She’s a lot better than where she was last year. She’s taking that role and she’s run with it, I appreciate that.”
“Well it’s a little nerve-racking, but other than that it’s actually really exciting,” said Moore. “I’ve been wanting to pitch the past four years here and now I get to do it for the next two.”
The big key to the season this year for CMR will be focus. Gone is the vocal leadership of Savannah Voyles and others, but through upper-classmen like Moore, Brooke Crabtree and others, this team still believes that another strong year is very possible.
“Fundamentals are really key to this team. We have a lot of freshmen, so practicing really hard would work,” said Moore. “Plus getting good bats, then we’ll be perfectly fine.”
The Lady Rustlers will host Helena to begin the season on Tuesday, April 3rd.