ELDRIDGE — Just seven years ago, still a teenager, Holly Hoelting was loading equipment into a van and riding with teammates 3 1/2 hours to play in the state softball tournament for Pleasant Valley.

She remembers staying in the Iowa Central Community College dormitories. She remembers following the routine coach Lori Duncan outlined for her players that week. She remembers the environment of playing inside Harlan Rogers Park.

Now, the 24-year-old head coach is trying to impart that wisdom to her North Scott softball team.

When the Class 4A third-ranked Lancers meet Oskaloosa in a state quarterfinal at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Fort Dodge, it’ll be a new experience for every player on the Lancers’ roster. North Scott hasn’t been to a state softball tournament in nine years.

Most of her players have never stepped foot into the facility as a spectator.

Hoelting gave her team a list of items to pack and an itinerary of what to expect for the week.

“I try and give them as much information as I can,” Hoelting said. “We’re going to get up at the same time. We’re going to practice at the same time.

“For me, it is about them being prepared as much as possible, down to the very little things in how we are going to line up on the field for the first game.”

To help equip her players for the surroundings, the Lancers have practiced with loud music this past week. 

"Just so we're used to the extra noise," junior Sam Lee said. 

Hoelting, a member of back-to-back third-place state teams and a four-year player at Western Illinois, has rejuvenated the Lancer program.

North Scott was 15-26 in 2016 and 23-19 two years ago. In Hoelting's two seasons, they've won 61 games and are in the mix for a state championship trophy like the Lancers often were during Denny Johnson's coaching tenure.

"She's really shaped our program into what it is now," Lee said. "She's a really smart girl, knows what she is doing and likes to have a lot of fun."

Senior outfielder Abby Moeller said Hoelting's energy rubs off on the team.

"She's always excited and keeps us excited during games," Moeller said. 

The players haven't been on this stage, but Hoelting believes a rugged regular-season schedule, a deep pitching staff and a balanced lineup can lead to an extended stay.

Of North Scott's 14 losses this season, nine have come to 5A programs and three to schools ranked in 2A or 3A. 

And this is a young squad.

Moeller and Ashlyn Shannon are the only seniors. North Scott has a strong nucleus of juniors in Lee, Brooke Kilburg, Rachel Anderson and Drew Lewis. It also has multiple sophomores in the lineup.

"The program is in a good spot," Shannon said. "We have some good leaders already that are juniors. They've made my senior season really fun. It is fun to come to practice and play with them."

Hoelting admits North Scott probably doesn't have a first team all-stater on its roster. The sum of the parts is what has led the Lancers to this point.

They have six girls batting between .302 and .367. They have five girls with at least 19 RBIs. They have three pitchers who have logged 65 innings or more.

"It isn't one person," Lee said. "It is all of us together that get the job done."

That's another reason Hoelting believes North Scott can have success this week. It doesn't have to lean on one or two girls to consistently deliver.

"That relaxes your hitters and that relaxes your pitchers," Hoelting said. "Consistency is what we're looking for and we're really big on the process and producing good outs.

"If we have a runner at second, how can we move her? If you're relying on your first three hitters to get on base every time, that's hard on a coach, hard on the girls doing well and creates a lot of pressure."

All three pitchers have shown flashes of brilliance during the season. Sophomore Ryann Cheek is the team leader in wins (12) and strikeouts (128). Shannon and Lewis have been dependable in the postseason.

Shannon worked into the seventh inning against Burlington in the regional semifinal and pitched four shutout frames versus Fairfield in the regional final. Lewis had 2 1/3 shutout innings in the regional clincher.

"It is more getting ahead and being confident with all my pitches," Shannon said. "I'm just trying to keep hitters off balance."

The Lancers aren't content in just getting there. They are determined to take their season a step further.

"We made it to state, but we can't let up now," Moeller said. "This is where we have to push even harder."

Hoelting believes her team is ready to seize the moment. After the 3-0 win over Fairfield, the players immediately told Hoelting they were "hungry for more."

"The fact that I don't have to instill that in them, it shows great potential for the state tournament in my eyes," Hoelting said. "Coach (Duncan) really had to put it in our heads when we went that first time. These girls are ready for it."


Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.