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Five juniors to watch in 2020

By Tim How, 03/19/20, 4:15PM CDT


These five juniors have proven themselves already and look to be dominant forces in 2020.

As we wait to see if we will get to have a spring sports season in 2020, take a look at these juniors that we should all have an eye on once we get to playing ball. 

Hailey Schaefer | Valley City

Any right-minded person who saw Hailey Schaefer play as a sophomore know that she was one of the top small handful of pitchers in the state. As a sophomore, she had a dominant run where double digit strikeout games became the norm. She ripped off 18 strikeouts in a single game against Fargo Davies.

Going all the way back to her freshman year, Schaefer proved she could do it with the bat too. When teammate Becca Thompson went on a home run spree that we've rarely seen in this sport, it was Schaefer who started to do some damage as teams pitched around Thompson. Schaefer blasted a grand slam against Fargo North in the state tournament in 2018. 

Schaefer throws hard and is an innings eater for the Hi-Liners. Couple that with her devastating rise ball and her pitching ability alone makes Valley City a state title contender. 

Maddy Zander | Bismarck Century

Rewind to 2018 and you'll find the first year in North Dakota high school softball history that West Fargo didn't win a state title. That's because Bismarck Century and Maddy Zander knocked them out in the state quarterfinals. Zander's 3-run blast late in the game put the game out of reach.

Zander is also a force in the circle. Her ability to put her team on her back both offensively and in the circle makes the Patriots a real contender in the west. Zander has been the main hurler for Century since she was just an eighth grader.

Brynley & Brooklyn Benno | Des Lacs-Burlington/Lewis & Clark

There is no question about it; Des Lacs-Burlington/Lewis & Clark is the most accomplished Class B team in the west. Their program was the first from the west to play in a state title game, losing to Central Cass. They've done it behind standout hurler Erica Hermanson, but the punches of Brynley & Brooklyn Benno make them a real threat. 

Like so many of the Class B stars, the Bennos play multiple sports and are probably best defined as an athlete. Brooklyn is a little bit taller, listed at 5'10" on Hudl. Brynley checks in at 5'7". Both girls were all-region players in 2019, while Brynley was named all-state in both 2018 and 2019. 

Returning champion Central Cass has to be the favorite, but a group of Des Lacs-Burlington/Lewis & Clark, Hear River, Kindred-Richland, Thompson and Hillsboro-Central Valley will look to put an end to that reign. 

Noella Kritzberger | Hillsboro-Central Valley

The Hillsboro-Central Valley Burros were one out away from playing in their first state title game in 2019. They have been a threat for several seasons in a row because they are able to use a stable of pitchers. One of those pitchers is junior Noella Kritzberger.

She has picked up varsity experience from a young age. She has always been able to throw hard and the locating is really starting to come around. Not only can she be effective in the circle for HCV, but she has the ability to hit the long ball and lead the team offensively. 

Ava Kalbrener | Fargo North

Ava Kalbrener was a revelation in the postseason for Fargo North as a freshman. She blasted a seventh inning game-winning home run in the seventh inning of a region playoff game against Sheyenne. The next day, she hit a massive three run homer to beat West Fargo. 

As a sophomore, Kalbrener came around in the circle. Her confidence rose and she became the top pitcher for a state bound Fargo North team. Her ability to both throw hard and believe in her "other" pitches led her to a very effective 2019 campaign.

If she can continue to grow in the circle and find that hitting groove she showed as a freshman, then look out.