Finally returning to play after winning the Section 7AA title in spring 2019, Esko softball is set for yet another exciting season with a talented generation.

The Eskomos have lost a share of senior talent in the year that followed their section victory, including current Minnesota Duluth freshman softball player Dea DeLeon. However, Esko head coach Jeff Emanuel said there’s plenty of talent returning to the team.

Emanuel noted that Miranda Kelley will return for her senior year to continue her reign as a premier pitcher for Esko, while Jayden Karppinen will return as catcher. Lily Hanson, Brenna Stark and Zoie Johnson will also all return to provide experience across the Esko infield.

While the team did lose two outfielders and a third base player, Emanuel said that fans can expect both areas to be filled in effectively.

“We will be aiming to replace those outfielders with Maya Emanuel and Kaitlyn Adkins as they both continue to grow as steady fielders," he said.

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Emanuel noted that Esko’s pitching and catching contingent, or “battery,” is a strong point for a team that is well-suited across the board.

“Defensively, we should be quite solid in all nine positions,” Emanuel said. “This could be one of our strongest hitting lineups in my tenure, one through nine these girls can hit … the depth we have on our bench puts us 12-13 players deep.”

Esko's Zoie Johnson drives a ball to the outfield during a 2019 home win over Silver Bay. Johnson is one of several players returning from the 2019 Section 7AA championship squad. (Dave Harwig / File / Pine Journal)
Esko's Zoie Johnson drives a ball to the outfield during a 2019 home win over Silver Bay. Johnson is one of several players returning from the 2019 Section 7AA championship squad. (Dave Harwig / File / Pine Journal)

Senior and team veteran Zoie Johnson will be one of several key returning players for Esko. She said that she hopes to bring yet another year of game awareness and positional pragmatism to the team as she approaches her final season.

“As a player, I believe one of my strengths is knowing the game really well and (also) being able to play in any position on the field and knowing what to do and when," she said.

Johnson added that she hopes to continue to improve her ability to read the opposing team and anticipate plays. She noted the fond memories she’s already formed with this team over the years, and how much it means to return for another season of softball.

“It means everything to me to be able to return and be able to play with these girls," she said. "We have been playing together for so long and it’s so much fun to learn and grow together.”

Jayden Karppinen takes a swing during a 2019 game against Silver Bay. Karppinen is one of several returning starters from a team that went to the state tournament two years ago. (Dave Harwig / File / Pine Journal)
Jayden Karppinen takes a swing during a 2019 game against Silver Bay. Karppinen is one of several returning starters from a team that went to the state tournament two years ago. (Dave Harwig / File / Pine Journal)

Asked about which matchups to look out for, Emanuel said that every game will be a challenging and valuable one. He added that for this team of returning players and new faces, a key challenge will be developing confidence in themselves rather than focusing on others.

“We are going to have to grow each and every inning we play, learn from our positives and miscues," he said. "(We plan to) do what we do every season. Play our game. A lot of the time, the toughest opponent is ourselves. Once we accomplish confidence, it starts to be a little more smooth.”

The Eskomos first game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, at Barnum.