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Mandan

If a basketball or volleyball game broke out on any softball diamond in the state, the Mandan Braves would be in pretty good shape.

Ryne Jungling, coach of Mandan's softball team, is hoping his team can begin to carve out an identity in fastpitch, too.

Many of the names are familiar -- Zander, Harris, Leingang -- through taking third at state in volleyball and second in basketball the Braves have developed a taste for high-level success. Those kinds of results have not translated to softball just yet, but Jungling sees promise.

"We're still a relatively young program, but what's different for us this season is we finally have some kids with experience," Jungling said of his varsity team, which is in just its fourth year. "The last couple of years that's been our Achilles heel. But we have kids now that have three years of varsity experience. I think that's really going to benefit us this year."

The Braves are picked seventh in the preseason West Region coaches' poll. Dickinson, Century, Minot and Bismarck hold down the top four spots.

The Braves will get a good indicator of exactly where they stand on Thursday when they open the season on the road in Minot.

On top of having a veteran presence for the first time, Mandan also returns its entire pitching staff led by senior Sierra Butler.

"Sierra got almost 90 innings last year. We're going to be relying on her," Jungling said.

Fellow senior Lizi Leingang also will see plenty of time in the circle. Jungling said Leingang, a key cog for the Braves in basketball and volleyball, had a strong summer on the JO circuit.

Junior Megan Zander and sophomore Lakyn Darras also will log innings.

"Obviously, whether it's fastpitch or baseball, pitching is key," Jungling said. "I'm pretty confident we're going to be improved pitching-wise, just with throwing more strikes and being more consistent."

Not many teams can match the Braves' athleticism in the middle of the diamond.

Zander, an all-state performer in basketball and volleyball, patrols center field.

"Megan covers all of center ... and most of left and right," Jungling joked of the standout junior.

Kennedy Harris, the Braves' all-state point guard in basketball, "has a lot of range" at shortstop, Jungling said.

Leingang played a lot of second base last season, while sophomore Rylee Stotz and freshman Sydney Gustavsson both catch and play infield.

Senior Tanya Haugen returns as an option at third base, while Jungling is high on newcomer Lauren Gangl, who transferred from the successful Dickinson program. Gangl also played a valuable bench role for the Braves in their run to the state title game in basketball last month.

"(Softball) is her sport," Jungling said of Gangl. "She comes from a winning program and has that mentality. She can pretty much play anywhere and we want to get her bat in the lineup."

The Braves don't have a lot of softball-only players like many of the power programs do, but Jungling believes they're slowly overcoming that.

"A lot of the situational-stuff that comes with softball and baseball just takes time, you need repetition and to just be out there doing it," the coach said. "We're starting to see that area improve. We're getting there and I think we'll take another positive step this season."

Jungling said they've proven they're a dedicated group. Due to the weather conditions, they've been forced to practice early, often.

"We've been going at 6 a.m. and there hasn't been a lot of complaining," he said. "It's definitely a hard-working group of kids."

And one Jungling thinks is capable of adding to a very successful season for girls sports in Mandan.

"We've got talent, and some super athletic kids with big names everybody knows because of how good they are in other sports," he said. "The West Region is very good, but I think we're capable of being competitive and building on the success these kids have had."

Notes

Minot Ryan is no longer in the West Region after opting to drop down and compete in Class B, leaving the region with nine teams. ... Watford City will become the 10th team when it enters Class A in the fall of 2018 and for the 2019 softball season. ... Mandan will host the West Region tournament May 26-28. State is the following week in Jamestown.

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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Sports Editor