(Corydon) -- The Wayne softball squad had so much fun at state last season they'd like to do it again this year, but first, they're just thankful -- and excited -- to have a season.
"When they (the IGHSAU) posted that we were going to be playing starting June 1st, I received about 15 text messages that said play ball," Coach Heather Fortune said. "I think it's safe to say the girls were excited. There was some uneasiness, but the excitement was still there."
Like many teams, the Falcons started practicing last Monday. Fortune says things have been going well, but there have been some bumps due to the required guidelines and protocols brought about because of the concern over COVID-19.
"There was a lot of uneasiness," she said. "We have opted to take temperatures at the field before they play. Their norm is off just a little bit. Once all those things got out of the way, they became the same old girls. Excited, working hard. It just looks a little different. We're just playing it like any other season.
Last year was a dream season for the Falcons -- who went 24-9 last season and qualified for the state tournament. They return all but two contributors from last season.
"This group of girls that we have right now are kind of the epitome of hard work," Fortune said. "The team chemistry of this girl and the goal they had to end the season in Fort Dodge was from day one. They just worked hard everyday whether it was a win or loss."
The Falcons' success started in the circle with freshmen Sterling Berndt. Berndt made 26 starts and compiled a 21-7 record with a 1.66 ERA and 238 strikeouts.
"She approaches every single batter as a game between her and that batter," Berndt said. "She doesn't overlook people. Every person that steps in the batter's box is a new opportunity for her to do her job. She's got an excellent changeup but her strength comes in her mental game for sure."
Berndt is also crafty with the bat, too, hitting .528 with 25 RBIs and two home runs last season. Emily Jones hit .478 and drove in a team-high 33 RBIs as a freshman. Camryn Jacobsen showed some power with seven dingers on her way to hitting .357.
Maddy Wood, Mya Willey, Allie Wik, Jaide Harvey and Sidney Davis were also staples in the lineup for the Falcons last year.
The Falcons are ranked fourth in Class 1A of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union's preseason rankings. They are one of three Pride of Iowa Conference schools ranked. Lenox is ranked 15th in Class 1A while Mount Ayr is third in Class 2A.
"I'm very thankful our conference is so tough," Fortune said. "I love that about our conference."
The Pride of Iowa has decided not to crown a formal champion for this season because not every team will play each other, so Coach Fortune and her team will instead set their sights on returning to the state tournament.
"Our long-term vision is to get to Fort Dodge," she said. "But we're pretty good at taking it day-to-day and creating competition among ourselves. Competing against ourselves is the number one priority to get us where we need to go."
The Falcons will open the season June 15th against Murray. The complete interview with Coach Fortune can be heard below.