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Moeller optimistic about return to spring sports

DELIVERING STRIKES — Fairmont Cardinals pitcher Jen Moeller winds and fires a strike during Big South Conference softball action against the Marshall Tigers at Cardinal Park in Fairmont last spring. Moeller, who topped the Cardinals in batting average and on-base percentage en route to Sentinel All-Area honors in 2019, is optimistically hopeful that prep sports will return this spring. (Photo by Greg Abel/Sentinel Archives)

FAIRMONT — Her long blonde locks stream from under her white visor as she quickly retreats to snare a sinking liner with her two-toned Wilson glove in the shallow outfield grass.

The quick flick of her wrists as her powerful compact swing drives the opposing pitcher’s delivery through the left side of the infield for a hit.

The adrenaline kicks in as she accelerates around second base, heads for third and picks up her coach waving her to the plate.

Now, Fairmont senior tri-captain Jen Moeller can only hope she will get the opportunity to reproduce those highlights from her junior campaign and add to her already impressive high school softball resume sometime in May.

“I’m staying optimistic about being back on the field next month or the possibility that they (Minnesota State High School League) will extend our season into the summer months,” said Moeller, who topped the Cardinals’ offensive attack in batting average (.340) and on-base percentage (.426) in 2019, in addition to sharing the team lead in hits (18), en route to earning Sentinel All-Area honors. “I guess I haven’t processed the fact that it (the rest of the season) really could be over.”

Even if the MSHSL — in conjunction with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s impending shutdown of the state’s in-school educational process for the rest of this spring — opts to not return to the fields of play until the fall, Moeller and her fellow softball captains did accomplish one goal.

“Cambrie (Anderson), Kaitlyn (Freese) and I did manage to get our team poster done before everything got shut down due to the coronavirus,” said Moeller. “Our teammates have put a lot of work into this program through the years, so if nothing else, the poster will represent a good memory for what we’ve achieved to this point.”

And Moeller has spearheaded the Cardinals’ productivity, finishing No. 2 on the team in doubles (4) and tying for second in runs scored (8) last spring. In addition to anchoring Fairmont’s defensive alignment by recording 41 putouts mainly from her shortstop position a year ago, the hard-throwing right-hander notched 13 strikeouts and issued just four walks in 17 innings pitched.

“Our (coaching staff) plan was to rotate Jen and Kaitlyn between playing second base and handling our pitching duties this year,” said first-year Fairmont head coach Cory Hainy. “From an offensive standpoint, Jen would have been hitting in one of the top three spots in our batting order. With her speed, we were counting on her to steal some bases for us, too.

“She’s very coachable. If you tell her how to improve an aspect of her game, she’d always try to implement it right away because of her work ethic.”

Moeller demonstrated her penchant for going the extra mile to improve her overall game by lifting weights, analyzing ‘how-to’ softball videos, and traveling to Austin for six weeks of turf action during the offseason.

“Some of my teammates and I played dome ball in Austin during January and February to sharpen our skills and get our timing down,” said Moeller. “I also searched YouTube for videos on how to learn some different techniques in both pitching and hitting. …

“I also was going to the weight room (at the high school) to get stronger and improve my velocity for pitching, but that all changed when we were told the Monday after our first week of practice that everything was suspended until further notice.”

During the past five weeks of the statewide moratorium on athletics, Moeller has managed to improvise her workouts while still practicing social distancing on her family’s farm.

“We’ve got some free weights and a treadmill in our house, but I’ve also used some tractor tires we have on the farm to work out with,” Moeller said with a laugh. “You have to do what you can to stay in shape in case we get the chance to play again this spring.”

If her prep career ends via an official shutdown ruling from the MSHSL in May, Moeller will take her softball skills to the intramural level at Minnesota State University in Mankato. She plans to major in business and statistics, with the hopes of pursuing a career as an actuary.

So, if she does not receive the opportunity to return to the high school diamond next month, what advice would Moeller offer to her younger teammates?

“I would tell the underclassmen not to take sports for granted, appreciate each and every game, work hard in practice and games, and leave your heart out on the field when it’s all over,” said Moeller.

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