HELENA — The Carroll College softball squad reported to the field for fall ball this week after a strong finish to the 2022 regular season under second-year head coach Shawna Juarez.
Juarez, originally from Othello, Wash., came to Carroll after having served in the same role at Miles Community College for four years. Juarez led the Pioneers to back-to-back NJCAA Region XIII championships in 2021 and 2022 and was named the region's coach of the year twice.
The Saints' roster heading into next spring features players like Kaitlynn Ayers, who will graduate this spring with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology and has hit .397 with a .707 slugging percentage. Ayers' 40 hits and 28 RBIs have come in less than 100 at-bats.
"I came on my visit and fell in love with the campus and the team and knew this is where I wanted to be," Ayers said. "Helena is amazing. But truly it was the academics, because Carroll is just such a phenomenal program and school."
When asked about the upcoming season, Suarez said: “Iron sharpens iron. Make everybody around us better and get better. I’m super excited about this group, their enthusiasm level and the buy-in already is just extravagant. So (with) those two things, it’s going to be a great year.”
Billings Senior alum Kennedy Venner is one player who has continued to buy in since stepping onto the field at Carroll after winning the Gatorade Montana softball player of the year award during her senior season of high school.
Venner, a pitcher, said Juarez “has such high expectations of us, that we just continue to work harder for her. It’s a lot easier to work hard for a leader that has high expectations and believes in you, so it’s really easy to come together.”
After only starting 13 games in her freshmen season last year, Venner accrued 112 strikeouts.
“I just want to leave a legacy behind, especially in Montana softball. It’s not a super big thing and I just want to show people that you can do it and that softball is supposed to be fun,” said Venner.
The Saints will play their first fall exhibition on Sept. 16 in Helena.