Beginning today with outlooks for Fulton and Fulton Unity Christian, the Clinton Herald takes a look at the spring sports teams for many of the area high schools.
In the coming days, look for outlooks for Clinton, Central DeWitt, Camanche, Northeast, Preston, Prince of Peace and Morrison.
Fulton Unity Christian baseball coach James Traver said his young team had already shown a lot of improvement this season.
“We have a young team with a lot of inexperienced guys who haven’t played much baseball,” he said. “Getting experience is what they need most. But there’s been huge improvement since we started.”
He said the biggest improvement had come at the plate in the early season, but that’s also what needed the most work.
“We’re starting to put the bat on the ball,” he said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised with our fielding; we can field well.”
Traver did say there were some upperclassmen who provided a good core of leadership — Collin Willoughby, Jonathan Rasmussen and Sean Hansen.
“Collin pitches, plays shortstop and provides leadership as the captain of the team,” Traver said. “He’s at a whole ‘nother level.”
Traver said he thought Willoughby was one of the better players in the area and that Willoughby should play in college.
“He has a natural knack for the game, a natural ability,” Traver said.
Also pitching for Unity will be Nolan Willoughby and Devin Holesinger.
Rasmussen plays center field for the Knights, and Traver said that was a strength for the team.
“He’s fast,” Traver said. “When a ball is hit to center field, I don’t have to worry about it being caught because I know it will be.”
Unity doesn’t have a softball team this season, so JoLynn Frederick has joined the boys on the diamond.
“JoLynn has been a pleasant surprise,” Traver said. “Her fielding is phenomenal and she’s been great. From softball, the really big difference is the swing. The batting technique is completely different.”
Traver said the Knights can compete with most teams they’ll play this season and have already done so, they just need to eliminate the bad innings.
Freshman bolster hopes for boys track team
Coach Chris Pluister expects an interesting season for the Unity Christian boys track and field team. Not only is the team small in numbers, but many of the athletes also are on the baseball team, so they aren’t always available for track.
“We’ve had two meets so far and one was all relays, and since most boys play both baseball and track (and the baseball team had a game last Thursday, when the track team also had a meet), most of the guys have not been in an individual event so far,” Pluister said.
The Knights are led by senior Jonathan Rasmussen and junior Collin Willoughby, but Pluister said a group of freshmen also brings optimism for the future.
“Rasmussen’s best event is the long jump, followed closely by the 400 (meters); he’s looking very good in both,” Pluister said. “Willoughby had been on the team as a freshman but did not compete as a sophomore. He brings stability and strength to our long-distance crew. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in a real meet.”
Pluister also is eager to see how well freshmen Shawn Hintz (sprints, long jump), Seth Brown (distance events) and Colby Dykstra (throws) perform.
The Knights will compete in the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference again this spring.
State qualifier Wessels returns to lead girls team
A strong finish last year enabled Erin Wessels to become Unity Christian’s first state qualifier in a long time. She’s back this year for her junior season to lead the girls track and field team.
“She was jumping 13 feet in the middle of the season and put a few things together and jumped 16 at the end to qualify for state,” Pluister said. “Now, her outlook for this year is entirely different. She took second at Pecatonica last week and jumped 14(-feet)-3(-inches) and missed the board by over a foot.”
Wessels also was a key performer in relays last year, but Pluister said she likely will stick to individual events (the 100, 200 and triple jump, in addition to the long jump) this spring.
“Our team is primarily seniors, including two whom we picked up this year and have high hopes for,” Pluister said.
One of them is Crystal Abbott in the shot put and discus. The other is Hannah Dykstra, a volleyball and basketball standout at the school.
“Hannah placed in all four events Thursday,” Pluister said. “She’s an athlete. I don’t whether she’ll be in the hurdles or the long jump or a distance runner or in the discus, but she’ll be a huge asset.”
Like the boys, the girls will compete in the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference this year, coming off a 10th-place finish last season.
For more spring sports outlooks, pick up a copy of today's Clinton Herald.