Ames softball program gained momentum in 2022: Little Cyclones fell one win shy of state

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune

The Ames softball program continued heading in the right direction during the 2022 season.

The Little Cyclones hit the 20-win mark for the second time in as many tries under head coach Meghan Von Behren. They finished 22-19 overall and 11-12 in a loaded CIML-Iowa Conference after going 20-20 and 9-11 a year ago.

The 22 wins are the most since 2008, when the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union dropped the number of games from 50 to 40. 

It was the first winning season for Ames since 2010. The Little Cyclones also reached the regional finals and gave defending Class 5A state champion and top-ranked Fort Dodge all it could handle before suffering a 3-1 loss.

"We continued to improve and had fun doing it," Von Behren said. "We achieved some goals, and fell short of some, but overall we had a successful season."

Ames had several impressive wins during the season to end up ranked 13th in 5A.

Senior first baseman Olivia Smalley played a big part in Ames achieving its highest win total as a program since 2008 this season. The Little Cyclones went 22-19 and reached the 5A regional finals.

The Little Cyclones upset Fort Dodge by a 1-0 score during a home doubleheader June 8. They also earned a 4-2 win over an Ankeny Centennial team that ended up ranked fifth in 5A June 29 and defeated a ranked Ankeny team by the same score June 29.

Ames tacked on a 6-2 victory over a Waukee team that ended up ranked 12th and joined Fort Dodge as a state qualifier. The Little Cyclones also handed a Central Springs team ranked No. 1 in 2A its only loss of the regular season by an 8-5 score June 17 at the Fort Dodge Invitational.

"Our biggest challenge was our schedule," Von Behren said. "We played a lot of tough, ranked teams. We rose to the challenge night after night. We beat eight ranked teams between all the classes, with two being No. 1 in their (respective) classes at the time."

The Little Cyclones added a 9-3 victory over a Roland-Story team that ended up ninth in 3A May 26, an 8-6 victory over a Bettendorf team that ended up ninth in 5A May 28 and an 11-0 victory over 3A state qualifier Ballard July 1. Ames also scored four wins apiece over Marshalltown and Mason City and one apiece over North Polk, Clarke, Nevada, Gilbert and Boone.

The strong showing against ranked teams helped Ames earn a home game against Sioux City East in the 5A regional semifinals. The Little Cyclones pulled off a 6-1 victory to earn their regional final match-up against Fort Dodge.

"We grew the most as a team believing we could compete with the best and that we are a very good team," Von Behren said. "We won more games this year because we grew to believe we could win."

More:What we learned from Ames' 3-1 loss to No. 1 Fort Dodge in the 5A softball regional finals

More:The Ames softball team is off to its best start in years. Ireland Buss is a big reason why

More:Little 'Ninny Grace' coming up big for Ames: Sydney Smalley is having a breakout year on the mound

More:Don't be fooled by the losing record. Ballard plans to do serious damage at state softball next week

The Ames coach credited senior leaders Alexa Kopaska and Olivia Smalley for doing a lot to get the team in position to win against top-level competition.

"Lex and Liv were so good for us from the offseason through the season," Von Behren said. "We were more competitive because of them. They are hard workers, have great attitudes and they were very instrumental in their own ways in taking us to a new level."

Kopaska was the team's ace pitcher. She went 15-10 with a 3.37 ERA, 102 strikeouts and 67 walks in 153 2/3 innings.

Smalley was one of the team's top hitters and an excellent first baseman. She hit .318 with 11 doubles, 28 runs and 18 RBIs on offense and only had seven errors in 318 chances at first.

Juniors Ireland Buss and Ellie Lynch turned in all-state caliber seasons for Ames.

Buss set the school career and single-season home run marks this season. For the year she blasted 12 home runs and hit .460 with three doubles, five triples, 20 steals, 49 runs and 29 RBIs.

Lynch hit .523 with 12 doubles, three triples, four homers, 35 steals, 41 runs and 23 RBIs. 

In the field Buss only had one error out of 64 chances in center field and Lynch tallied 91 assists and only had five errors in 148 chances playing primarily at shortstop.

"Ellie and Ireland had breakout seasons their junior year," Von Behren said. "We expect others to follow suit next year."

Sophomore third baseman Katie Riesselman is one of those players that could follow suit next yaer after hitting .308 with seven doubles, four home runs and 30 RBIs in 2022. Riesselman also had 63 assists and only eight errors in 112 chances on defense.

Nora Morken and Kaylee Mescher turned in solid freshman seasons for Ames. Morken hit .290 with eight doubles, 20 runs and 11 RBIs and Mescher .250 with 18 runs and 15 RBIs.

Junior outfielder Ali Frandsen was injured the first part of the year, but she came back to hit .310 with 18 runs. Junior second baseman Mia Vogel hit .238 with nine RBIs and freshman Josie Theilen .231 with six doubles and 11 RBIs.

Freshman Josie Theilen will be one of the top returning players for Ames next season. Theilen was a valuable contributor both as a pitcher and hitter for the Little Cyclones.

Sophomore Kyra Anderson handled the duties behind the plate at catcher. She smacked a grand slam against Centennial and hit .204 with seven doubles, two homers and 15 RBIs.

On defense Anderson threw out 11 runners and made just six errors.

Freshman Meredith Frandsen was the top pinch runner on the team with 17 runs and six steals. As a team Ames scored 243 runs and hit .309 with 110 steals, 63 doubles, 13 triples and 24 home runs.

Ames set school team records for runs, homers and slugging percentage (.470)

The Ames pitching staff combined to give up 115 runs with a 3.37 ERA over 251 1/3 innings. The Little Cyclones totaled 129 strikeouts and 120 walks.

Freshman Sydney Smalley was the No. 2 pitcher behind Kopaska, going 7-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 67 innings. Theilen threw 18 1/3 innings with a 7.25 ERA and Lynch 12 1/3 innings with a 4.54 ERA.

It will be hard to say goodbye to Kopaska and Olivia Smalley and all they gave to the program during their careers. But with everyone else coming back and big potential on the mound and in upcoming classes the Little Cyclones will have a shot at reaching state for the first time in school history next season.

"We expect to win more games next year," Von Behren said. "The girls are hungry for more. We will have lofty goals and do what we can to achieve them."