After a two-year absence, the Mankato Peppers 18-under senior girls fastpitch traveling team is making a comeback.

The Senior Peppers program folded after the 2004 season due mostly to coach Jerry Maschka’s decision to retire. Now, the Mankato Area Girls Fastpitch Association (MAGFA) believes it has the right coach and the right players to resurrect the team.

According to MAGFA President Joe Chester, the previous Peppers team “sort of morphed” into the Minnesota Peppers based out of the Twin Cities. Maschka is still involved and Jeff Glackler is the coach. Chester says MAGFA still has a relationship with that team and will encourage players to get involved, but the board members felt the Mankato players needed more.

“With the Minnesota Peppers spinning off we just felt we lost something,” Chester said. “We wanted something that was more community based; something that would allow players from Mankato and some of the surrounding towns to compete at a higher competitive level. We didn’t feel good about players having to go up to the Cities to do that.”

Hand in hand with MAGFA’s decision to resurrect the Senior Peppers was to find a quality coach to run the high-powered traveling team. They found their person in Minnesota State assistant softball coach Brenda Carlson.

“I’ve been working with a lot of the players on their hitting and other things the last few summers so this is just sort of stepping up my involvement,” Carlson said this week. “Some parents had called around and said they wanted their kids to stay in town and play. I got together with some people from MAGFA and we worked it out.”

One of the big differences between the current Senior Peppers team and its predecessors is that players will be allowed to play up in age group. In other words, if a 15- or 16-year-old is competent enough to compete at the 18-under level, and has the desire to do so, MAGFA will allow it.

Carlson believes the three Mankato high schools, along with strong programs in some of the surrounding towns, will provide an excellent nucleus for the team.

This year’s roster has already been put together and includes Mankato West pitchers Kendra Huettl and Ashley Veroeven as well as East pitcher Laura Vanderhoof. Those three should provide the team with more than enough pitching to compete both regionally and nationally.

Another big difference in the new edition of the Senior Peppers is that it will no longer be a member of the Southern Star League. Instead, it will play in the South Metro League and it is not known yet if the Peppers will have any home games or not.

“They’re re-vamping the whole league up there and haven’t put together the schedule yet,” Carlson said. “We’re hoping they’ll allow us to play some games at home but we won’t find out until they release the schedule.”

As for the weekend tournament schedule, it is similar to what the previous Peppers teams enjoyed. There are two national qualifiers — including one in Mankato — the Sparkler Tournament in Colorado and the state tournament in Duluth. The AFA nationals and the ASA nationals will both be played in Texas this year.

Carlson emphasizes that the major impetus of the Mankato Senior Peppers is to try to keep kids in town.

“We’re making a big push to stay local,” she said. “We don’t want to bring in kinds from the Cities; we believe we have enough talent right here to be competitive.”

The Senior Peppers tournament season begins June 15-16 with a national qualifier in Rogers.



Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or e-mail him at jrueda@mankatofreepress.com.

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