by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Nobody saw this coming. Kathi Opsahl has always been a steady and reliable athlete, appreciated as much for her cheery demeanor as for her game, which has been good but not outstanding — until the last three weeks, when the Elk senior outfielder unleashed a hitting rampage.
Opsahl has pounded 29 hits in 51 at bats, including four home runs and 10 doubles, while knocking home 23 runs and scoring 23 more, in just 12 games, helping the Elks start the season 11-1.
“It’s my senior year and I just want to have fun and not worry about anything,” said the 5-foot-11 slugger who’s started three years in softball, and has played in two state tennis tournaments as well.”I played Dome Ball in the winter and I worked hard on my hitting. I thought I’d have a good year but maybe not this good. This has been kind of, out-of-the-blue.”
She homered twice in a doubleheader against Armstrong and had another dinger in the Richfield tournament in a Dome. She’s had one four-RBI game, and four three-RBI games.
“Kathi is just rocking the ball,” said coach Stacey Sheetz. “I think she’s just more relaxed and not worried about having a bad game. Last year she wasn’t so confident. I know she worked on it a lot in the winter, and she played summer softball last year.”
Asked if Opsahl’s homers have been cheapies in small ball parks, Sheetz laughed, “No, she is really tagging them. In fact she hit a couple doubles off the fence at Andover and that outfield is pretty deep.”
Opsahl’s batting average is .578 and her slugging average is .978. In Class 3A ball you’re doing really well if you hit .400 and slug .600. The Elk records for RBI’s is 28 and for batting average is .513.
What Sheets also likes about Opsahl in addition to all those RBI’s is her infectious cheerfulness. “She is just one of the happiest people and fun to have around.”
Asked about career highlights, Opsahl listed beating longtime nemesis Brainerd twice last year at sectionals on the way to second place, and of course the giddy current season where everybody’s smacking the ball, not just Opsahl.
“This year, wow, I’m in the dugout going, ‘Whoo-eee!,” said Opsahl.
Defensively, in left and right field, Opsahl has good footwork, reads the ball well and makes strong, accurate throws, said Sheetz, adding, “She’s not very fast, or else she’d be a good center fielder.”
Previously Opsdahl gave little hint of what was to come this spring. She hit .232 with six doubles and 13 RBI last year in 24 games and .275 with 10 RBI in 10th grade. She did have one .444 season on JV, she recalls.
In tennis, Opsahl was 16-7 at No. 3 doubles as a junior and 14-10 at No. 2 doubles as a senior. One highlight was winning 3-dubs (with Kelsey Rausch) at state in 2011 to help the Elks capture the third-place trophy 4-3 over Rosemount.
“Tennis and softball are both awesome,” said Opdahl. “It would be hard for me to choose. I’m going to try out for both at Winona and see what happens.”
Sheetz had something to say about that. When Opsahl mentioned recently she was going to try tennis at Winona, Sheetz said, “You better talk to the softball coach, too!”
THE OPSDAHL SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 17 … Family: parents Mark and Linda; 3 older sisters … Sports: tennis, softball … Other activities: Prom Committee … Academics: A’s and B’s … College plans: Winona State, tennis or softball … Ambition: be a teacher
Favorite stuff — Class: painting … TV show: Tosh.0 … Reading: “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series … Team: Twins … Hobby: painting landscapes … Would like to visit: Italy