APPLETON, Wis. -- Cue the angelic singers please.
After nearly two months confined to practice inside Alexander Gymnasium, the Lawrence University softball team gets released to heaven. Ok, it's not quite heaven, but sunny Florida will do quite nicely as the Vikings escape winter's chill to start their season on Friday.
"Being in the gym for as long as we've been in the gym can be taxing," said Lawrence coach Kim Tatro, who starts her 26th season with the Vikings. "We are ready to play. We haven't been outside or on the field so there's nothing else we can do inside or at Players Choice to get us prepared."
Lawrence heads to the Orlando area to play 12 games during the school's week of spring break, and the Vikings open play in Wisconsin during the final week of March.
Lawrence enters the season with two star players, All-Midwest Conference and All-Great Lakes Region selections Amanda Karnatz and Ceara Larson. The Vikings also have proven pitching with senior Madeline MacLean and junior Emilia Jackson. Tatro believes it is the other returning starters that will make the difference this spring.
"I feel like everyone else on the team has to take the next step," Tatro said. "We are going to rely on our upperclassmen, who have a lot of playing experience. In order for us to be successful, everyone is going to have to raise their game."
Karnatz returns for her junior season as the starter in center field. She hit .422 a season ago with team highs of 49 hits, 32 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. She finished with seven doubles, a triple, a homer and 13 runs batted in while at the top of the order.
"When you talk about Amanda, she has all the tools," Tatro said. "She has a great arm. She has great range, and she's an offensive threat every time she steps in the batters box. She can hit for power. She can hit for average."
Larson is coming off a spectacular rookie season as the team's catcher. She hit a team-high .439 with 10 doubles, three triples, five homers and a team-best 25 RBI.
"Ceara's just a complete package," Tatro said. "What makes her more special is her mental approach to the game and her depth of knowledge of the game. In a lot of ways she's like another coach on the field."
Larson saw Jackson and MacLean throw every pitch for the Vikings in 2018. Jackson posted a 3.22 earned run average as she struck out 66 and walked 30 in 115 innings. MacLean had a 4.21 ERA, struck out 37 and walked 19 in 104 innings last season.
The Vikings have three more pitchers, including junior first baseman Lexi Angemi, and Tatro said they bring unique talents to the circle.
"All five of them are different in what they do," said Tatro, adding she might use the pitchers differently than she has done in the past. "We feel like it's something we need to explore."
The rest of the Vikings' lineup is dotted with returning starters. Rachel Urich is back at shorstop and Liz Jonjak moves to third after playing second in 2018. Angemi is back to play first, and the corner outfielders, Maria Reiter in left and Sofie Pedersen in right, also return.
"That group has a lot of experience," Tatro said. "That experience leads to gaining more confidence and feeling more comfortable to take that next step."
Reiter leads the returning group after hitting .298 with 15 RBI a season ago, and Angemi hit .282 and finished second on the squad with 20 RBI.
The Vikings are trying to get back to the Midwest Conference Tournament for the first time since 2015 when Lawrence finished second
"We are focused on finishing games. We struggled with that last year," said Tatro, who saw her team lose nine games a season ago by two runs or less. "If last year is an indication, we were competitive with everybody."