The Western Washington University softball team’s season is over after a 13 win, 11 loss regular season performance and losing in the championship game of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference postseason tournament.
After a 3-2 loss to Northwest Nazarene University, the Vikings, who placed 3rd in the GNAC regular season, are the postseason runner-ups.
The Vikings placed four players on the GNAC All-Conference First Team as well as one player on the second team and two players receiving honorable mentions.
GNAC Newcomer of the Year and Pitcher of the Year Mareena Ramirez led the way with a 1.87 ERA, the lowest in the conference. She had 162 total strikeouts, which is the fourth highest in a season in the program’s history.
Hailey Rath, the GNAC freshman of the year, led the team with five home runs while at a new position for her, shortstop.
“I never really played that position before. … Coach Sheryl helped me a lot and helped me realize what the shortstop position is, the voice on the field,” Rath said.
Rath is only a freshman and started every game for the Vikings.
“Since we’re a young team, we have a lot of good things ahead of us,” she said.
Next year, five freshmen, five sophomores and four juniors are likely to return to the team for the next season. However, five current seniors have played their final game as Vikings. Kinzey Williams is a senior who has played with the team since her junior season after she transferred from Lower Columbia College.
“I just wanted to try and soak in every little moment I can … because I know I’ll miss every single part of it,” Williams said.
Williams made the GNAC First Team as the conference’s best designated player. She batted .331 this season, the second-highest batting average on the team for a starter.
This softball season was characterized by rescheduled and relocated games for the Vikings. Due to weather concerns, Western’s series against Montana State University Billings was moved to Yakima.
This series was supposed to be the senior weekend for the five seniors on the team. They were set to play their final games at Viking Field but instead played at the Gateway Sports Complex at Kiwanis Park in Yakima.
The team was still able to hold festivities for seniors Rachel Christensen, Mareena Ramirez, Kinzey Williams, Brooke Fesenbek and Mikayla Liljenberg.
“When I looked to my left and I looked to my right, I saw my teammates, so it was senior night for me. They did an amazing job making each and every one of us feel special and important that day,” Liljenberg said.
Liljenberg has played with the team since 2020 but this season played the most games in her career with 28.
“In the past, we had a bigger group that had been together longer where this year, we have a lot more new people and teammates coming from different areas, so we have a lot of different perspectives,” Liljenberg said.
This team featured many new faces, including five freshmen as mentioned earlier as well as three transfers.
McKenna Crum from Seattle University finished second on the team with six stolen bases. Isabel Cargill and Ramirez from Idaho State also were able to become routine starters for the team.
Ramirez was also named to the All-West Region Second Team. For more on Ramirez’s story, read here.
The Vikings went into the GNAC playoffs as the third seed. Rath's two home runs in the first game against Saint Martin’s were not enough to get the job done, and the Vikings lost 4-12. With the GNAC tournament being double elimination, the Vikings were still alive.
After beating Western Oregon 6-3, the Vikings had a rematch against Saint Martin’s to determine who would play Northwest Nazarene in the championship game. The Vikings exploded for a 15-6 victory coming from multiple extra-base hits and a grand slam from Brooke Fesenbek.
The Vikings needed to beat Northwest Nazarene twice if they wanted to claim the GNAC Championship and a ticket to the Division II West Regionals. But, they would fall short 3-2 in the first game, ending their season.
Click here to read more about Western’s last GNAC game.
Zen Hill (he/him) is a sports reporter for The Front. He is studying journalism with a public relations focus with hopes of becoming a sports broadcaster. He comes from Julian, a small town in San Diego County where he grew up playing basketball, soccer, track and field and baseball.