SIOUX CITY | Abby Conner never stopped working hard, patiently waiting for her opportunity in the Morningside College softball lineup.
An unfortunate preseason injury to returning starter Krissy Neumann opened the door for Conner, but odds are the sophomore who played her final two high school seasons at Dakota Valley would have found a spot as a utility player in the Mustangs lineup.
“I think even just coming in here, I knew that everyone was fighting for a position and that was my mentality,” said Conner. “Just go out there and give it 100 percent.
“It was definitely unfortunate to see Krissy go down, but this is a great opportunity.”
Conner was one of five Mustangs honored with first-team All-Great Plains Athletic Conference honors following a season where she paces the team in average (.373), home runs (12), RBIs (49), walks (26) and slugging percentage (.677).
It's a season that isn’t over just yet as NAIA’s 15th-ranked team will host a four-team opening round series at Jensen Complex beginning today. The second-seeded, 44-8 Mustangs will open at 2 o'clock this afternoon against Grand View (43-9).
Then at 4:30 p.m., the tournament's top seed, fourth-ranked Campbellsville (Ky.), a NAIA World Series qualifier last spring, will face fourth-seeded Great Falls (Mont.).
Conner saw just four at bats as a freshman, a 27-21 year for Morningside, before exploding offensively this season. She has stepped into the lineup every day at third base, a position Neumann occupied each of the last three seasons.
“We got her innings on the junior varsity last spring and she proved herself,” said Morningside Coach Jessica Jones-Sitzmann. “She was ready to step up and she has done a great job.
“She has learned a lot, she had to learn how to be a good hitter and she has really looked at some good pitches. She goes and gets her pitch. She is really selective that way. She is very disciplined at the plate.”
Conner’s 12 home runs rank fourth most in a single season in school history while she is one RBI short of 50. Only six Mustangs in school history have ever driven in 50 or more runs in a season.
Once in the lineup, the second-year Mustang stayed there thanks to her ability to produce big at-bats and her solid glove at third where she has only committed five errors in 111 chances, defensively.
“That was one of her biggest goals, she wanted to contribute, she wanted to be on the field,” said Jones-Sitzmann. “She worked hard in the off-season and all winter long to get there.”
Batting third behind leadoff hitter Elin Landgren (.333, 51 runs, 16 2B’s) and Rachel Koch (.369, 65 hits, 39 RBIs), Conner is not the only offensive weapon for a Morningside team that has scored 328 runs in 52 games, a 6.3 per game scoring average. It’s just the sixth time in school history, dating back to 1978, that the Mustangs have scored over 300 runs in a season.
“At a critical position that I am in right now in the three hole, it’s definitely nerve-racking, but it’s an incredible confidence booster, especially when you get a hit, your picking up you’re team,” said Conner. “Even if you go down, you have other girls on the team that can pick you up too, so that’s awesome.”
Conner is one of just two sophomores in a veteran Mustang lineup that has seven juniors to go with the strong pitching duo of senior Aubrey Voboril (19-2, 1.54 ERA), the GPAC pitcher of the year, and junior Rachel Henks (21-4, 1.54 ERA).
“As a team together we really pick each other up,” said Conner. “We’re really blessed to have Aubrey and Rachel.
“We can go so deep in our lineup if one person goes down your going to have another girl that will pick you up.”
A strong bond off the field between Conner and Neumann has also led to growth on the field.
“It was way unfortunate to have Krissy go down,” said Jones-Sitzmann. “That’s where also Abby and Krissy have learned from each other and being good teammates they talk to each other all the time and they learn every day. That’s where a veteran is now helping her out through the season and helping her through situations.”