While Elk River senior pitcher and outfielder Annie Volkers’ 2020 junior softball season was cancelled, there is a silver lining for her.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11 at Elk River High School, Volkers signed her letter of intent to play for Illinois State University beginning with the 2022 softball season. Volkers has pitched and played outfield for the Elks since the 2017 season. Volkers invited her coaches, family and teammates to a room at the Furniture and Things Community Event Center where she signed her letter of intent to play for Illinois State. She said that she wasn’t bothered by the fact that National Signing Day was different this fall due to COVID-19.

“It was nice to have a little bit of normal in seeing that way and have everyone there supporting me.”

Volkers said she grew up around softball fields as her father, Paul Volkers, played slow-pitch softball. So did other family members.

“My whole extended family had a softball team that my great-grandpa coached,” Annie Volkers said. “Watching my dad and my grandpa and my uncles play every weekend inspired me to go play, too. I love softball because I love being a part of a team and working for a common goal [and] having my teammates push me to be better. It’s a fun atmosphere at practices and games.”

During the 2019 season, Annie Volkers appeared in 14 games for the Elks as a batter-outfielder and 12 games as a pitcher including the Section 8-4A tournament. Volkers finished the season with a record of 5-5, an ERA of 2.25 and 101 strikeouts in 59 innings pitched. In the batter’s box, Volkers finished the season with 13 hits, 1 home run and 5 RBIs. She made her pitching debut for the Elks on Monday, April 23, 2018, in Elk River’s 8-2 win over Robbinsdale Armstrong at Armstrong High School.

Annie Volkers said her favorite memory of playing for the Elks to date would be hitting a grand slam in Elk River’s 8-4 win over St. Michael-Albertville on Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in the Section 8-4A tournament as an eighth grader. 

“It stood out to me because it’s something our team has been working for,” she said. “The common goal is always we want to win state. In order to win state, we’ve got to win our section. We were in the semifinals and [the] bases [were] loaded, two outs and I came up to bat as a little eighth grader and I heard my teammates cheering me on. It was nice to perform well and be there for the team and we won that game. It was awesome.”

Annie Volkers said she chose to attend Illinois State next fall for two reasons: the coaching staff, led by head coach Melinda Fischer, and the campus. The Redbirds contacted Volkers after seeing her pitch last fall at a tournament in Chicago.

“She’s been there for a while now [since 1986] and she’s developed a great program that feels like home,” she said. “It’s one big family. It doesn’t feel like I’m just a number there. It feels like I’m a person there and she’s going to make sure that I graduate with all the tools that I need to be successful. The pitching coach Margie Wright is awesome…

“The campus is beautiful. I couldn’t as for anything better. It’s all in one area. It has everything that you need. It feels like home as soon as I step on campus.”

Paul Volkers said he was excited that his daughter signed with the Redbirds.

“It’s something she’s worked for since probably about 13 or 14 years old,” Paul Volkers said. “Countless hours working. Lots of smiles, a few tears. To see her achieve that was a big deal for us and we’re proud of her.”

Annie Volkers, like all high school softball players in Minnesota, did not see action in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the 2020 season was cancelled. Her most recent appearance for Elk River was on Thursday, May 30, 2019, in the Elks’ 5-4 loss to Buffalo in the Section 8-4A tournament.

Annie Volkers said she found ways to keep in shape and keep her skills sharp even though the Elks didn’t play this spring. Volkers plays for a club team, the 18U Georgia Impact. Volkers and Elks senior catcher Avery Hills trained during the prolonged offseason.

“We’re [the Impact] very competitive,” she said. “We’re always in the big tournaments playing the best teams in the country. I wanted to make sure that I kept practicing and kept getting better. Hills would always meet me at the fields and we would practice. Our relationship is so awesome because she pushes me to be better and I push her, too. She’s never going to go easy on me, which I appreciate. We practiced a lot and did a lot of training and stuff. That was nice to have her during that time.”

Annie Volkers said two of the biggest influences on her softball career have been her father and her mother, Briana Volkers.

“My dad coached me all the way through 12-U ball,” Annie Volkers said. “He’s helped me thoughout my journey and my mom, too. They’ve both been supportive of me and everything that I want to do. They always make everything happen, which I appreciate because I don’t know how they do it.”

Paul Volkers said hopes that Annie and younger sister, Elks junior outfielder, April Volkers, can play this spring during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he was disappointed that the 2020 season was cancelled.

“You could see it coming,” Paul Volkers said. “Every year at their [awards] banquet, they get a record book. Annie goes through that record book. Looking at it, had she had a junior year, now we’re hoping she gets a senior year, she couldv’e set a lot of career records and she can still set quite a few missing out on a season. It makes it a lot harder.

“Ultimately, that’s not the deal. I’d much rather see them in a state tournament and win a state tournament, but COVID’s COVID. I hope they get to play this season and get to use that new field that was just build, so we’ll see.”

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