Prep softball season opens this weekend, with a couple of area teams eyeing postseason runs and all of them on the rise.
At Urbana, the Hillclimbers will need to replace a big chunk of their offense after losing key pieces to graduation.
“We’ve got new girls in a lot of new places. We have to replace around 80 percent of our offense,” UHS Coach Aaron Pittsenbarger said. “They’re going to have to pick up the slack pretty quickly. They’re going to get thrown into the fire and they want to show that they’re capable of doing that.”
Hannah Newman, Sydney Easter, Hannah Alvoid, Cassidy James, Kaley Moffitt and Hayley Johns return to the squad after lettering last season with Sarah Baldwin, Jaycee Moore and Erin Stollings joining the ranks.
“The goal is always to win the CBC … a task that may be a little tougher this year now that we’ve switched sides (to the KTD),” Pittsenbarger said. “Our expectations don’t change. We want to win. Our biggest obstacle will be the fact that we have a lot of players playing in positions that they aren’t as familiar with – positions that they didn’t play last year. There’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve. I’m confident that the girls will meet that challenge and the girls will be fine.”
Urbana will be looking to play more fundamental ball this season, attempting to reduce errors and strikeouts.
“Things like that that don’t seem like much, but can go a long way towards being successful,” Pittsenbarger said.
At Graham, the Falcons are eyeing a rebuild with a small experienced group that includes Alli Neeld, McKenzie Smith, Adrianna Hicks and Madison Bryant. Shortstop Alyssa Theodor was injured in basketball season and will likely not return.
“We’re basically in a rebuilding phase this year. We graduated four heavy-hitting seniors,” GHS Coach Ralph Foster said, noting that each of those girls hit better than .350 for the season. “Even though we have some inexperience, I truly believe these girls are going to do some great things. They’re all pretty good leaders, helping and supporting the team.”
Foster’s “rebuild” may be more of a reload, with several talented youth players coming up through a program that remains consistent from the large middle school roster all the way up. Those girls will be looking to fill new positions.
“I have good quality coaches down there. They’re doing the same things that we’re doing in high school,” Foster said. “All the sports are trying to share all the athletes, so getting girls to come in the offseason to work in groups (is important). Once the season starts, time is so limited to fix certain things. But they’re fired up and ready to take on some positions.”
At West Liberty-Salem, the Tigers have a large pool of players to choose from and a roster that includes seniors Grace Woodruff, Shea Teets, Kelby Strapp, Kiana Reames, Erica McCall and Olivia Ames. Juniors Tory Cordell, Kenedie Cox and Dierdre McGill will also join the fray, among others.
The team can also pull from a large group of underclassmen, including talented athletes with family ties to the program like Hallie Strapp, Olivia Milliron and Kelsey Day.
At Triad, Shari Dixon takes the helm for another year after nearly two decades as the face of the program.
The Cardinals had a bit of a down season last year, but lost only three seniors and return a ton of talent with Madison Dolby, Ali Dixon, Abby Ehrenborg, Maddy Collier, Lexi Moore, Kaitlynn Pence, Brianna Eaton, Shelby Sheets and Kristin Bailey. Newcomers Jennifer Sizemore, Kayleigh Boldman, Gracie Sheets and Kendell Hughes will provide a boost and some depth.
The Cardinals are very strong up the middle, with Dolby providing some punch at the top of the lineup after hitting .416 a year ago. The athletic shortstop teams up with Dixon (.430) at second base to form one of the best middle infields in the area. Add to that Collier in the circle with a 2.73 ERA and the mega-slugging Ehrenborg with a .576 average and seemingly unlimited power, and Triad will be a tough opponent.
“As always, we are going one day at a time right now. After losing a few seniors we are trying to make adjustments and put the best team we can on the field. We need to continue to grow and learn from each game so we can be prepared for tournaments,” Coach Dixon said.
A little south at Mechanicsburg, the Indians are coming off a surprisingly deep postseason run and returning a large group from that team.
“The girls have been working really hard. Our goal is to always stay in the top of a tough OHC and to bust out of sectional. We want to continue to build on last year and just continue to get better,” M’burg Coach Abbey DeLong said. “Obviously, they want to do better than last year. They want to be playing in June. That’s our end goal.”
Mary Mayo, Elysha Stapleton, Miranda Lauchard, Cecilia Link, Jessica Maddux, Meagan Hux, Alli Raber and Kylie Owen will start the season after lettering last year, while Elly Schipfer continues to rehabilitate from a knee injury suffered during basketball season.
Newcomers Francys King, Emma Jones, Kasey Schipfer and Bella Link will add a bit of pop for the Indians.
“They come to practice every day and work their butts off. Each of them is embracing the role they have on this team. They’re a good, solid group,” DeLong said. “They want to get better, which is nice. We have to make sure that we play solid defense. Error-free defense. I don’t know that I’d call that an obstacle, but we have to put together a solid game every time. I think the biggest obstacle is going to be themselves. They need to trust in their abilities and trust in what they know.”