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Softball: Scouting DuPage County

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Addison Trail

Coach: Sabrina Macek.

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Last year: 7-19 overall; lost to York 8-3 in Class 4A Conant regional quarterfinal.

Top players: Arianne Hawkins, sr., SS; Tina Giralamo, sr., 1B/3B; Morgan Pirtle, so., 2B; Crystal Marinelli, so., P.

Scouting report: The Blazers new coach isn't new to her girls. Macek, a 2004 Downers Grove North graduate, moved up with the seniors as freshman coach, JV coach and varsity assistant before getting the top job at the end of last year. Her first varsity group returns five starters led by all-conference performers Hawkins, Giralamo and Pirtle. Shortstop and leadoff hitter Hawkins is in her fourth varsity season. Pirtle was hitting .400 toward the end of her freshman year. Macek said it's beneficial to be able to relate with her girls experiences going back to their freshman year. "The girls trust me, and that's a great feeling to have," Macek said.

Benet

Coach: Jerry Schilf.

Last year: 31-11 overall, 13-5 in the East Suburban Catholic; beat New Trier 7-4 in the Class 4A third-place game.

Top players: Maeve McGuire, jr., CF; Kendall Duffy, sr., C; Julianne Rurka, so., 3B; Marissa Panko, so., SS; Ali Michalik, jr., 2B/OF; Molly Moran, so., P; Stephanie Abello, fr., 1B/C/OF; Emily York, fr., P/1B; Abbie Gerth, jr., OF.

Scouting report: Benet will hit, of that there is no debate. But how many runs will the Redwings need to score? Four of the top five hitters return, led by McGuire. The Georgia-bound lefty leadoff hitter hit .469 with 26 doubles and scored 49 runs. Rurka, who hit .472 with 22 doubles and 41 RBI as a freshman, will clean up and with McGuire, the slick-fielding Panko and Bradley-bound Duffy ahead of her form quite a top four. Less certainty is on the mound, where Moran threw 21 innings behind graduated workhorse Allyson Staats. Schilf also has questions about his defense; only three kids will play positions they were at last year. "Hitting-wise, we're just as good as last year, if not better," Schilf said, "but we're not as strong defensively."

Downers Grove North

Coach: Mark Magro.

Last year: 32-5 overall, 11-1 (first) in the West Suburban Silver; lost to Naperville North 5-2 in the Class 4A Plainfield East regional final.

Top players: Dale Ryndak, so., P/OF; Elaine Heflin, jr., P; Carolyn Nojiri, jr., CF/2B; Brittany Nagy, jr., 3B; Rowan McGuire, so., OF; Sam Yeager, sr., 1B; Maddie Wojciak, jr., IF/OF; Kelsey Gockman, so., C/SS; Alli Woitovich, so., C/IF; Brittany Claver, so., OF/SS.

Scouting report: No area team has a better 1-2 punch on the mound than Ryndak, who went 13-3 with a 0.99 ERA and hit .371 as a freshman, and Heflin. Heflin, committed to UIC, went 11-2 with a 0.92 ERA and 212 strikeouts two years ago and is healthy after missing nearly all of last spring with a back injury. "I think people forgot how good Heflin was," Magro noted. Nojiri will likely move to center field, leaving second base and shortstop as holes to fill. McGuire is a young bat to watch. The Trojans' 2011 season ended abruptly in regionals. "They don't want to have that feeling again," Magro said.

Downers Grove South

Coach: Ron Havelka.

Last year: 28-7 overall, 11-1 (first) in the West Suburban Gold; lost to Benet 5-0 in the Class 4A Oswego East sectional final.

Top players: Katy LaCivita, sr., C; Danielle Trezzo, sr., SS; Kristina Airdo, sr. 3B; Aleisha Bozek, sr., P; Jessica Andree, so., OF/IF/P; Marissa Vazquez, sr., IF/P; Caitlyn Daly, so., OF; Angela Zurales, sr., OF; Julianna Tassone, sr., OF; Kaley Smith, so., C/1B.

Scouting report: Here's two questions Havelka, entering his 20th year in the Mustangs dugout, isn't used to asking: who leads off and who catches? Marissa Mersch, Downers Grove South's all-time leading hit leader, is now at Wisconsin. Loyola recruit LaCivita, meanwhile, tweaked her shoulder over the summer and likely won't be able to catch until midseason. LaCivita, .423 with 30 RBI last year, can hit from Day One and will anchor the lineup with Illinois-bound Trezzo, who hit 8 homers with 38 RBI. Bozek went 13-3 sharing pitching duties, highlighted by two wins over Leyden. Andree, who hit .400 last year at Hinsdale South, is a welcome transfer because the outfield is all-new. "By the end of the year, we should be at full strength," Havelka said, "and hopefully will be pretty good."

Fenton

Coach: Dave Mello.

Last year: 20-18 overall, 3-9 (fourth) in the Metro Suburban; lost to Guerin 4-0 in the Class 3A Elmwood Park sectional semifinal.

Top players: Alyssa Ciepley, sr., P; Kelly Welch, sr., C; Sarah Overlin, sr., CF/SS: Hannah Wassman, SS/CF; Taylor Pugliese, sr., LF; Nicole Susmarski, so., 3B; Dana Fritz, fr., P; Paige Ramirez, so., OF.

Scouting report: Mello says this is the best group he's had in five years coaching Fenton's varsity, and he'll need it. The schedule is brutal with games against Fremd, Glenbard South, Elk Grove and Marengo. The Bison bring back a returning varsity player at each position, a roster seven seniors deep. Welch hit .529 with 36 RBI last year and teams with 14-win Ciepley in a veteran battery. Overlin hit .319 and Wassmann .310 as a freshman, and those two and Pugliese all scored more than 20 runs. Susmarski drove in 25 as a freshman and returns at third. As usual, Mello schedules up to toughen his team for the playoffs. "It's time for the seniors to finish on a high note," Mello said.

Glenbard East

Coach: Valerie Pinzker.

Last year: 9-24 overall, 3-11 (seventh) in the DuPage Valley Conference; lost to St. Charles North 5-0 in the Class 4A St. Charles East regional semifinal.

Top players: Kara Tadda, jr., P; Brittany Plimmer, jr., C; Catherine Priebe, sr., CF; Alissa Mogavero, sr., LF/1B; Alyssa Haught, jr., OF; Megan Cotterill, jr.; Dana Camp, so.; Jillian Kernats, jr., P.

Scouting report: If experience counts, things are looking up in Lombard. The Rams return their core five starters, and it's an upperclassmen-laden group except for returning sophomore Camp. Pinzker loves the leadership of seniors Mogavero and Priebe. No. 9 hitter Priebe was 4-for-4 in Glenbard East's season-opening win at Morton. Tadda and Kernats will rotate time on the mound. Both will be throwing to returning catcher Plimmer. The Rams did play well down the stretch last year, beating St. Charles East in regionals. "We've had a couple rough years," Pinzker said. "We're looking forward to a productive season."

Glenbard North

Coach: Josh Sanew.

Last year: 20-6 overall, 10-4 (second) in the DuPage Valley Conference; lost to West Chicago 3-0 in the Class 4A Glenbard North regional final.

Top players: Lilly Fecho, sr., P; Kelsey Muller, sr., CF; Sydney Benz, so., 3B; Alexis Simone, sr., C; Bri Harn, sr., LF; Heather Sperlazzo, so., 1B; Alexis Caliva, so., 2B/SS; Lindsey Cherry, jr., P; Ashley Stiver, jr., OF/C; Steph Campos, fr., SS/3B.

Scouting report: The Panthers are poised to return to the top of the DVC and go far in the playoffs, and it starts with pitching. Purdue recruit Fecho, 16-5 with a 1.11 ERA, is the only ace back among the top six teams in the DVC. In her third year as the Panthers' No. 1, Fecho is one of seven returning starters. The infield is young but has a chance to be very good. Benz hit .387 as a freshman and could move to shortstop with promising freshman Campos taking over at third and Sperlazzo, .370 as a freshman, at first. Muller, lefty slapper Harn and Simone are all senior starters back who hit over or near .300 in a tough pitching league. With a veteran group and senior pitcher, Sanew knows the time is now. "We need to come back and sorta send a message in the conference," he said, "and show it's back in our ground."

Glenbard South

Coach: Julie Fonda.

Last year: 29-6 overall, 12-0 (first) in the Metro Suburban; beat Bethalto Civic Memorial 7-4 in the Class 3A third-place game.

Top players: Danielle Chitkowski, sr., P/1B/SS; Brianna Meath, sr., 2B; Jane Trzaska, jr., C; Hannah Davey, sr., CF; Olivia Ramirez, sr., 3B: Rachel Cohen, sr., OF; Lisa Bartha, sr., SS: Stephanie Chitkowski, jr., P/1B; Hannah Taylor, jr., 3B/1B; Tarah Valdez, so., C/SS/OF; Taryn Andros, sr., C/OF.

Scouting report: Fonda's Raiders are making quite an addition to the school's trophy case. Is this the year they bring home the big prize? It could be. Glenbard South, with two thirds and a fourth in East Peoria the last four years, returns seven starters and is primed for another run at state. Syracuse recruit Danielle Chitkowski, who hit .495 with 34 RBI and went 7-2 with a 1.92 ERA, takes over as the Raiders' ace. Fellow four-year starter Meath is one of the area's best leadoff hitters and hit .358 with 35 runs scored as a junior. Trzaska and her .535 average and 33 RBI will move behind the plate, while Davey has great speed and a cannon in center. "They are taking it one game at a time," Fonda said, "but there are high expectations."

Glenbard West

Coach: Mary McGrane.

Last year: 24-9 overall, 9-3 in the West Suburban Silver; lost to Elk Grove 4-2 in the Class 4A Proviso West regional final.

Top players: Jacklyn Tyburk, 3B; Kelly Borneman, IF; Taylor Langtry, P; Maddie Morris, SS; Maggie Stalkers, 2B; Meghan Johnson, 1B/P.

Scouting report: McGrane thinks she has a talented group -- but with just three full-time starters back, a bunch of unseasoned juniors will need to fill big shoes. Borneman, who hit .341 with 20 RBI and 20 runs scored, is a super-utility who played right field two years ago and third base last spring. It's also comforting to have four-year varsity starter Morris at shortstop, and Tyburk is a big bat who hit .364 with 7 doubles and 20 RBI last spring. Langtry, 10-1 with a 2.03 ERA splitting pitching duties last season, will carry the load on the mound. McGrane is also breaking in two new catchers behind the plate. "The young kids know what we were at last year," Magrane said, "and what we could be."

Hinsdale Central

Coach: Lee Maciejewski

Last year: 5-19 overall; lost to Plainfield North 13-3 in the Class 4A Benet regional quarterfinal.

Top players: Jen Loiselle, sr., LF; Alexa Heydenberk, jr., CF; Lia Tahir, sr., OF; Lauren Daleen, so. 3B; Mary Somerfield, jr., 1B; Kelly MacKenzie, sr., P; Emma Day, fr., OF; Faith Koffron, fr., C; Annemarie Tracey, fr., SS.

Scouting report: The Red Devils return seven starters, reason enough for optimism. But what Maciejewski, in his fifth season at Hinsdale Central, is really encouraged about is an influx of three freshmen with travel ball experience. That is something new at Hinsdale Central, which not only plays in the tough Silver competes with a slew of other spring sports for the school's best athletes. "The fact that we're getting girls playing softball in the summer and the fall is starting to pay off," Maciejewski said. Koffron should start at catcher, Tracey at shortstop and Day in the outfield. Maciejewski, who has coached softball since 1978, already promised he'd at least stay on until these freshmen graduate. "They give us a little more depth and a little more athleticism," he said.

Hinsdale South

Coach: Kelly Van Hout.

Last year: 18-15 overall, second in the West Suburban Gold; lost to Neuqua Valley 11-1 in the Class 4A Downers Grove South regional semifinal.

Top players: Dana Capocci, sr., OF: Lindsey Schwarz, sr., IF; Brooke Dodson, jr., IF; Sabrina Kuchta, so., IF; Jess Buckridge, jr., P/IF.

Scouting report: Don't be surprised to see Capocci raking the infield or mowing the grass -- there isn't much that the UIC recruit can't do for the Hornets. One of four returning starters, Capocci is playing first base now and even started picking up pitching when Jessica Andree transferred to Downers Grove South. Ideally, though, the .400 hitter will line up in the outfield, batting third. Hinsdale South lost Andree but added Kuchta, a transfer from Lockport. Buckridge, a JV pitcher last year, looks like the Hornets' No. 1. Schwarz and Dodson are two others back in the infield. "The girls know what our goals are," second-year coach Van Hout said. "It's definitely been a lot easier."

Immaculate Conception

Coach: Frank Reaber.

Last year: 18-12 overall, 13-3 (first) in the Suburban Christian Gold; lost to Lisle 3-0 in the Class 2A Westmont regional final.

Top players: Katelyn Conenna, sr., SS/P; Maria Kieliszewski, jr., IF/OF; Jennifer Clementi, sr., 1B; Jocelyn Sanchez, sr., IF/OF; Jessica Conenna, fr., P; Gabby Curran, fr., 2B/3B; Lindsey Montoya, fr., OF.

Scouting report: The Knights, back-to-back Gold champions, look like the team to beat there again. The core of a hard-hitting team returns, led by Indiana recruit Katelyn Conenna, who hit .527 with 35 RBI last year. Kieliszewski, who hit .488 with 22 RBI, could move behind the plate to catch promising freshman pitcher Jessica Conenna, who struck out 10 in IC's first game. Clementi, coming off a .467 season, and Sanchez, .389 with 12 steals, round out the returners. Three freshmen will start. "Being a small school injuries or back-to-back games could be tough on us," Reaber said, "but we should win a bunch of ballgames."

Lake Park

Coach: Tom Mazzie.

Last year: 24-13 overall, 15-4 (first) in the Upstate Eight Valley; lost to St. Charles North 11-1 in the Class 4A St. Charles East regional final.

Top players: Tara Palandri, sr., CF; Kelli O'Neill, jr., C/LF; Shannon Fritsche, jr., 3B; Stephanie Starr, jr., RF; Marilyn Perry, jr., P; Danielle Jecmen, jr., P; Mari Colucci, fr., C/2B; Stephanie Aronson, OF.

Scouting report: Mazzie said he got goose bumps at tryouts watching this group's attitude. Expect it to carry over to the games. Lake Park returns seven starters, its top three hitters in terms of average and top two run producers from a team that shook off a 2-6 start last spring to win the Upstate Eight Valley. Palandri centers an all-returning outfield; she hit .395 with 22 steals and 28 runs scored and Mazzie said can be "downright scary" with her combination of strength and speed. O'Neill hit .352 with 24 runs scored and 22 RBI and steps in behind the plate. Fritsche and Starr round out a rock-solid top-four hitters. Returning starter Perry, 6-1 last year, has a nice complement in Jecmen. "We may not have the No. 1 player that some teams have, but we are deep," Mazzie said.

Lisle

Coach: Jen Pomatto.

Last year: 28-6 overall, 13-3 (first) in the Interstate Eight; lost to Morrison 9-4 in the Class 2A state semifinal.

Top players: Mackenzie Buchelt, sr., 3B; Melanie Early, sr., OF/P; Summer Stitt, so., IF/OF; Kelly Urban, jr., OF/IF.

Scouting report: Lisle cleared a big hump last year, advancing to state after three previous supersectional losses. Sour feelings still linger, though, from two losses in East Peoria. Lisle returns 11 players, including the core of Buchelt, Early and Stitt. Valparaiso recruit Buchelt hit .389 with 40 RBI last year and Stitt hit .376. Early hit .404 and went 7-2 with a 0.80 ERA. Graduated ace Bekka Houda's void is a big one, but Early is ready to fill it. Urban is back after missing all of last year with an ACL injury. Pomatto has 16 girls who can play multiple positions. "We got as far as we did last year, but it's still hard for them to swallow how it ended," Pomatto said. "They've made the commitment to get back there."

Metea Valley

Coach: Kris Kalivas.

Last year: 16-14 overall, 9-10 (fifth) in the Upstate Eight Valley; lost to Benet 2-0 in the Class 4A Benet regional semifinal.

Top players: Anna Petersen, jr., SS; Sara Knox, sr., OF; Emily Baker, sr., 3B/2B; Antoinette Senese, sr., OF; Kim Baker, sr., 3B/1B; Alyssa Coletto, jr., C/3B; Lori Obendorf, jr., 1B; Stephanie Bova, jr., P; Alexa Caputo, jr., P/2B/OF; Jenna Hall, so., P; Alisa Perna, so., OF/C.

Scouting report: Returning all but one player from the program's first varsity team, the Mustangs can hit with most teams. How much better is the pitching, though? Rangy shortstop Petersen, who hit .442 with 10 homers and 45 RBI, is clearly Metea's biggest bat with catcher Jenn Faassen not coming out for softball. Minus Faassen and her .449 average, Coletto moves behind the plate after hitting .362 as a sophomore. Perna, she of the .396 average and 37 runs, is a sparkplug atop the order. Bova, who finished many of Metea's games on the mound last year, looks stronger like a girl who wants to start and finish. How Metea's pitching holds up will be key. "Our pitching has to be more consistent," Kalivas said. "We're going to score runs."

Montini

Coach: Rich Costante.

Last year: 15-18 overall, 8-6 (fourth) in the Suburban Christian Blue; lost to Riverside-Brookfield 8-5 in the Class 3A Montini regional final.

Top players: Tori Shipbaugh, sr., SS; Emily Barg, sr., P/OF; Shaylee Lewis, jr., 3B; Cristina Barrett, so., 2B; Sara Ross, so., 1B; Kayla Cooper, fr., C; Lauren Trojnar, fr., P; Morganne Evans, fr., U.

Scouting report: Costante, in his third year as head coach, is sowing the seeds for another strong Montini athletic program. Eight starters return to the varsity team, and 13 freshmen came out with an even deeper crop expected next year. Four-year starter Shipbaugh, who hit .367 last year with 23 RBI, anchors the lineup and infield. Five-tool prospect Lewis stole 35 bases in 26 games last year; with "scary fast" Ross, a starter on the championship basketball team who stole 23 bases and hit .373 as a freshman, and Barrett, who swiped 18 bags and drove in 28 runs, Montini has the speed that Costante craves. "This team is built with speed," Costante said. "It's going come down to if we get the big hits."

Naperville Central

Coach: Andy Nussbaum.

Last year: 24-11 overall, 10-4 (tied for second) in the DuPage Valley Conference; lost to Downers Grove South 10-0 in the Class 4A Oswego East sectional semifinal.

Top players: Kelsey Gonzalez, sr., SS; Kristina Vizza, sr., P; Nicole Kappelman, sr., 2B; Maddi Doane, so., CF; Juliet Tassi, jr., C; Katie Walker, jr., 1B; Dana Dolehide, sr., 3B; Laura Dierking, jr., OF/IF; Jill Andreoni, sr., OF; Keegan Hayes, so., P.

Scouting report: When you think of a five-tool talent, no area player fits the mold better than Gonzalez. The four-year starter committed to Southern Illinois is smooth as silk at shortstop, fast on the bases and brings back a clutch bat that hit .454 with 11 doubles, 28 runs and 25 RBI. She is the catalyst of a veteran group that lost just two starters. One is ace Alyssa Wunderlich, but the Redhawks are in capable hands on the mound with Loyola-bound Vizza, a lefty with a unique motion that went 9-4 with a 2.19 ERA. "At times she moves the ball left and right like nobody we've ever had," Nussbaum said. Kappelman is an ideal leadoff hitter with speed and a .485 returning on-base percentage. With his catcher and four infielders back, Nussbaum said it should be a good team defensively, "and we were pretty solid last year."

Naperville North

Coach: Jerry Kedziora.

Last year: 18-13 overall, 6-8 (fifth) in the DuPage Valley Conference; lost to Benet 10-1 in the Class 4A Oswego East sectional semifinal.

Top players: Caitlin Warren, sr., OF; Tara Degl'Innocenti, sr., OF/C; Kathleen Hahne, sr., P/1B; Stephanie Tobin, sr., OF; Hannah Skrabacz, sr., PF; Kailee Budicin, so., C; Alexis Solak, fr., SS.

Scouting report: It's a new-look Naperville North team, with fleet-footed catalyst Sammy Marshall moving on to Western Illinois. The Huskies should still hit, though. Wisconsin recruit Warren, who hit .368 with 5 homers and 32 RBI, anchors what could be a deeper lineup. Degl'Innocenti, .354 with 5 homers, 32 RBI and 20 runs scored, will clean up and Tobin takes over the vacated leadoff spot. Skrabacz and Hahne, two of three pitchers with varsity experience, lead what could be a staff-by-committee. "I think we're a lot deeper offensively," Kedziora said. "We need some of these kids to step up and do the things defensively we need them to do, and hopefully our pitching comes through."

Neuqua Valley

Coach: Melissa Wilson.

Last year: 19-10 overall, 12-7 (third) in the Upstate Eight Valley; lost to Downers Grove South 11-7 in the Class 4A Downers Grove South regional final.

Top players: Kat Widup, sr., OF: Rebecca Lincoln, jr., C; Brooke Meyer, sr., SS; Jamie O'Brien, so., P/IF; Katie Cruse, sr., IF; Megan Childs, jr., IF; Alyssa D'Amico, jr., 1B; Alyssa Mazurek, jr., IF.

Scouting report: If there is strength in numbers, no area softball program is in better shape than Neuqua. Wilson had 80 girls try out. On the field Neuqua returns five players, a group bolstered by 10 girls from the Wildcats' conference-winning JV team. Wilson is hopeful that four-year varsity player and Loyola recruit Widup, who hit .425, is healthy after injuries slowed her the last two years. Meyer, committed to Penn State for hockey, brings back a .429 average and tremendous raw ability. Third-year varsity backstop Lincoln will be catching O'Brien, who has loads of potential on the mound and as a fleet-footed lefty hitter. A tough schedule includes Neuqua's first trip to the Wendy's Classic in Ohio. "We picked up a lot of talent in new areas," Wilson said. "They have this energy about them."

St. Francis

Coach: Ralph Remus.

Last year: 27-6 overall, 14-0 (first) in the Suburban Christian Blue; lost to Glenbard South 2-1 in the Class 3A St. Francis sectional semifinal.

Top players: Bri Pasquale, sr., 3B; Blaine Carragher, sr., C; Aly Germanos, jr., 2B; Alyssa Fernandez, jr., IF; Lauren Rzeszutko, jr., OF: Maggie Remus, so., P; Carly Pasquale, fr., IF/OF.

Scouting report: The Spartans must replace six starters off a team that finished one win shy of the school record, but the cupboard's never bare with Bri Pasquale's bat still around. The four-year starter committed to Loyola hit .424 with 26 RBI and 31 runs as a junior. Her presence, along with returning catcher Carragher and her .385, 21 RBI and 33 runs scored is comforting to Ralph Remus. Germanos, who hit .414 as a sophomore, is another good bat back in a lineup that will score runs. Graduated conference Player of the Year Taylor Ronchetto leaves a big void on the mound that will be filled by Maggie Remus, Ralph's youngest child, and Katherine Fitzgerald. Ralph Remus knows they'll be hard-pressed to match last year's success, but he does think this group could be better defensively. "It's a bit of a rebuilding year," he said, "but we'll be OK."

Timothy Christian.

Coach: Jeff Ryburn.

Last year: 7-16 overall; lost to Immaculate Conception 5-2 in the Class 2A Westmont regional semifinal.

Top players: Marisa Vos, jr., P; Hope Zigterman, sr., C; Ashley Williams, sr., 2B; Brittany Scheidt, jr., IF; Maty Huisman, fr., IF/OF; Emily Becker, fr., IF/OF.

Scouting report: Ryburn, who had seven straight 20-win seasons and won two regional titles from 1996-2004 at Addison Trail, comes out of retirement to coach in his hometown, Elmhurst. He'll have varsity experience back at three positions, with Voss pitching, Zigterman behind the plate and Williams at second base. Voss struck out 15 in the Trojans' first game and Ryburn said Williams "can be a nightmare on the bases." Ryburn's varsity roster is 18 deep; long term, his goal is for Timothy Christian to field teams at multiple levels. Ryburn is introducing physical training longer practices. He knows heavy lifting is necessary to get to the goal of at least finishing .500 as the smallest school in the Metro Suburban. "I'm used to building winning programs," said Ryburn, who has 201 wins. "Lord willing, I can do it again here."

Waubonsie Valley

Coach: Alyson Kelley.

Last year: 11-20 overall, 7-12 (sixth) in the Upstate Eight Valley; lost to Downers Grove South 6-2 in the Class 4A Downers Grove South regional semifinal.

Top players: Amanda Minahan, jr., SS; Amanda Lack, so., U; Erin Hohman, jr., 3B; Jessica Sarch, sr., OF; Shannon Hohman, fr., P/2B.

Scouting report: What was Waubonsie's biggest weakness last year -- pitching -- shouldn't be this spring. Shannon Hohman, younger sister of Warriors third baseman Erin and ex-Neuqua standout Colleen, is the best and hardest-throwing of four Waubonsie freshman pitchers. Hohman will be the ace of a Waubonsie team returning 10 varsity players. Minahan, who hit .523 with 26 extra-base hits and 25 RBI, and Erin Hohman and her .330 average make up a strong left side of the infield. Utility player Lack and Sarch in the outfield bring back .388 and .327 averages, respectively. It's a team with improved pitching that could make a big jump in wins and contend in the UEC VAlley. Second-year coach Kelley hasn't been shy about pushing a talented group in practice. "They've really been pushed to the limit," Kelley said. "When they got outside it felt like they were in heaven."

West Chicago

Coach: Kim Wallner.

Last year: 23-11 overall, 11-3 (first) in the DuPage Valley Conference; lost to Elk Grove 1-0 in the Class 4A Schaumburg sectional semifinal.

Top players: Rachel Johnson, sr., 3B/SS; Jessica Wood, sr., 1B/CF; Rachael Venchus, sr., C/2B/OF; Tarah Rayos, sr., P/SS; Katie Wiest, sr., P/2B; Casey Christ, sr., 3B/OF; Morgan Dastych, jr., OF/2B; Amanda Gosbeth, jr., C/3B.

Scouting report: All the attention at the outset will be on who's not playing for West Chicago, with Mary Connolly moving on to DePaul. The Wildcats aren't exactly starting from scratch, though. Eight girls return who started at some point last year for West Chicago, which has won or shared three of the last four DVC titles. "They hear the talk that it was all Mary," Wallner said. "They have a little bit of an edge to them." Wood likely is moving from center to first base to firm up the infield defense. Johnson is another experienced bat at shortstop. Wiest and Rayos rarely pitched behind Connolly, but they do boast summer experience on the mound. Wallner recognizes this team must be better in other areas without a dominant pitching. Defense may determine West Chicago's fate. "We need to be a little more aggressive," Wallner said. "We can't just play for a one-run game."

Wheaton Academy.

Coach: Laura Frost.

Last year: 10-20 overall, 6-10 (tied for third) in the Suburban Christian Gold; lost to Ridgewood 14-4 in the Class 3A Wheaton Academy regional final.

Top players: Marissa Gagliano, so., SS; Caitlin Koehler, sr., 2B; Bekah Heubner, sr., OF; Sarah McClain, so., OF; Gina Graff, so., OF; Emily Anderson, so., C; Emily Hillstrom, sr., DP; Michelle Ridderhoff, so., P; Kelsey Ridderhoff, jr., 2B/OF; Jess Boss, fr., U; Megan Herring, fr., 1B/OF.

Scouting report: When people talk Wheaton Academy softball, Gagliano is the first name that comes up. With good reason. Gagliano made a smashing high school debut, her .474 average with 14 extra-base hits and 25 steals earning her third-team all-state honors by the Illinois Coaches Association. She is one of five sophomores returning. Frost, who played at Wheaton College, accepted the job on an interim basis two weeks before tryouts. She inherits quite a young team; 12 of the 16 girl are sophomores or freshmen. All-conference picks Koehler and Heubner bring back a .415 average and 39 RBI, respectively. "Our offense is fairly strong," Frost said, "but our defense needs work. That's easily correctable."

Wheaton North

Coach: Karen Calabrese.

Last year: 19-13 overall, 9-5 (fourth) in the DuPage Valley Conference; lost to Leyden 2-1 in the Class 4A Conant regional semifinal.

Top players: Katie Thornton, sr., P; Tiffany Gaimari, jr., CF; Jackie Adamle, sr., 1B; Maggie Quinn, sr., LF; Kat Meyer, so., 3B; Kelly Thornton, fr., SS.

Scouting report: Calabrese will need to be patient with this young group. A talented senior class graduated and only four varsity players return. Improving every day and adjusting to the speed of varsity softball will be imperative. Katie Thornton, 5-5 with a 2.38 ERA sharing pitching duties last spring, brings experience to the mound and can be very good if she avoids the big inning. She also brings back a solid .369-hitting bat. Gaimari, moved up to leadoff in her second varsity season, can go get it in center and Calabrese expects her offensive numbers to jump. Meyer has a live bat and her and Kelly Thornton bring good potential to the infield's left side. "We're young," Calabrese said, "but there's a lot of potential."

WW South

Coach: Jeff Pawlak.

Last year: 19-16 overall, 6-8 in the DuPage Valley Conference; lost to West Chicago 3-2 in the Class 4A Glenbard North regional semifinal.

Top players: Kristy Santora, sr., OF; Rayanna Becker, sr., OF; Megan Zablock, sr., C; Laura Foltz, sr., C/1B; Jenny Harbakus, so., SS; Clara Hecht, so., P/1B; Sammy Granger, jr., P/1B.

Scouting report: Pawlak, WW South's JV coach the last three years, takes over an interesting mix of talent. Three senior starters return, blended with a younger group that won over 30 games for Pawlak's JV team last year. Becker, who hit .294 with 15 RBI a year ago, will lead off. Santora, .291 with 27 RBI as a junior, has the ability to put up bigger numbers. Hecht and Granger, sister of graduated Tigers starter Hannah, were JV pitchers for Pawlak. Hecht did get quite a varsity debut last year, going toe-to-toe with West Chicago's Mary Connolly in a 17-inning marathon. Both will benefit with Zablock's veteran steadiness behind the plate. "I've been fortunate to coach all these girls at the JV level," Pawlak said. "It's a nice mix."

Willowbrook

Coach: Rachel Karos.

Last year: 9-20 overall, 4-8 in the West Suburban Gold; lost to Bartlett 11-1 in the Class 4A Glenbard North regional quarterfinal.

Top players: Darian Pelsor, jr., P; Gabby Torres, sr., 1B; Lizzy Kalal, sr., LF; Sam Schmidt, fr., SS; Erin Sporer, fr., C.; Olivia Domin, so., OF.

Scouting report: Karos has a nice blend of seven seniors, five of them with three years varsity experience, and three talented underclassmen. She hopes it adds up to the goal of 15 wins. Pelsor's record didn't reflect the quality of the pitcher, and this year she brings a bigger assortment of pitches with a consistent bat to boot. Third-year starter Kalal hit well over .300 batting leadoff, and Karos noted "nobody works harder." Torres is another veteran at first. Karos likes the direction of the program, further boosted by an expanded Villa Park feeder program with three travel teams. "The quicker they can learn how fast the game is, the easier is it to go over everything," Karos said.

York

Coach: Drew McGuire.

Last year: 18-15 overall, 10-2 (second) in the West Suburban Silver; lost to Conant 3-0 in the Class 4A Conant regional semifinal.

Top players: Tessa Kroll, sr., P; Danielle Morency, sr., 3B; Alyssa Johnson, sr., 2B; Ellen Barry, jr., SS; Gracie Sullivan, jr., OF; Angela Scalzitti, so., OF; Sarah Milkowski, jr., C.

Scouting report: McGuire knows he has big shoes to fill, taking over for 33-year coach Tom Babyar. This is a good group to start with. A veteran team with seven returning starters was a game away from winning the Silver last year and is a year removed from a regional title. McGuire, a 1999 York graduate, was head sophomore baseball coach the last three years; his dad, George, ran Elmhurst youth softball back in the 1990s. Both baseball and softball bank heavily on pitching, and McGuire has a good one in Kroll. She'll be throwing to Milkowski, one of four freshman catchers in the York program. The infield returns virtually intact with Morency, Barry and Johnson from third to second. "They're ready," McGuire said, "and they are hungry."

--Joshua Welge

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