When former St. Edward softball coach Peg Corcoran started the Chicagoland Challenge tournament in 2002, the idea was to have a one-day tournament for Class A schools.
The advent of 4-class softball made that not possible the last few years, but with defending Class 3A state champ Marengo having left the field, the only team not a Class 1A or 2A squad this year is Hampshire.
The Chicagoland Challenge will be played for the 10th time Saturday at the Elgin Sports Complex, weather permitting. Last year the tournament was rained out for the first time but despite the current forecast for Saturday's event, Green Wave coach Jaci Corn and the City of Elgin are prepared to do all they can to get this year's tournament in.
Eight teams come to Elgin for the 2012 Challenge -- the host Green Wave, Illiana Christian, Farmington, Genoa-Kingston, Hampshire, Aurora Christian, Westmont and Harvard. Illiana Christian has been in the tournament since its inception, Farmington is making its ninth trip to Elgin, and Aurora Christian, Westmont and Harvard are this year's newbies.
"We're looking forward to a great day of softball," said Corn, in her second year as St. Edward's varsity coach. "We've got some good teams coming in and hopefully the weather will cooperate and we can get all three games in."
Genoa-Kingston and Farmington come into this year's tournament as the top two seeds. The Cogs and Farmers both had stellar seasons a year ago, even though they were both upset in regional finals. Genoa finished 25-2 and Farmington was 28-1. They both got hit hard by graduation but have started this season strong, Genoa standing at 7-4 through Wednesday and Farrmington at 8-3.
Farmington, which plays Westmont in the first round, boasts third-team all-state pitcher Katie Stapleton as its top player, along with freshman Morgan Florey, who is hitting .520 with 5 home runs.
G-K, meanwhile, is led by pitcher Danielle Engel and sophomore catcher Paige Keegan.
Having Genoa-Kingston back in the tournament will give Corn and her Green Wave a look at the likely No. 1 seed in next month's Class 2A regional at Genoa. The Green Wave, who open Saturday's tournament against 2-7 Harvard, have struggled to a 1-9 start to the season after reaching a sectional final last year.
"We're very inexperienced in some of the key positions so we're really a work in progress," Corn said. "Right now we're working to get better every game."
St. Edward has been led by the hitting of seniors Kali Kossakowski and Maddie Kerr so far, with senior Morgin Coughlin and sophomore Julie Larson carrying the load in the circle. The Wave also got a boost this week with the return of junior second baseman Ashley Gradisher, who broke her nose earlier in the season.
Hampshire has hit a bit of a roadblock lately since beginning play in the Fox Valley Conference. After a 5-1 start, the Whip-Purs were 6-9 through Wednesday and had lost 5 straight. Pitcher Jen Hurst has been a mainstay in the circle for the Whips, whose offense has been led by Jordan Hook and Tiffany Bentley. The Whips will take on Genoa in the first round in a matchup of former Big Northern Conference rivals.
The other first-round game pits Illiana Christian, which has finished second in the tournament five times, against Aurora Christian.
Illiana is coming off an uncharacteristic 4-21 season and was 4-4 through Wednesday. Coach Mike Oppenhuis' junior daughter, third baseman Samantha Oppenhuis, is one of the Vikings' top players with a .440 batting average, while senior shortstop Katie Van Schouwen is hitting .576 and sophomore second baseman Kat Witting .448.
Aurora Christian is 5-7 so far with sophomore catcher-shortstop Liz Smith hitting .392, third baseman Marisa Wilger .324 and pitcher Jordan Pittman, who has a 15-strikeout game this season, is at .294.
The four first-round games Saturday begin at 11 a.m., the second round at 1 p.m. and the final round at 3 p.m. There is a $5 admission charge.
Larkin Slugfest pairings set: Larkin athletic director Chris Neibch released the pairings Thursday for the 19th annual Larkin Slugfest, which is set for Saturday, April 28 at the Elgin Sports Complex. Defending champion and Class 3A power Chatham Glenwood is the top seed and will play No. 8 St. Edward in the first round. The Titans outlasted South Elgin 4-3 in last year's title game. Upset in a regional final last year, Glenwood was off to an 8-0 start to this season. Plainfield Central, the 2010 champ, is the No. 2 seed and will play No. 7 Larkin in the first round, with No. 3 seed Elgin taking on No. 6 Oak Lawn.
The 4-5 game has South Elgin (No. 5) facing No. 4 seed Rice Lake, Wis. Rice Lake is now home to former Elgin softball and wrestling coach Steve Salisbury. The Warriors have only played two games this season as Wisconsin's high school season starts and ends later than in Illinois, but Salisbury said in an email exchange Thursday that all systems are go in the northland and he's excited about coming "home" to watch his school's team participate in Slugfest.
Rice Lake has an enrollment of 800 and is in Class 2A in the 4-class Wisconsin system. The Warriors took second in the 2010 state tournament and are coming off an 18-7 season in which they reached a sectional final.
Postseason update: At just about every game I've been to this season, someone has asked why the IHSA assigned the postseason so differently this year, taking Elgin, Larkin South Elgin and Streamwood from the "northwest" mix and putting them with the Barrington sectional field that is predominantly Mid-Suburban League schools. The answer is simple: Prairie Ridge and DeKalb fell into Class 3A this year and when that happened, changes had to be made to keep the numbers balanced. Thus, those four U-46 schools are now in the Barrington sectional complex and the group of teams that would normally be at Barrington -- Grant, Warren, McHenry, Round Lake and Zion-Benton, are now in a predetermined regional at Warren as part of the Cary-Grove sectional complex.
Regional hosts have also been finalized. Elk Grove, Hoffman Estates, Rolling Meadows and Fremd will host the regionals in the Barrington sectional, while Hononegah, Huntley, Carmel and Warren host regionals in the Cary-Grove sectional field. Jacobs, Cary-Grove and Crystal Lake South join Huntley in the Huntley regional. The regional distribution of the Barrington sectional will be done after seedings on May 3.
Bartlett has again been separated from the other U-46 schools and will host a regional within the Lake Park sectional. The other regional hosts are Hinsdale South, Geneva and St. Charles North.