NORTH SUBURBAN PRAIRIE
Coach: Anthony Rocco (second season)
Last season: 21-15, 8-4 in NSC Prairie, lost to Lakes in Class 3A regional semifinals
Key losses: C Amber Mysliwiec (Judson)
Returnees: Sr. P/OF Katie Phillips, Sr. 3B Kaylene Ressler, Sr. 1B/P/C Kaytee Keefe, Jr. 1B/OF Sage Keyes, Jr. 2B Mackenzie Thomas, Jr. OF Kaylee Karpiel, So. OF Taylor Schiltz, So. SS Jessica Pedersen, So. OF/C Hannah Skoog, So. C/OF Jessica Tyrell, So. OF/C/P Kristen Chivers
Newcomers: Sr. OF/P Amber Luptak, Sr. OF/3B/1B Madeline Adler, Jr. 3B Alyssa Dragin
Outlook: Think it's been a cold March? Take a look at the Sequoits' opponents to start the season. Cary-Grove. Prairie Ridge. Fremd. Palatine. Now that's cold. "Our strength of schedule at the beginning of the year is monstrous," coach Anthony Rocco said. That's the way Rocco wants it, because he knows that's how his talented team is going to get better. The Sequoits graduated only one starter, but it was two-time all-area catcher Amber Mysliwiec, who was a great hitter and better leader. When Mysliwiec missed a few games last season due to injury, freshman Kristen Chivers filled in creditably. Chivers should be one of many players who contributes this spring for a squad returns its No. 1 pitcher in Katie Phillips. Sophomore Jessica Tyrell, who missed most of last season with a broken wrist, will replace Mysliwiec behind the plate. "She's a freak of an athlete," Rocco said of Tyrell. "She throws very hard and runs to first base probably the fastest of anybody on the team. (Last month), the last indoor tournament, she hit about three out." Kaytee Keefe, who has started the last couple of springs at first base, has committed to Rock Valley College. She'll pitch, too, after going 6-1 with 3 saves last season. Senior third baseman Kaylene Ressler will play at North Central College next season. In her first season as the team's ace, the senior Phillips put together an all-area campaign, winning 15 games, while also hitting .402 with 32 RBI. "I expect another big year of growth with her," Rocco said. "She filled in big last year." Ressler, Keefe and Phillips were all-conference selections in 2012. The Sequoits' returning outfield features sophomore Taylor Schiltz in left, sophomore Hannah Skoog in center and junior Sage Keyes in right. Ressler and Keefe will man the corner infield spots, while sophomore Jessica Pedersen and junior Mackenzie Thomas return at shortstop and second base, respectively. Rocco likes his team's speed with Tyrell, Skoog, Pedersen and Schiltz. "They're all very-quick girls," Rocco said. "They probably run under three seconds to first base. I guess they all ran on the same relay team in track in middle school, and it shows."
Coach: Mike Dolezal (eighth season)
Last season: 24-11, 8-4 in NSC Prairie, lost to Warren in Class 4A regional semifinals
Key losses: P Rachel DePouw (Elgin), 2B Molly Smith (Elgin), C Amber Smith (Elgin), OF Jessica Catinella (Lake County), 1B Bree Lundman (Lake County), SS Vanessa Valadez
Returnees: Jr. 1B/3B Jamie Reiser, Sr. Megan Funk, Jr. P Caitlyn Moran, Sr. OF Taylor Rossi, Sr. OF/C Kayla Uhwat, Sr. OF Jane Williams
Newcomers: Fr. IF/C McKenzie Sancken, Sr. Brooke Buckley, Jr. Brianna Dreschler, Sr. Jennie Gibbs, Jr. IF/OF Deanna Rodriguez, Jr. IF/OF Kaitlyn Wold
Outlook: Bulldogs coach Mike Dolezal can't win. Not against Antioch, anyway. "We can never beat Antioch," Dolezal, whose girls went 0-2 against the Sequoits last year, said with a chuckle. "But we always play well against Vernon Hills." Truth is, the Bulldogs play good softball against most teams. This spring figures to be the same. Hard-hitting junior Jamie Reiser is back to lead the offense, while junior Caitlin Moran will assume the ace's role from the graduated Rachel DePouw. Reiser, who started at third base as a freshman on varsity before playing first last year, made all-conference last season. "She looks good," Dolezal said. "She's really worked hard. If she can improve as much as she did from freshman year to sophomore year, she's going to be quite a player." In DePouw and twins Amber Smith and Molly Smith, the Bulldogs graduated a trio of four-year varsity players. Moran backed up DePouw last season. Dolezal has one freshman up in McKenzie Sancken, but where she'll play on the field has yet to be determined. The Bulldogs count six seniors in Brooke Buckley, Megan Funk, Jennie Gibbs, Taylor Rossi, Kayla Uhwat and Jane Williams. Rossi and Uhwat played a lot last season. "I got a great group of girls," Dolezal said. He should have a good team, too.
Coach: Bill Hamill (fifth season)
Last season: 23-13, 9-3 in NSC Prairie, lost to Grayslake North in Class 3A regional final
Key losses: SS Jamie Dykstra, 1B Sara Braden (Lake County), OF Megan Massie
Returnees: Sr. C Meghan Milewski, Sr. 2B Kaela Bryant, Jr. P Taylor Dishinger, Sr. P Paige Olker, Sr. 1B/OF/C Lindsay Meverden, Sr. 3B/1B Marissa Thackston, Jr. OF Kate Hohenstatt, Jr. OF Montana Mang, So. SS/OF Cassidy Schaar
Newcomers: Fr. P/1B Ally Perdue, Fr. OF Ashley Horner
Outlook: Coach Bill Hamill hopes his team's luck changes as the season -- and icy weather -- heats up. While many area teams are headed south for Spring Break, the Eagles -- this year -- are staying home. They'll try to practice at the Libertyville Sports Complex and another facility in the suburbs. In the past, the team has flown to Florida (three years) and Myrtle Beach, S.C. (one year). "I'm kicking myself in the butt," Hamill said with a laugh. "The one year I don't go on Spring Break trip." What figures to remain consistent this season is the Eagles' ability to win games. Their 23 victories last season tied the school record. "Jamie (Dykstra) is going to be hard to replace at shortstop," Hamill said of the all-area infielder who batted .379 with 7 homers last season and was a top-notch leader. Back are a pair of four-year varsity players in catcher Meghan Milewski (all-NSC in 2012) and second baseman Kaela Bryant, as well as pitchers Taylor Dishinger and Paige Olker. Freshman Ally Perdue also pitches. Dishinger earned all-conference honors last season, but Hamill doesn't expect her to eat up all the innings. "(They're) biting at each other's heels," Hamill said of his three pitchers. "I like that. It makes all three of them work a lot harder." Sophomore Cassidy Schaar, who was up on varsity last year, will replace Dykstra at shortstop. The other veterans include outfielders Montana Mang and Kate Hohenstatt, and first baseman Lindsay Meverden, who will be playing her third season on varsity. "Last year we struggled a little bit in the outfield," Hamill said. "We had a hard time with consistency. We're about six or seven deep in the outfield right now. It's making them work a lot harder in the outfield, too, to earn one of those starting spots out there."
Coach: Travin Kozel (fifth season)
Last season: 5-30, 2-10 in NSC Prairie, lost to Grant in Class 4A regional play-in
Key losses: C Lourdes De La Rosa (Denison), 2B Sara Plasencia
Returnees: Jr. OF/P Kristin Pierce, So. P/OF Ashley Wegner, So. 3B Amanda Olsen, So. SS Brittany Berry, Jr. C Ashley Carter, Sr. 2B Meredith Soto, Sr. OF/1B/P Alexis Hernandez, Jr. 1B/OF Sara Milanti
Newcomers: So. 1B Haley Steinberg, So. OF Michelle Cristanos, Jr. OF Shauna Horst
Outlook: The starting lineup figures to include five sophomores, but that doesn't mean the Panthers will necessarily suffer lots of growing pains. Coach Travin Kozel likes his team's spirit, and the talent on the field has been upgraded. Back are a pair of players who earned honorable mention all-conference honors last season in junior Kristin Pierce and sophomore Ashley Wegner, both of whom pitch and play the outfield. They're both middle-of-the-order hitters. Pierce posted a .364 batting average last season. Wegner will pitch the majority of the time again. "She worked her butt off in the off-season," Kozel said. "She definitely had a big year of growth." Sophomores Amanda Olsen and Brittany Berry will play third base and shortstop, respectively, after both started every game as a freshmen. Junior catcher Ashley Carter and senior second baseman Meredith Soto both started about half the time last season. Sophomore newcomer Haley Steinberg takes over at first base. "She loves the diamond," Kozel said. "She's around all the time." Olsen, Berry and Steinberg give the Panthers three sophomores in their starting infield, not counting Wegner when she pitches. "We're going to have four sophomores on the dirt most days," Kozel said. "And we're excited about it. They're a lot more athletic than the girls we've had in the past. We should be better defensively at all nine positions." The improved "D" includes sophomore Michelle Cristanos in center field, junior Shauna Horst in left and Pierce in right. "We're optimistic that we'll be much more competitive," Kozel said. "But wins are tough in our conference."
Coach: Steve Korney (third season)
Last season: 23-13, 11-1 in NSC Prairie, lost to Prairie Ridge in Class 3A regional finals
Key losses: P Megan Meline, C Sami Freibrun, 1B Anya Mollenhauer, 2B Carly Alm, SS Michelle Harris
Returnees: Sr. OF/P Jordyn Comitor, Sr. P/3B Jenn Claussen, Jr. OF/P Kristina Kliver, Sr. OF Madeline Nixon, So. SS Tori Smith
Newcomers: So. 2B Izzy Cirone, Jr. 3B Steffany Froman, Jr. OF/1B Nicole Goldstein, Fr. C Dana Meline, So. OF Natalie Miller
Outlook: Another Meline? That's mean -- for opponents. While Megan Meline, one of the best players in program history, graduated after three all-area seasons, her kid sister has arrived. Freshman Dana Meline will be the Cougars' starting catcher. "Very skilled player and has some good speed, as well," coach Steve Korney said. "If we can get her on base, hopefully she can put some pressure on the other team." Veteran Jenn Claussen will throw to Meline. Claussen is a four-year varsity player who essentially was the Cougars' No. 2 pitcher the last three seasons behind Meline. A third baseman when not pitching, Claussen is coming off an all-conference and all-area campaign in which she batted .350 with 13 doubles and 27 RBI. Veteran left-handed stick Jordyn Comitor (.402 BA, 11 doubles, 33 RBI) earned the same accolades last season. Korney said neither Claussen nor Comitor, both of whom are captains this season, plans to play college softball. Comitor and junior Kristina Kliver also pitch. "We certainly expect Jenn to be the workhorse and then sprinkle the other two (pitchers) in as needed," Korney said. "We'll certainly need Jenn to be healthy in order to be as good as we're going to be." The Cougars won the NSC Prairie last season, before losing to Warren in the conference championship game. Sophomore Tori Smith, who was up on varsity most of last season, will take over at shortstop. Sophomore second baseman Izzy Cirone got called up for the postseason last spring. Claussen, Comitor and outfielder/third baseman Madeline Nixon are the only seniors. "We're going to be pretty young," said Korney, whose team graduated five players. "I think we'll go as Jenn Claussen goes. She's obviously an outstanding pitcher. ... She'll certainly be our leader."
Coach: Tim Rennels (14th season)
Last season: 13-23, 4-8 in NSC Prairie, lost to St. Viator in Class 3A regional play-in
Key losses: P Lauren Thomas
Returnees: Sr. CF Kennedy Wright, Sr. P/1B Lexie Redmann, Sr. C/3B Alex Kinnamon, Sr. OF Emily Holub, Sr. 1B Maggie LePage, Sr. P/C/IF Megan Luchowski, Sr. 2B Megan Grobelny, So. SS/OF/C Paige Motley, Jr. SS/OF Lauren Nee, Jr. OF Angie Exline
Newcomers: Fr. 3B Brooke Sefcik, Fr. P Kayla Wedl, Jr. C/2B Marissa Honeymann, Jr. OF Lauren Carney, Jr. OF Jena Heck, Jr. 3B/OF Alyssa Wagner
Outlook: The Bulldogs won only 13 games in disappointing 2012 campaign, but they should be improved this season, as they return several starters and boast a pair of talented freshmen. Slap-hitting senior Kennedy Wright, a varsity player since her freshman year, is back to play center field. Returning all-area player Lexie Redmann will pitch again and play first base, while hard-hitting catcher Alex Kinnamon is back for her third full season on varsity. Other returning starters include first baseman Maggie LePage, second baseman Megan Grobelny and sophomore Paige Motley, who was called up late last season. Motley caught but likely will play shortstop or outfield this spring. Junior third baseman/outfielder Alyssa Wagner is a welcome addition after missing all last season with a knee injury. Veteran coach Tim Rennels plans to start a pair of freshmen in third baseman Brooke Sefcik and pitcher Kayla Wedl, whose sister Kendra had a great career for the Bulldogs. "We've got some really exciting prospects in Motley, Wedl and Sefcik," Rennels said. "They're all going to play a role. They're all going to jump in right away." Junior Angie Exline, who played on varsity last year, is out with a hernia injury. Junior Jena Heck went down in the preseason with an ACL injury, Rennels said. "We got talent across the board," Rennels said. "(Wright, Redmann and Kinnamon), as our captains, give us quite a core. They're all solid and did a lot of off-season work. I expect big things from them at the plate."
NORTH SUBURBAN LAKE
Coach: Michaela Towne (fourth season)
Last season: 24-10, 10-2 in NSC Lake, lost to South Elgin in Class 4A regional semifinals
Key losses: OF Kelly Neises, C Christina Sandstedt (Wheaton), P Shannon McPeek, OF Ashley Pettinger
Returnees: Jr. 3B Maria Schroeder, Jr. SS/2B Carlee Parsons, Jr. 1B Mallory Parsons, Jr. C/OF Caty Grahf, Jr. OF Katie Brown, Jr. OF Vivian Juarez, Jr. P/OF Olivia Schneider, Jr. SS/2B Maddie Minneci, Jr. C/OF McKenna Larson
Newcomers: So. C/OF/1B Kaylee Grant, So. P Brittney Pettinger, Fr. P Katie Malek, So. P Rachel Dawson, Jr. C Jenni Gorey
Outlook: That's not a new head coach standing by third base. That's longtime assistant Shelly Levin. Head coach Michaela Towne -- wisely -- will be stationed near first base when her Bears bat. Towne is due in September with her first child. "I will be coaching first base this year because I am pregnant and frightened to death (laughing) that Mallory Parsons will hit me at third base," Towne said. One new assistant coach is Aaron Towne, Michaela's husband, who used to coach boys track in the spring. The varsity football assistant coach will help with base running and agility. "He'll listen to me when nobody else does," Towne said with a laugh. "He knows better than to not listen to his pregnant wife." As for Towne's current kids, they should do well again. Incumbent junior Olivia Schneider will get the first crack at replacing the graduated Shannon McPeek as the Bears' ace. Schneider backed up McPeek last spring in a watch-and-learn campaign. Towne brought up sophomores Brittney Pettinger (sister of graduated outfielder Ashley Pettinger) and Rachel Dawson and freshman Katie Malek to compete for varsity innings in the circle as well. "We brought up the best pitchers during tryouts, and it's going to be a continuous tryout," said Towne, whose Bears head to Tennessee for Spring Break. "I was hoping we could get the (Barrington tournament) in so that I could get a lot of girls to pitch." Junior third baseman Maria Schroeder, an all-area player since her freshman year, committed to Bradley over the winter. She hit .474 with 12 doubles last season. The Bears return their entire 2012 infield. Juniors Maddie Minneci and Carlee Parsons (all-NSC in 2012) will anchor the middle of the infield, while junior Mallory Parsons will patrol first base again. The slap-hitting Minneci has committed to Bucknell. The Bears graduated a pair of outfielders, including two-time all-area center fielder Kelly Neises. The starting outfield candidates include juniors Vivian Juarez, Katie Brown and McKenna Larson. Juarez and Brown are speedy slap hitters. Caty Grahf, the Bears' only senior, or sophomore Kaylee Grant figure to replace Christina Sandstedt behind the plate. Grant, who also can play first base and the outfield, is a transfer from Texas. She's impressed her coach already with both her offense and defense. "She is a welcome newcomer to the program," Towne said. Like last season, the Bears should hit. The question is, can they pitch and field it well enough to win consistently. "I'm definitely very optimistic, offensively," Towne said. "We got girls who can put the ball in play hard. Almost everybody on our team is going to have decent if not really good speed. I'll probably have a lineup with three slappers. I think our forte will be taking extra bases and moving runners around to put pressure on the defense. We just have to be able to pitch and play defense well enough to let our offense outscore the other team."
Coach: Elissa Wisniewski (second season)
Last season: 17-17, 3-9 in NSC Lake, lost to Mundelein in Class 4A regional semifinals
Key losses: 1B/C Nicole Kruckman (North Park), 3B Calley Kaluzny, P Emilie Teitz, OF Sam Bone
Returnees: Jr. SS/2B Tayler Oberman, Sr. OF/1B Margaret Haws, Sr. C/SS Haley Hoeksel, Jr. P/2B Haley Alban, Sr. 2B/OF Izzy Alesna
Newcomers: Jr. 3B/C Andi Katz, So. P/CF Michaela Mooney, Jr. SS/PF Taylor Zoellick, Jr. P/OF Carlie Haraden, So. C/1B Madi Dembinski, Jr. P/1B Michelina Caffero, Jr. 3B/OF TJ Freberg, Fr. SS/OF Jamie Stevens
Outlook: The Wildcats head to Orlando, Fla., this weekend. Consider it another move in the right direction. They've never left the state for Spring Break before. Last season, under first-year coach Elissa Wisniewski, the Wildcats won 17 times and lost 17 times. Mind you, they went 12-22 in 2011. "We were happy with (17-17) last year," Wisniewski said. "But we're striving to press beyond that this year." Junior middle infielder Tayler Oberman is one reason why the Wildcats have reason for optimism. Batting leadoff in her first varsity season last year, Oberman hit .448 with her 52 hits including 21 for extra bases. She also stole 16 bases and demonstrated leadership qualities. The Wildcats' other returning starters include left fielder Margaret Haws (all-NSC in 2012), three-year varsity catcher Haley Hoeksel, second baseman Izzy Alesna and pitcher Haley Alban, who threw a lot of innings last spring. The other positions are essentially up for grabs, although Wisniewski has plenty of options at every spot, including in the circle. "We have a lot of versatile kids that have the ability to play both the infield and the outfield," Wisniewski said. "(Due to the inclement weather), we really haven't been able to do much of anything in the outfield at all, other than little breakdown stuff in the gym. Our kids are fighting for spots. We have a really talented group of girls that came up from JV last year." Among those battling for playing time is Jamie Stephens, the lone freshman on the squad, who's listed as a shortstop/outfielder. "She stepped up and nailed it in tryouts," Wisniewski said. "She's a really well-rounded athlete. She's aggressive, dives after balls, has a really good arm and great instincts." The Wildcats graduated nine seniors, including all-area slugger Nicole Kruckman and pitcher Emilie Teitz, who established herself as the ace by the end of the season. "Looking back at (the team's) past records, we thought it was a good step with a senior-heavy group," Wisniewski said. "We think (the seniors) kind of turned it around and paved the way for the program to go in the direction that we see it going. We have a great group of kids."
Coach: Brett Wilhelm (second season)
Last season: 16-18, 4-8 in NSC Lake, lost to Carmel in Class 4A regional finals
Key losses: C Alex Hemmer (Lake Forest)
Returnees: Sr. P/1B Molly Ellett, Sr. OF Chloe Peterson, Sr. OF Hailey Morelli, Sr. P/3B Erin Kennelly, So. SS/C Maddie Zazas, So. 2B/P Maria DeVito, Jr. 1B Abbey Rosenow, Sr. OF Emily Panitch, Sr. 3B/2B Andrea Funteas, Sr. OF Nikki Zaprzalka, So. OF Hannah Bulgart
Newcomers: So. C/3B Maggie Mahar, Sr. OF Lauren Fairweather
Outlook: The Mustangs were playing their best softball at the end of last season. They could be playing at that consistently good level from the get-go this year. While they graduated their best player in slugging catcher Alex Hemmer, everybody else is back, including four-year varsity players Hailey Morelli and Erin Kennelly. "The motivation all off-season," coach Brett Wilhelm said, "was that we want to pick up where we left off." Sophomore Maggie Mahar figures to replace Hemmer behind the plate. Mahar, an all-conference varsity basketball player this winter, did not play softball last season after missing the basketball season with a broken ankle. "She's been working hard," Wilhelm said. "It's been great to have her out. She's got tremendous upside." By season's end last spring, Molly Ellett had assumed the role as the Mustangs' No. 1 pitcher. "She definitely turned it on at the end of last season," Wilhelm said. "She was our most consistent pitcher. When she pitches, she gives us the best defense." The strong-armed Kennelly will also pitch again and patrol third base, and sophomore Maria DeVito, who started at second base last year, will also get a look in the circle. "We have three very good pitchers coming back," Wilhelm said. "Hopefully they stay consistent." The returning outfield features all-conference players Chloe Peterson (.359 BA, 30-of-31 stolen bases in 2012) and Morelli (.330 BA, 15 2B, 4 HR, 31 RBI) in center and right, respectively, and sophomore Hannah Bulgart in left. Trusty sophomore Maddie Zazas is back at shortstop. Junior lefty Abbey Rosenow patrols first base again. When Kennelly pitches, senior Andrea Funteas will play third. Funteas will back up DeVito at second, as well. "The nice thing is the amount of experience our seniors have," Wilhelm said. "We bring back a very dynamic group."
Coach: Larry Friedrichs (26th season)
Last season: 10-24, 6-6 in NSC Lake, lost to Niles North in Class 4A in regional semifinals
Key losses: OF Ali Castriano, OF Cailin Rubenstein, 2B Lara Horwitz (Drexel), 2B/OF Nicole Alesi
Returnees: Jr. C/OF Lexi Yonkovic, Jr. SS/OF Maria Anagnostopoulos, Sr. P Sam Feder, So. SS/3B Taylor Koenigs, Sr. OF Sara Loerch, Sr. 1B/3B/OF Morgan Manka, Jr. 3B Dana Morgan, Sr. OF Maggie Thon, Jr. P/OF Kat Trotter
Newcomers: Jr. 2B Jordan Cortesi, Jr. P Fiona Iriarte, So. P/OF/1B Lindsey Micucci, Jr. 2B/OF/3B Katelyn Noronha, Jr. 1B Abby O'Connor, Fr. C/OF Trisha Porzycki
Outlook: It wasn't your typical season for the Patriots last year. With an inexperienced team, after graduating 13 players the previous two years, they won only 10 games, their fewest since 1992 when they went 8-19. They'll try to rebound this spring with a group that includes returning all-conference catcher Lexi Yonkovic and hard-hitting first baseman/third baseman Morgan Manka (honorable mention all-NSC), who'll be playing her third season on varsity. Senior Sam Feder and junior Kat Trotter will pitch on varsity for the third year in a row. "Sam looks good," coach Larry Friedrichs said. "She's been working hard." Friedrichs also has sophomore Lindsey Micucci and junior Fiona Iriarte who can pitch. Micucci is the sister of former Patriots ace Allie Micucci, who's an assistant coach at Warren. "We're going to have options," Friedrichs said of his pitching, which yielded too many walks and hit batsmen in 2012. Freshman Trisha Porzycki earned a varsity spot and could see time behind the plate or in the outfield. "She's a pretty good catcher," Friedrichs said. "She's certainly got the tools, and she's a real heady kid behind the plate as far as vocalizing what's going on and stuff like that." Friedrichs is carrying 15 players, more than he has in recent seasons. "I think the one plus with this group is we've got a lot of flexibility," Friedrichs said. "There's been a lot of good, healthy competition. The kids have been working really hard. I got a lot of kids that can play a lot of places, and I think they can play there pretty well."
Coach: Tina Meyer (first season)
Last season: 31-5-1, 11-1 in NSC Lake, won North Suburban Conference championship, lost to McHenry in Class 4A regional final
Key losses: P Jessica Demski (Lawrence), OF Kelli Layton (Milliken), 3B Lisa Holland, IF Lyn DeMeyer
Returnees: Sr. OF Megan Sowa, Sr. SS/2B Jill Fox, Sr. 1B Amy Ricci, Sr. C Sam Belletini, Sr. OF Kelly Majewski, Sr. OF/C Lisiann Rodriguez, Jr. P Jana Wagner, Jr. C/1B Jodie Hurd
Newcomers: Jr. OF Jazmin Bonke, Jr. 2B/SS Selaina Coronado, Jr. 3B/SS Megan Scott, Jr. P/3B Jenny Carpenter, Jr. 2B/OF Michelle Vasen, So. SS/3B Shannon McKeon
Outlook: They lost their coach Carri McGahan, who's busy being a mommy to her new son, and hard-hitting Anna Balch, who transferred, but a lot returns for team that lost only five times last season. The Blue Devils have won 80 games in the last three seasons. "We have a good core of girls," said first-year coach Tina Meyer, who replaces McGahan after four seasons as an assistant coach. Meyer inherits a squad that boasts three girls who will be playing their third season on varsity in center fielder Megan Sowa, shortstop Jill Fox and catcher Sam Belletini. Sowa, who signed with Drake during the off-season, is coming a second-straight all-area campaign in which she set single-season school records for hits (65) and runs scored (55), while tying the school mark with 8 home runs. Fox (48 hits, .375 BA in 2012) and lefty-hitting first baseman Amy Ricci (.366 BA, 30 RBI) also were named all-area. Ricci has committed to Wisconsin-Whitewater, Meyer said. And then there's junior pitcher Jana Wagner, who kept getting better as last season progressed. She pitched the Blue Devils to victory over Vernon Hills in the NSC title game. A strong senior class also includes outfielders Kelly Majewski and Lisiann Rodriguez. Sowa, Fox, Ricci, Belletini and Wagner all made all-conference last season. The Blue Devils get their season going in Louisville next week. They have a good chance to successfully defend their NSC Lake title, but Meyer isn't taking anything for granted. "I'm happy with what we have," she said. "But then again, I know Lake Zurich's got a good squad coming in, and (Zion-Benton coach Rick Rymer) had a bunch of young kids last year. In our conference, it's going to be tough. If we don't come ready to play, anything can happen. We just got to be on our game every game that we play."
FOX VALLEY FOX
Coach: Abbey Tadelman (sixth season)
Last season: 14-20, 8-4 in FVC Fox, lost to Grayslake North in Class 3A regional semifinals
Key losses: SS Claire Brennan, CF Kati Brew, P Tayler Janda, C Sarah Kuligowski
Returnees: Sr. C/OF Veronica Kleber, Sr. OF/C Anna Strickland, Jr. 3B/P Brittany Brown, Sr. 2B Kourtney Passarella, Jr. 1B/OF Jamie Brew, Sr. 3B Caitlin Tarnowski, Jr. OF/1B Theresa Curtis, Sr. OF Taylor Peterson, Sr. 2B/SS Caitlin Flary, Jr. 2B/OF Cally Hayes
Newcomers: Jr. OF Kaleigh Snyder, So. 3B/P Brandy Heraty, Jr. SS/3B Shelby White, So. OF Skyler Long, So. C Katie Strickland, So. SS Juliana Frusolone
Outlook: Never mind that the weather has been nasty. Coach Abbey Tadelman has seen enough to forecast a pleasant spring for her Rams. "Even though we are stuck indoors, we have had a nice start to the season," Tadelman said. "Our indoor practices have been going well, and the team has been making the best of every practice situation. They have been working very hard, and I feel this hard work will pay off this year. We have a group of athletes that are intrinsically motivated and that play with heart. I'm excited to see what this group of girls does on offense this season." Junior Brittany Brown, who started at third base last year, could throw the majority of innings in the circle, replacing the graduated Tayler Janda. Brown is also a good hitter. Sophomore newcomer Brandy Heraty will also throw and might play third when Brown pitches. Senior middle infielder Caitlin Flary will be playing her third season on varsity. The lineup also includes lefty-hitting first baseman Jamie Brew, whose sister Kati graduated.
Coach: Molly Jones (fifth season)
Last season: 25-9-1, 11-1 in FVC Fox (first), lost to Marengo in Class 3A supersectional
Key losses: P Kristi Gandy (Lake Forest), C Brooke Tracy (Winthrop), OF Megan Mertins, OF Courtney Peterson, 1B Christina Freese, 2B Jessica Davis
Returnees: Sr. SS Jordyn Bowen, Sr. 3B Kelsey Borders, Jr. P/1B Nikki Livengood, Sr. OF Marli Kram, Jr. OF Mariah Gentile, Sr. IF/OF Kaley Buchman, Sr. Emily West, Jr. C/IF Kaitlyn Olsen
Newcomers: Sr. OF Jennifer Klima, Jr. C/OF/IF Maddie Terlap, So. Kayla Switalla, So. P/IF Sarah Littleton, Jr. P/IF Kelsey Delahunty
Outlook: The Knights enjoyed an unprecedented season last spring, winning a school-record 25 games and capturing their first FVC Fox and sectional championships. Gone is ace Kristi Gandy, the captain of the Daily Herald All-Area team, but star power remains. Third baseman Kelsey Borders (Findlay) and shortstop Jordyn Bowen (Northern Illinois) have both signed national letters of intent, and both are four-year varsity players. Bowen, a lefty hitter who can both pull and slap pitches, batted .476 from the leadoff spot last year. Borders, who'll follow her big sister Carly to Findlay, hit .458 with 17 doubles, 5 homers and 44 RBI. Two other starters return. Senior Marli Kram is back to patrol center field, while junior Nikki Livengood will do more than serve as the Knight's designated player and play first base, as she did last year. She takes over on the pitching rubber after backing up Gandy last spring. "I think she'll bring some stability to the (circle)," coach Molly Jones said. Bowen, Borders and Livengood give the Knights three returning all-conference players. Sophomore newcomer Sarah Littleton will also pitch. She, like Livengood, hits the ball hard. Another sophomore, Kayla Switalla, figures to play second base. The candidates to flank Kram in the outfield include Mariah Gentile, Jennifer Klima, Emily West and slapper Maddie Terlap. The Knights have big spikes to fill behind the plate with the graduation of four-year varsity starter Brooke Tracy. Junior Kaitlyn Olsen, who played third base on JV last year, is making the transition to catcher. "I think we're still going to be contending for the conference title," Jones said. The Knights' quest to return to the supersectional will be a more difficult task, however, since the IHSA moved them up to Class 4A. "That's a pretty big move," Jones acknowledged. "I think overall, since we were so successful last year, we got more of a target on our back. That's kind of a cool thing to have."
EAST SUBURBAN CATHOLIC
Coach: Jason Raymond (11th season)
Last season: 19-19, 6-12 in ESCC, lost to Jacobs in Class 4A sectional finals
Key losses: 1B Sally Snarski (Lake County), CF Kelley Dodge, OF Madeline Felipez
Returnees: Jr. SS Kathleen Felicelli, So. 3B Jenny Behan, Jr. RF Amy Abel, Jr. P Nicole Bitter, Sr. P Erika Schoenfeld, Sr. C Skyler Zak, Jr. OF Abby Andrejek, So. OF Sam Melillo, Sr. OF Caitie Nelson
Newcomers: Fr. 1B Amanda Elert, Fr. 2B Annie Poll, Fr. OF/3B Emma Bartz, So. P Mia Dicara, So. OF/DP Sarah Koesser, Jr. P Elaine Foley, Jr. C/3B Megan Dulen
Outlook: The Corsairs are looking to build on the success of last year's sectional run. "Our emphasis this year will be on developing good habits, improvement of our fielding and coming together as a team," coach Jason Raymond said. "The offense is going to be there. But for the players to get where they want to go, we have to improve every day, tighten up defensively and play the game for each other." Junior Nicole Bitter and senior Erika Schoenfeld return for their third and fourth years on varsity, respectively. Schoenfeld is battling a sore shoulder. "When she returns, she will provide great senior leadership and experience," Raymond said. "When Erika has her pitches and locations going for her, she is tough to handle." Bitter shut down Mundelein in the regional final last spring. She comes into the season healthy after battling some injuries to start last season. She led the team last year with 96 strikeouts in 124 innings last year. "She has really looked good at practice and we are really excited to see her maturation on the mound this spring," Raymond said. "Nicole has come into the season in outstanding shape. Her fastball and screwball are always dangerous, and this year she is looking to mix in her other stuff a lot more." Sophomore Mia Dicara saw some action in the circle toward the end of last season, going 2-0. The Corsairs belted 36 home runs last season. Gone is Sally Snarski, who hit 10 homers in each of the last two seasons. But back are junior shortstop Kathleen Felicelli (school-record 12 HR in '12) and sophomore third baseman Jenny Behan (8 HR), who committed to James Madison in the off-season. "We were able to score 258 runs last year as a team, and the scary thing is that the potential is there to do even more this year," Raymond said. "Kathleen and Jenny are our catalysts. Both players can do it all on the field. They hit for power, average and produce a ton of runs for us. They are two of the most dangerous hitters around." In addition to Behan and Felicelli, sophomores Sarah Koesser and Sam Melillo will look to add some pop into the lineup. Melillo will lead off. "Sam is soft and hard slapper who is really fast," Raymond said. "She is super fun to watch on the base paths and will be a terror." Koesser is a strong hitter who projects to be a middle-of-the-lineup run producer. Junior Amy Abel will be making the switch from second base to right field. She hit .339 as a freshman and .325 as a sophomore, and has 4 career home runs. Senior Skyler Zak, who also has 4 career homers, will provide a steady bat and clutch hitting. Juniors Abby Andrejek, Megan Dulen, Elaine Foley and senior Caitie Nelson are other players to watch. "They have worked really hard in the off-season and look to contribute both defensively and offensively," Raymond said. Raymond promoted three freshmen -- second baseman Annie Poll, first baseman Amanda Elert 1B and outfielder/third baseman Emma Bartz. "All three players are intelligent, hardworking and skilled," Raymond said. "They will blend in nicely with the team."