Coach: Jim Wolfsmith (10th year, 221-106)
2012 record: 32-9, 13-6 in Upstate Eight Valley
Top returning players: Seniors Cara Carrion (OF), Rachel Odolski (OF); juniors Sydney Johnson (3B), Dana Paul (C), Alex Morales (OF), Kayla Haberstich (SS), Holly Pagan (P/1B).
Top newcomers: Senior Jessica Kirby (P/OF); juniors Amy Johnson (P/1B), freshman Katie Fornoff (OF/INF).
Season outlook: Encores are never easy and this one will be very tough for Bartlett, but that hasn't curbed coach Jim Wolfsmith's enthusiasm any. The Hawks are coming off a magical run to the Class 4A state championship game a year ago, where the ride ended with a 5-0 loss to Marist. Several seniors graduated from that team including top pitchers Tori Burke and Amanda Montbriand, meaning the Hawks will be very inexperienced in the circle this spring.
They also will be leaning on a new varsity catcher in Paul, who takes over for senior all-area standout Kaylyn Zierke, out for the season after shoulder surgery. Paul, who is drawing interest from Ball State and Missouri-St. Louis, hit .286 last season, mostly playing the outfield.
"Offensively we'll have to have some people step up to replace what we lose with Zierke out but I think Dana Paul is going to have a great year," Wolfsmith said.
Morales was actually the team's leading average hitter last year at .386 with 19 RBI, including the game-winning hit to beat top-ranked Glenbard North and Gatorade Player of the Year Lily Fecho in the regional final. Carrion hit .355 last season, with Pagan at .328, Odolski .318 and Haberstich .272.
Pagan pitched 13 innings for the varsity last season, going 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA.
"We will be inexperienced on the mound, which is not necessarily where you want to be inexperienced but by the end of the year we should be solid," said Wolfsmith, who calls Waubonsie Valley the team to beat in the UEC Valley. "We were a team built on pitching and defense last year and we've got the potential to be the same kind of team this year, but we'll be learning on the fly on the mound."
Burlington Central Rockets
Coach: Wade Maisto (1st year returning; 15 years as head coach 1984-1998 with 334-101 record)
2012 record: 28-9, 10-2 in Big Northern East
Top returning players: Seniors Lauren King (IF), Rebecca Roscher (IF), Melanie Gajewski (IF); juniors Bekah Harnish (C), Brooke Gaylord (IF/P), Tori Harvey (IF/OF); sophomores Cortni Neubauer (OF/P), Angie Morrow (IF/P), Kassi Gaylord (IF).
Top newcomers: Freshmen Kayla Ross (OF), Kelly Wiater (OF/IF/C), Emily Kisch (IF/P), Becca Gerke (IF/OF).
Season outlook: Maisto takes the reigns of one of the area's most successful programs for the second time. As head coach for 15 years in the 1980s and 90s, he took the Rockets downstate twice and won 334 games against 101 losses. He returned to be Scot Sutherland's assistant coach for five years but hasn't coached since helping guide BC to a third-place finish in the Class 3A state finals in 2009.
"I've asked the girls to give me a little time to figure some things out," said Maisto, who will be assisted by his daughter Erica, one of the most decorated pitchers in school and area history, and Bill Morrow.
What Maisto knows is that he has a team loaded with talent, especially in the pitchers' circle. Angie Morrow, who has already committed to Wisconsin, was 15-4 with a 1.62 ERA last season. She struck out 114 in 134 innings and only walked 16 and also hit .390 with 21 RBI. Brooke Gaylord was 9-4 in the circle last year as the Rockets won a regional championship for the 16th time in program history.
The offense also has big-time run scoring potential, led by all-area NIU recruit Harnish, who hit .471 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI. She also had a .835 slugging percentage and a .511 OBP while striking out just 9 times in 92 at-bats. Brooke Gaylord hit .336 last year, King .339, Neubauer .292 and Maisto is high on his four freshmen call-ups -- Kisch, Wiater, Ross and Gerke, the latter two who helped BC's girls basketball team to the Elite Eight this season.
"I feel good about the pitching and they scored a lot of runs last year," Maisto said. "We really need to get outside to determine who and what is going to be the best fit for this team defensively."
Coach: Tammy Olson (20th year, 358-236-3)
2012 record: 27-8, 12-2 in FVC Valley
Top returning players: Seniors Lindsay Efflandt (P), Sarah Leudo (C/3B); juniors Lisa Semro (OF), Jamie Deering (SS/3B), Sarah Kendeigh (1B).
Top newcomers: Juniors Caroline Zasadil (3B/1B), Lauren Stanley (P/OF); sophomores Caitlyn Adam (2B/3B), Grace Pilz (C), Sarah Purpura (OF), Rachel Langner (OF), freshman Erin Olson (UTL).
Season outlook: Much of what made the Trojans a 28-win team last year is back led by Lindsay Efflandt, a 2010 and 2011 Daily Herald all-area co-captain. The Yale recruit led the area with 24 wins and was second in the area in strikeouts with 142 last year while maintaining a 1.41 ERA. She also helped her cause by hitting .337. Her battery-mate, Sarah Leudo, hit .369 with 21 RBI and had an area-leading 7 home runs, which tied a C-G record. Her power should help bolster the Trojan lineup along with Lisa Semro (. 348), while Jamie Deering (. 300) and Sarah Kendeigh should be in the mix offensively as well.
"They're steady hitters," said Olson. "Their defense is a big asset. (Kendeigh) had no errors last season (at first)."
Kendeigh also knocked out 3 homers, and it'll be needed this year as Cary-Grove lost outfielder Taylor Dunne and third baseman Sara Markelonis to graduation. They combined to steal 16 bases while Dunne had 10 doubles and Markelonis had 4 triples. Olson's newcomers should be able to pick up the slack.
"Great athletes blend well together as a team," said Olson. "That's the team dynamic -- to be better than who they are as an individuals."
Taking conference is the goal again and the Trojans' preseason schedule -- Conant, Fremd, Lake Zurich, Palatine, Vernon Hills -- should get them ready.
"Crystal Lake South, McHenry, Prairie Ridge -- (Kirsten) Stevens is an amazing pitcher," said Olson. "It's no different from in years past."
Crystal Lake South Gators
Coach: Scott Busam (10th year)
2012 record: 21-12, 5-7 in FVC Valley
Top returning players: Senior Heather Eck (P/1B); juniors Sam McLean (SS); sophomores Hailee Massie (P/OF), Kimmy Woods (CF/2B), Lauren Gauger (3B/1B), Jennica Terry (OF), Taylor Doppke (1B/OF).
Top newcomers: Seniors Sarah Terradista (IF/OF), Kara Zybko (1B); juniors Erin Yazel (OF), Madison Perrine (2B/OF); sophomore Eve Perdakaris (3B/1B).
Season outlook: The five freshmen the Gators started last season are a year older and give Busman some optimism to improve on a 21-win season. Massie went 10-9 with a 2.30 ERA as a freshman and Eck was 5-2 with a 2.51.
"We're expecting really good things from Hailee based on what we saw last year and Heather Eck put in a lot of work in the offseason. We think our pitching staff will be pretty good."
Offensively, the Gators have to replace one of the top threats in the area, catcher Liz Adams, who is now playing at Rutgers. McLean (. 313) is the top returning hitter.
"I think we'll be competitive," Busam said. "We'll have a young roster with a lot of starting sophomores and we'll count on some growth from the JV team last year. Offensively we don't have anyone who can hit .500 like Liz, so we'll have to get good pitching, minimize our mistakes and take advantage of every opportunity we get."
Coach: Tracy Beatty (6th year)
2012 record: 8-24, 1-11 in FVC Valley
Top returning players: Seniors Amanda Eissler (P/SS), Cindy Collingbourne (C); juniors Lauren Mercado (3B), Mandy Moore (P/2B), Mallory Schilf (SS), Carly Stallings (OF).
Top newcomers: Sophomores Lauren Gerard (P), Casey Weeks (1B).
Season outlook: It's hard to replace a hitter the caliber of Melany Love, who led the area with a .533 batting average and 49 hits and is now playing for the University of Illinois club team. But the Chargers will have to find a way to be "fundamentally good at the plate and be aggressive," says Beatty.
Beatty looks to fourth-year pitcher Eissler to do just that. Last season Eissler had 24 hits, 2 HRs, 4 doubles and 2 triples while striking out 72 batters on the other end. She'll lead D-C from the circle.
"She's fast and has good ball movement," Beatty said.
Eissler will not be alone. Mercado provided 24 hits with a .314 average last season and also shows a good glove at third base. Schilf, who was third in RBI with 12 behind Love and Eissler, should contribute as well and so too should all of D-C's juniors, who started as sophomores. A year under their belts should give the Chargers an edge.
"Our kids will step up at the plate," Beatty said. "We're going to show some people we're a decent team."
Coach: Chad Dahlman (4th year, 52-52)
2012 record: 20-12, 13-6 in UEC River
Top returning players: Seniors Monica Stockman (1B), Caroline Sobeski (OF); juniors Jennah Perryman (P/3B), Bri Wright (SS), Lissette Sanchez (2B), Anna Eckholm (3B), Kelly Bremer (C).
Top newcomers: Junior Melanie Berg (OF); sophomore Sabrina Stockman (2B/OF).
Season outlook: The Maroons are coming off a productive 20-win season but they lost one very important piece to last year's puzzle, all-area captain Hannah Perryman, who is now playing at Missouri-St. Louis. All Perryman did is set the single-season strikeout record (372) as well as the school career mark for Ks (840) and hit .333 with 5 homers and 27 RBI.
"When you lose a Hannah Perryman and the season she had with all the strikeouts, we know the defense is going to have to step up and we return our whole infield," said Dahlman.
And who better to replace Perryman in the circle but her junior sister Jennah, who was 2-2 with a 2.07 ERA last season. The Ball State recruit also hit .313 with 3 homers and 18 RBI last year. Eckholm (. 367, 3 HRs, 9 RBI as leadoff hitter) and Bremer (. 303, 2 HRs, 22 RBI) add to what could be a potent lineup. And, first baseman Monica Stockman (. 310) is healthy again after off-season ACL surgery.
"We'll need to put the ball in play," said Dahlman. "We've got our 1-6 hitters back minus Hannah. We've got seven starters back but defense will be the key. We're still fairly young."
Coach: Stacey Stepek (1st year)
2012 record: 11-24, 4-8 FVC Fox
Top returning players: Seniors Jordan Hook (OF), Jennifer Hurst (P); juniors Sara Finn (C), Becca Hurst (1B).
Top newcomers: Juniors Brittany Sujet (OF), Ashley VanAcker (OF); freshmen Ellie Lapi (3B/C), Aly Snider (SS/C).
Season outlook: Jen Hurst returns to the circle for first-year Whip-Purs' coach Stepek after posting 9 of the team's 11 wins last season with 139 strikeouts. She also hit .319 with 17 RBI. Hook was one of the area's better run producers last year, hitting .365 with 3 home runs and 33 RBI, while Becca Hurst hit .291 and Finn .280.
"Our team's main goal is to win conference this year and get past the regional tournament," said Stepek. "We are working really hard on fundamentals and mechanics and breaking everything down so that we are doing it the right way on a consistent basis. We are a really hardworking group with natural ability but since we have some underclassmen that will have to step up and fill some positions on varsity, we lack the experience of playing upper level varsity teams. The girls know and love the game of softball and are such a wonderful group to work with. We couldn't ask for anything more."
Huntley Red Raiders
Coach: Mark Petryniec (10th year, 160-152)
2012 record: 9-21, 2-8 FVC Valley
Top returning players: Seniors Miranda Peterson (SS), Angela Brandl (OF); juniors Brittany Koss (2B), Angela Tribuzio (C), Ashley Laxner (LF), Mackenzie Brown (1B), Tamara Funke (3B/1B), Michelle Caputi (IF/OF); sophomores Haley Spannraft (P), Katelyn Behrens (OF/C).
Top newcomers: Sophomore Shannon Walsh (OF); freshman Megan Baczewski (3B/1B), Jessica Shields (C/OF).
Season outlook: Huntley came close to upsetting Cary-Grove in last year's regional semifinal behind a near-special performance by Spannraft, who won 6 games as a freshman and struck out 62. Now as a sophomore, she'll be relied upon heavily to carry the load from the circle.
"She's walked in with confidence, hopefully it translates to more success on the mound," Petryniec said. "Expect for her to use that year of varsity experience to grow, and be a top pitcher in the area."
During that loss to the Trojans, Huntley couldn't get runs across to give Spannraft any sort of pad and that's something Petryniec wants fixed this season.
"We will have to improve at our situational hitting to be successful this season," said Petryniec, who lost Tara Lycos, Ashley Knutsen and Lauren Wilson to graduation. "We'll miss Lycos' leadership, she played with a torn ACL all year and hit .300."
The Red Raiders return many who have at least 2-3 years experience at the varsity level and that in turn will be a major strength going forward.
Peterson, an all-area selection last season who was most stable in the lineup, had a .465 average with 41 hits and was second in the area in RBI (27). Tribuzio belted out 24 hits and a .288 average and Koss had 23 hits for a .288 average as well, scoring 21 runs while both Peterson (10) and Tribuzio (9) were near the top of the area leaders in doubles. If those hitters can have success again and couple with Spannraft's pitching, Huntley has a chance.
"If all the worlds align and the girls step up where they're supposed to be, that experience hopefully will lead to more production," said Petryniec.
Jacobs Golden Eagles
Coach: Jeremy Bauer (10th year, 213-98)
2012 record: 25-15, 7-5 in FVC Valley
Top returning players: Seniors Nicky Chapa (IF), Heather Chudy (OF), Jacquelyn Hengler (OF), Kaitlyn Woloszyk (OF/IF); juniors Courtney Cotugno (IF), Kelsey Cummings (C), Alyssa Lach (3B), Payton Spirling (OF); sophomore Taylor Belo (OF).
Top newcomers: Juniors Kelsey Peters (P), McKenzie Vaughn (OF/IF), Sarah Murray (IF), Emily Borg (P/DP).
Season outlook: The Golden Eagles will be rebuilding somewhat after a run to a Class 4A supersectional a year ago. With standout pitcher Katie Kirker now at Judson University and junior McKayla Lein deciding not to play, the pitching staff will be untested with Bauer looking to Peters and Borg to carry the load.
"It's going to be by committee," Bauer said of the mound corps. "We'll have to use a lot of people."
Offensively and defensively, the Eagles should be solid. Lach, an all-area returnee committed to Butler, returns to play 3B after hitting .417 last year with 4 homers, 13 doubles and 28 RBI. She had a .661 slugging percentage, a .441 OBP and struck out just 3 times in 127 at-bats. Chapa hit .368 and Hengler .326.
"I know we have the hitting and the defense, we just need to get our pitchers some experience," Bauer said. "We don't have experienced varsity pitchers. But everyone is definitely motivated."
Coach: Anne Vogt (2nd year)
2012 record: 3-30, 1-16 UEC River
Top returning players: Seniors Jaclyn Saurbaugh (IF/P), Kaitlyn Curley (OF), Alex Buhrow (C/1B); sophomore Rebekah Harrington (2B/C).
Top newcomers: Juniors Alexis Price (OF), Rachel Martinez (C/1B), Alex Bednarski (IF), Maria Rojo (IF/P), Paige Stratman (IF/P); sophomore Sarah Hansen (P); freshman Sam Wahl (OF).
Season outlook: Vogt is hoping that a year's experience as a high school head coach, and for her assistant Natalie Kim, will lead to better things for the Royals this spring.
"Nat and I are going in more confident this year," said Vogt, the former Larkin, ECC and Judson standout and former ECC coach. "We know better what we're doing this year."
Buhrow is the Royals' top returning hitter, while Saurbaugh and Harrington each got plenty of varsity experience last year. The pitching will be young, with Hansen, Stratman, Rojo and Saurbaugh all in the mix.
"I've got a group of kids who just want to play ball," Vogt said. "The communication right now is great and we've been working on that a lot because when you get outside it becomes essential. I feel these kids have a different attitude this year. They're scrappy and they want to be pushed. It's been a lot of fun to see the girls come in and be excited and want to learn. We are continuing with our motto from last season ... each day we want to improve. Our girls are working really hard and they are full of enthusiasm."
South Elgin Storm
Coach: Jason Schaal (8th year, 111-96)
2012 record: 14-20, 10-9 UEC Valley
Top returning players: Seniors Kara Rodriguez (SS/OF), Victoria Watt (UT); juniors Alyssa Buddle (C/UT), Paige Allen (UT/P), Taylor Rees (P/1B), Brittany Koss (UT), Sam Helton (UT), Mallory Mecklenburg (UT).
Top newcomers: Junior Katie Koss (P/1B); sophomore Demi Queen (IF); freshman Cassidy Westlund (UT).
Season outlook: With some offensive firepower back, South Elgin's season will likely come down to defense and pitching. The Storm returns a Division I recruit behind the plate in Buddle, who is committed to James Madison. She hit .511 last season, the best average of any returning player in the area. She led the area with 17 doubles and had 22 RBI along with a .830 slugging percentage and a .552 OBP. She struck out only 9 times in 106 plate appearances. Rodriguez is back after missing her junior season with an ACL injury, while Watt hit .411 with 8 doubles and 14 RBI.
Allen and Rees each pitched about 30 innings last season behind graduated Sam Bolin in the circle.
"It's going to come down to pitching and if we can fix the error issue we had last year defensively we'll be all right. Paige got a lot of experience last year so her role will increase and we're asking Taylor to step it up. We're looking to Buddle and Kara a lot for leadership. I've been impressed with what I've seen so far."
St. Edward Green Wave
Coach: Jaci Corn (3rd year, 28-30)
2012 record: 10-20, 5-10 SCC
Top returning players: Seniors Kali Kossakowski (SS), Ashley Gradisher (2B), Kristi Kroll (3B/OF); juniors Julie Larson (1B/P), Jasmine DeLeon (OF/2B); sophomore Ryann Scully (C/3B).
Top newcomers: Sophomore Megan Strong (OF); freshmen Lindsay Zdroik (P/1B/OF), Allison Stratman (C/1B).
Season outlook: Coming off a challenging season, St. Edward will look to return to its winning ways behind the senior leadership of NIU recruit Kossakowski, as well as Gradisher and Kroll.
Kossakowski, a two-time all-area selection, led the Green Wave with a .465 average last season (third among returning players in the area), led the area in runs scored (36) and stolen bases (31) and was third in total hits (1st among area returnees) with 45. She also had a .717 slugging percentage, a .602 OBP and only struck out 5 times in 99 at-bats. Kroll hit .309 and Gradisher .306.
DeLeon (. 304), Larson and Scully all got valuable varsity experience last year.
The Wave's pitching load will fall on the freshman Zdroik, who was named a USSSA World Series Outstanding Defensive Player over the summer.
"We have several returning starters and some promising others," said Corn. "We expect our seniors to really guide and lead this team. We have a good group of athletes that have a competitive edge and they always want to be the best and beat the best. We lack in experience but we do our best to learn from every mistake. Our goal is to win by being mentally and physically prepared and by playing as hard as we can all the time."
Coach: Nick Baird (5th year)
2012 record: 10-21, 3-16 UEC River
Top returning players: Seniors Brittany Delao (SS/3B), Kaylie Jambor (1B), Haley Garcia (IF), Alexis Ciengi (C); juniors Kaitlyn Hedger (P), Holly Foret (SS); sophomores Melissa Melcolm (OF), Natalie Filippo (OF/C).
Top newcomers: Seniors Alexis Gordon (SR., OF): juniors Olivia Reyna (INF), Sarah Cimino (INF/OF), Mercedes Olmos (UTL), freshman Jessica Daley (P/OF).
Season outlook: With all-area infielder Delao back for her senior season, the re-emergence of Foret, who missed all of last season after tearing the ACL in her right knee in the final basketball game of the season and the experience Baird has coming back, the Sabres could be onto something.
"We can surprise," says Baird. "We're excited. We have a lot of experience. We have to concentrate on playing 7 innings and be able to take on adversity. We need to score a little more on a consistent basis. We'd get down a couple runs and we started stressing."
Delao hit .423 last season with 30 hits and 16 runs scored. That leadership will be on display again, and in a more vocal role.
"She's a little more talkative, taking on a leadership role in the program," Baird said.
Jambor can't wait to get out of the cage. She's been hitting the ball well after putting a lot of time in during the summer.
"Jambor is excited to hit this year, she can do some good things," Baird said of the lefty, who strung out 23 hits for a .299 average last season and will hit cleanup for the Sabres.
Foret may lead off but could hit third and it'll be interesting to see how she blends in after a year removed and it hasn't been decided if Delao will play at short or third. The Sabres will be led in the circle by Hedger, who Baird seeks leadership and consistency from. Hedger, who's been throwing harder than before, managed 3 wins, but struck out 32 and in her three years has taken the ball for every playoff game, something the Sabres anticipate to happen again this year.
Westminster Christian Warriors
Coach: John Wedell (3rd year)
2012 record: 8-9, 5-7 in Northeastern Athletic Conference
Top returning players: Senior Ally Hielscher (C); juniors Rachel Fugiel (SS/P), sophomore Rachel Rich (P/1B).
Top newcomers: Freshmen Becca Fugiel (P/IF), Jackie Calabrese (3B/C).
Season outlook: Westminster fell a game short of .500 last season and bolsters a tougher schedule this season, with the likes of Hampshire, Fenton, South Elgin and Timothy Christian along with conference foes of IMSA and Alden-Hebron. But these bigger schools are viewed as necessary especially since the club's goals are high.
"We expect to do well this year, " Wedell said. "We expect a conference championship and expect to finish above .500. We expect our first regional for the school."
Much of the offense is slated around Fugiel, who hits for power, average and just about everything else. She averaged .404 at the plate with 23 runs scored on 19 hits and 22 RBI. An honorable mention all-area player last year, Fugiel managed to steal 15 bases as well. The Warriors will also get a boost from Hielscher, who set a school record with just 1 strikeout in 63 at-bats and a .400 batting average to boot. Hielscher's .593 OBP was third in the area and Fugiel's wasn't that far behind at .544. Rich led the team in batting at .421 and will see time at first and in the circle along with Fugiel, who struck out 85.
"She does it all," Wedell of Fugiel. "She's a coach's dream. She appears hungry and seems to have a different attitude and hunger."