Aurora Central Catholic
Coach: Jim Hallahan
Last year: 18-12
Key returners: Gabi Alfaro, SS, so.; Jen Alderman, 3B, jr.; Allie Lundquist, 1B, sr.
Top newcomers: Paige Miller, P, fr.; Emma Baxter, P, so.
Outlook: Alfaro, Alderman and Lundquist anchored last year's infield that committed less than 20 errors with a fielding percentage of .930. "We are very young with just three rostered seniors and three juniors," Aurora Central coach Jim Hallahan said. "I feel we have improved our pitching staff and will again be solid defensively. Offensively, it will be a work in progress and we have only two players who play any serious summer ball so it will take a few weeks to get the bats going." Hallahan said he expects his team to be in the middle of the pack in the Suburban Christian Conference with Montini, Rosary and St. Frances battling for the top spot.
Coach: Lupe Catellanos
Last year: 20-16
Key returners: Katie Ryan, OF, sr.; Sami Villarreal, SS, sr.; Erin Costigan, 2B/OF, jr.; Ryan Rokos, OF, so.; Selena Kweader, 3B, sr.
Top newcomers: Brieanna Cruz, C, fr.
Outlook: While a first-year varsity head coach at Batavia, Catellanos has 13 years of experience at Batavia, 10 years as the JV coach and the past two as the varsity assistant. "Things are going really great," Catellanos said. "The girls have been really working hard and I feel we are getting better each day. I'm very happy where we are this point." Batavia has several key bats back from last year's 10-9 UEC River squad led by Katie Ryan (.393 average, 38 RBI, 3 home runs, 8 stolen bases). Ryan slugged 18 home runs as a sophomore. Villarreal batted .385 last year with 14 RBI and 14 steals, and Rokos debuted as a freshman with a .355 average and 15 steals. Costigan hit 2 home runs and batted .311 while Kweader drove in 16. "We have six returnees from last year's team led by good senior leadership," Catellanos said. "I think as a team our strengths will be on offense and defense. I think part of the key area that will determine just how good are team can be will be are pitching. Our two top pitchers from last year graduated and this year we will have three girls share the pitching duties and I feel confident that they will do a good job. Which will allow our defense to make plays behind them which will be one of our strengths this year. I think if we go out there and compete to the best of our abilities all the other things will take care of themselves." How all of that will translate in the UEC River race will be interesting to see. "I think there a lot of strong teams in the River Division and as far as where (we) fit in, I feel if we come prepared to play like I think we can, I think we should be able to compete with all of the teams in our conference," Catellanos said.
Coach: Greg Dierks
Last year: 18-18
Key returners: Kirsten Searcy, 3B, sr.; Kelly Gordon, C/2B, sr.; Bridget Weitzel, OF, sr.; Amanda Ebert, OF, sr.; Anna Geary, SS/OF, so. Nicole White, C/1B, jr.; Natalie Erbe, P, sr.; Haley Orwig, P, jr.
Top newcomers: Alexis Garibay, IF/OF, so.; Madison Keith, OF, so.; Emily Plocinski, P/1B, fr.; Jenelle Reilly, C, jr.; Jordyn Schmidt, IF/OF, jr.; McKenna Schimmel, IF/OF, so.
Outlook: Geneva brings back several dangerous hitters led by four-year starter Searcy who hit .368 with 22 runs, 5 home runs and 36 RBI last year. Weitzel is another four-year starter who batted .370 with a school-record 40 runs and 14 RBI. "Kirsten looks great in practice and is among the best players in the conference offensively and defensively, and we are hoping Bridget continues to help ignite the top of our batting order," Dierks said. Gordon, who hit .380 with 3 home runs last year, is a three-year starter -- and three-sport standout -- currently out with a broken hand but is expected back in late April. After a fabulous freshman season, Geary moves from center field to shortstop. She hit .364 with 30 runs, 10 doubles and 11 RBI last year and will once again lead off. "She has worked incredibly hard in the off-season and is ready to take another step forward this season. The sky is the limit," Dierks said. Ebert (.338, 27 runs) and White (.264, 18 runs, 3 home runs, 16 RBI) bring more experience back to the lineup. "Amanda should be hitting right in the middle of the batting order again, and Nicole's first varsity season was a successful one and we are looking for even more production this year," Dierks said. Orwig (14-8) and Erbe (4-10) also make Geneva an experienced team in the circle. Dierks said his newcomers also are in the mix for playing time. "This is a unique group for us," Dierks said. "We have a lot of talent, but going into the season, I would say we had a long way to go as far as gelling as a group is concerned. I have been happy with the progress we have made in the first two weeks and we need to continue down this path in order to be successful." The returning bats should give Geneva a chance to put plenty of runs on the board, and Dierks said his staff is working hard to make the Vikings a well-rounded team. "There is an incredible amount of offensive skill, in particular, that we are bringing back from last year," Dierks said. "Our pitchers have worked hard to make improvements and they are throwing well in practice. I think a goal of adding five wins to last year's total is well within reach. If things come together as we are hoping, maybe we could do even better than that."
Coach: Brian Willis
Last year: 31-7
Top players: Allyson O'Herron, SS, sr.; Lanie Callaghan, CF, so.; Lexi Roach, LF, jr.; Paige Kuefler, 3B, so; Ellissa Eckert, INF/P, sr.; Sarah Grams, OF, sr.; Morgan Newhouse, OF, sr.; Kristin Gabrielson, INF, sr.; Taylor Krawczyk, OF, sr.; Allie Miller, INF/P, jr.; Haley Contorno, INF, jr.; Caroline Heimerdinger, OF, jr.; Maddy Hester, INF, jr.; Megan Frascona, OF/P, jr.; Kaley Martens, OF, jr.; Anissa Becker, P/INF, so.; Meg Cohrs, INF, fr.
Outlook: The Knights are coming off a memorable season that saw them win conference and regional championships. They started the year with a tournament title in Tennessee, and Kaneland will again open this season by going south, this time to Louisville for a 12-team tournament. While Kaneland did graduate Delani Vest from the 2012 squad -- Vest earned All-Area captain honors after hitting .448 and winning 20 games last year -- the Knights have some key pieces returning including O'Herron at shortstop. All Kueffer did in her freshman season was lead the area in virtually every offensive category including batting average (.544), hits (62) and RBI (52). Willis has some new faces to work in and that "time will tell" who takes on key roles. Willis looks for a very close, competitive conference race. "Lot of good, solid teams," Willis said. Don't be surprised when we get to May if the Knights aren't on top of it again and poised to do damage in the postseason. "Hopefully we have developed some confidence from last season that will carry over to this season," Willis said. "We learned how to play as a team and win the close game last season and hope we haven't forgotten. Sports is great though because things can change so drastically from one season to the next. As with most teams, pitching, pitching and pitching will be a key."
Coach: John Kazmierczak
Last year: 14-23
Key returners: Samantha Phelps, 1B/3B, jr.; Cara Smoczynski, P/1B, sr.; Maddie Hemmerich, 1B, sr.; Kates Groom, LF, sr.; Lauren Murray, CF, jr.; Katherine Witte, 3B, sr.; Victoria Phipps, C/OF, jr.; Lexi Lovetere, 2B, sr.
Top newcomers: Elayne Young, P, so.; Danyal VanGundy, U, so.; Emma Molenhouse, P/OF, fr.
Outlook: The Royals finished 9-7 in the SCC -- the third straight year they have finished with that conference record -- before losing to Kaneland in regional play. Kazmierczak said improving on defense will be the key to improving that record and contending with St. Francis and Montini for a title. Phelps (.430) and Smoczynski (.405) both hit over .400 last year while Hemmerich batted .293 and Groom .290. Phelps and Smoczynski both made first team all-conference. Murray is back after driving in 19 runs as a sophomore. "Offense should be able to keep us in ballgames," Kazmierczak said. The coach is pleased with the intensity and enthusiasm at their indoor practices which he said is having a positive effect on his younger players.
St. Charles East
Coach: Kelly Horan
Last year: 20-13
Key returners: Lexi Perez, SS, sr.; SS; Olivia Lorenzini, OF; Tess Hupe, OF, jr.; Sarah Collalti, OF, jr.; Kate Peterburs, 3B, jr.; Shelby Holtz, C, sr.; Haley Beno P, sr.
Top newcomers: Alex Latoria,-P/INF, so.; Mackenzie Meadows, C, jr.; Mackenzie Lofgren, OF/C, jr.; Olivia Cheatham, INF, so.; Katie Kolb, OF, fr.; Kelly Rinker INF, fr.
Outlook: Coming off a 20-win season and tying Batavia for third in the River with a 10-9 record, the Saints take some positive momentum into 2013. Adding to that good feeling is having returners like Perez who was the River MVP last year after hitting .326 with 40 steals. She will play college at Winonia. Lorenzini (.336) and Hupe (.348) both hit really well last year. "Lexi Perez and Olivia Lorenzini are definitely our leaders," Horan said. "It's been great coaching them and there is no reason, with their leadership, that we can't make a run deep into the playoffs." Latoria was called up for the final 14 games and hit 3 home runs with a .350 average. "She comes in great shape and ready to roll," Horan said. If you are looking for something new with the Saints, look no further than the two freshmen on the roster. As Horan put it, "two freshmen are starting the season on varsity for the first time in a very long time." Kolb has a "great stick and is very sound defensively." Horan is looking for Rinker to solidify the team defensively on the right side of the infield. In her four years, the Saints have won 20 games three times, and Horan is looking forward to seeing what this team can do. "I am so excited this year," Horan said. "This group has the work ethic, the dedication, the pride to be great. There are no attitude problems which makes softball fun. This is a great group with just enough experience to lead the way and enough young kids to keep things light."
St. Charles North
Coach: Tom Poulin
Last year: 23-13
Key returners: Sabrina Rabin, OF/P; jr. Mickey Goetz, SS/P, jr.; Emily Brodner, C, jr.
Top newcomers: Andrea Beal, OF, jr.; Erin Nemitz, 3B, so.; Alexandra Millett, C/3B, so.; Amanda James, OF/SS/C, fr.; Allison Hausl, OF/SS/P, fr.; Samantha Hausl, OF/C, fr.
Outlook: Following its runner-up finish in state in 2011, the North Stars turned to almost an entirely new team in 2012 and went 15-4 to win another Upstate Eight Conference River Division championship. Even better, now the core of last year's team returns. It starts with Rabin who committed to Northwestern in the off-season. She hit .447 last year with 21 RBI, 11 doubles, 5 triples, 32 runs and 26 steals while going 10-5 with a 2.20 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 3 shutouts: Poulin called the returning captain a "remarkable leader." "We believe we have one of the top players in the state in Sabrina," Poulin said. Goetz also was an All-Area selection last year after hitting .391 with 23 RBI, 22 runs and 9 doubles in the No. 3 hole. "Great athlete who is very versatile," Poulin said. "Very solid middle of the order hitter for us. She will give us depth at the pitcher position and we look for her to continue to have success at the plate and in the field." Brodner has "power at the plate and a cannon for an arm," Poulin said after she hit .309 with 2 home runs and 27 RBI. "Emily is primed to have a breakout season for us," Poulin said. "She has worked very hard since the end of last season and will be very important to us, if we are to reach our potential as a team." That potential is -- once again -- awfully high. "We have quality depth and versatility at each position along with a good mix of speed and power in the lineup," Poulin said. "We are young, but return multiple players with varsity experience. We really like the character of this group; hard working, team-first players who are remarkable representatives for the program and school." Poulin said pitching and defense will determine the North Stars' overall success. "We feel like we'll be able to put some runs on the board and just need to make our opponents earn everything they get against us," he said. "Our long-term goals are to compete for a conference championship and prepare ourselves to play at a high level when the state tournament begins."
Coach: Randy Hayslett
Last year: 6-27
Key returners: Molly Jordan, 1B/2B, sr.; Ally Wayzer, 3B, sr.; Kaylee Hayton, P, jr.; Alexis Harkless, C, sr.; Gianna Drager, P/2B/OF, jr.; Desi Faxon, OF, sr.; Jessica Mykiska, OF, jr.
Top newcomers: Taylor Podschweit, SS, so.; Cara Jimenez, 1B, fr.; Tori Hunger, 2B/SS, fr.
Outlook: Hayslett begins his first full season as West Aurora head varsity coach with Jordan, Wayzer, Hayton and Harkless as his team's captains. He said with Hayton having a year of experience pitching should help in what figures to be another challenging season in the DuPage Valley Conference. "Conference will be tough as usual," Hayslett said. "I expect us to be much more competitive." The reasons for Hayslett's optimism starts with an infield that returns four starters. He's also looking for a better year with the bats. "We will hit a lot better this year," Hayslett said. "I'm pretty confident about that -- but we'll have to see when we finally get to play." Hayslett is hoping that will translate into a climb in the DVC standings. "I think we can sneak up into the top half of the conference this year," Hayslett said. "We have a lot of girls who have the experience, play year round, and who have improved."