Aurora Central Catholic
Coach: Tom Babyar
Last year: 11-15, Class 2A sectional champions Top players: Paige Miller, P, so.; Emma Baxter, P, jr.; Mary Wileman, 2B, jr.; Cori Dahl, C, so.; Andrea Bieritz, C/3B, jr.; Samantha Miller, C/1B, jr.; Kataryna Beatty, 1B/3B, jr.; Caitlin Cerza, 1B/3B, so.; Rachel Rutter, 2B, jr.; Maddie Reinecke, 2B/OF, fr.; Gabi Alfaro, SS, jr.; Kayla Konen, SS, jr.
Outlook: Babyar starts his first year with the Chargers after coaching 33 years at York before retiring after the 2011 season. He has known ACC athletic director Sean Bieterman for years, including while Bieterman coached freshman baseball at York. "Sean called, I didn't have any plans to coach, I was kind of looking for something to do being retired," Babyar said. One of Babyar's bigger challenges so far, like it is for a lot of coaches stuck inside, is adjusting to the little amount of gym space. He takes over a team that stood at just 7-14 through the regular season last year before a long postseason run that took the Chargers all the way to the Class 2A Northern Illinois supersectional. "They should be coming back with some confidence," Babyar said. Miller keyed that postseason run, though Babyar would like to get Baxter more innings. "Paige is going to pitch for us, but not 90 percent of time," Babyar said. "Paige is a very coachable young lady and very athletic. Very good infielder and very good outfielder. She can play any position." Babyar is still learning a lot about his team and trying players at different positions. "I told them everyone will learn two or three positions," Babyar said. "We might have an injury or might want to rotate them a little." One person who probably won't rotate is Alfaro at shortstop. "She's got a chance to be a really good one," Babyar said. "I've done it 34 years and all those years at York and I might have only had one better." The Chargers don't have a senior on their roster. Babyar is looking for more consistent defense especially in the outfield. "We're missing too many balls that should be caught," Babyar said. "We're not getting the jumps we should. We seem to be judging a little better each day. Right now we're still evaluating. I think we're going to score some runs. I hope we can stop people. Right now defensively I think we are questionable."
Coach: Lupe Castellanos
Last year: 9-19, 6-16, fifth place in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division. Top returners: Ryanne Rokos, CF, jr.; Breiann Cruz, C, so.; Natalie Offutt, 1B.
Key newcomers: Racheal Lovestand, P/INF, fr.; Christina Karius, INF, jr.; Toni Galas, 2B/OF, fr.
Outlook: It's never easy fielding a young team, there's obviously going to be some growing pains, but that challenge certainly is greater when you are competing in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division against the likes of St. Charles East and St. Charles North. That's the position Batavia finds itself in with just three returning starters. "I feel that St. Charles East and North will be near the top," Batavia's second-year coach Lupe Castellanos said. "St. Charles East and St. Charles North have just about all of their team back from last year. I also expect Geneva to be much improved from last year. I'm just looking for us to improve on our fifth-place finish but the ultimate goal is to win conference." Of those returnees Rokos is certainly one to watch, a two-year starter who hit .442 last year with 11 RBI and 16 stolen bases. "Although we will be a young team this year, I feel our depth will be one of our strengths this season, along with our team chemistry," Castellanos said. "Making sure we get better everyday and controlling the things we can control we be key for us this season. I believe that starts with our preparation in practice. Our intensity and energy has been improving every practice. Our overall goals for this season is for us to compete to the best of are abilities and improve every game."
Coach: Greg Dierks
Last year: 16-17, 9-9 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division (third). Top returners: Anna Geary, SS/CF, jr.; Emily Plocinski, P/1B, so.; McKenna Schimmel, IF/OF, jr.; Maddie Keith, OF, jr.; Jenelle Reilly, IF/OF, sr.; Haley Orwig, INF, sr.
Key newcomers: Sarah Baurer, OF, so.; Rachel Fanella, P/2B, so.
Outlook: The Vikings have their fingers crossed for Geary, a two-year starter who made all-conference and all-area last year while hitting .429. Unfortunately Geary tore her ACL in July and had surgery in August. She is currently practicing with a brace and Dierks hopes to have her in their opening day lineup. Plocinski hit .315 as a freshman while posting a 5-6 record in the circle. Schimmel also topped .300 at .301 while Keith (.289) and Reilly (.286) were right behind. Orwig is moving to the infield and will no longer pitch. Baurer and Fanella both made appearances in varsity games last year and join the team full time. "I am excited for our team this year," Dierks said. "They are working hard and we are stressing how important it is to work as a unit. Our ability to get along and take a selfless approach to the season will go a long way toward us reaching our goals. We also need to play better, but our work ethic, desire, and our approach to each day need to be flawless if we are to improve. So far, the girls are doing everything they can to make this happen. We hope this equates to more wins and advancing farther in the postseason." Like the rest of the UEC River coaches, Dierks knows the race goes through the St. Charles schools. "They are the front-runners," Dierks said. "We are hoping that no teams pass us and we are hoping to give a bigger challenge to the St. Charles schools this year."
Coach: Brian Willis
Last year: 24-5, 9-1, Northern Illinois Big XII East Conference champions. Top returners: Lexi Roach, INF, sr.; Lanie Callaghan, OF, sr.; Allie Miller, INF, sr.; Hayley Contorno, INF, sr.; Caroline Heimerdinger, OF, sr.; Paige Kuefler, jr., C; Meg Cohrs, INF, so.
Key newcomers: Angie Morrow, P, jr.
Outlook: It promises to be another banner season for the Knights with a mix of returnees and newcomers. They won the conference championship last year before a surprising loss to Rosary in the regional final. Kaneland has the talent to put plenty of runs on the scoreboard once again. "Offense should be our biggest strength," Willis said. "Got a couple of freshmen playing, we'll see what they can contribute. We should compete in every game. I will be disappointed if the effort is not there every night. We are stressing intensity at all times." The returnees start with Roach and Callaghan, both all-area and all-state outfielders last year. Roach led off and got on base at a .586 clip while hitting .518 with 31 runs, 19 stolen bases and 44 hits. Callaghan is as good as they get in center field and can run down any ball or throw out runners trying to take an extra base. She will hit in the middle of the order after batting .453 with 7 doubles, 2 home runs, 27 runs and 27 RBI last year. "Both have high expectations," Willis said. Kuefler was an all-area catcher as a freshman and returns for her third year as a starter and another big bat in the lineup. Not only do the Knights have more experienced returnees in Contorno at first base, Miller, Cohrs and more, they add a key transfer Morrow from Burlington Central, a junior right-handed pitcher who has verbally committed to play for Wisconsin. "She comes with solid credentials," Willis said. After going 15-4 with a 1.62 ERA and helping the Rockets to a regional championship and a 28-9 season as a freshman, Morrow sat out her sophomore season and most of the summer season after undergoing shoulder surgery. She also hit .390 with 21 RBI her freshman season. No doubt Kaneland is poised to be in the running for another conference championship and a long postseason. "Should be a good conference race this year," Willis said. "Teams change every year and that's what makes it fun. It's why you play the games."
Coach: John Kazmierczak
Last year: 13-19 overall, 7-8 in the SCC (4th place), Class 3A regional champions. Top returners: Samantha Phelps, 1B, sr.; Emma Molenhouse, P/SS, so.; Jessica Wade, C/OF, sr.; Lauren Murray, OF/SS, sr.; Elayne Young, P, jr.; Danyal VanGundy, OF, jr.
Key newcomers: Natalya Flowers, 2B/C, fr.; Sarah Willman, P/OF, fr.; Claire McGuire, INF, jr.; Madison McDonald, 3B, jr.; Alexis Thomas, OF, jr.
Outlook: The Royals saved their best softball for the postseason last year when they upset No. 1 seed Kaneland to win a regional championship on their home field. In recent seasons Rosary has hit well but struggled at times in the field, and the Royals again bring back some offensive firepower. Phelps was a second-time all-area selection as a junior after hitting .365. Molenhouse batted .343, and Wade also hit over .300 at .316. "Our strengths for this year should be our pitching and offense of our core returning six varsity players from last year's squad," Kazmierczak said. "If our defense improves over the previous two seasons we could be very good and improve upon last year's record and contend for the conference title." Kazmierczak expects Rosary to battle St. Francis and Montini for the final SCC Blue championship.
St. Charles East
Coach: Kelly Horan
Last year: 33-6, 15-4 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division (2nd), regional, sectional, supersectional champions and Class 4A state runner-up. Top returners: Tess Hupe, OF, sr.; Kate Peterburs, 1B, sr., Alex Latoria, 3B, jr.; Sarah Collalti, OF, sr.; Katie Kolb, OF, so.; Olivia Cheatham, SS/2B, jr.; Haley Beno, P, sr.; Kelly Rinker, SS/2B, so.; Mackenzie Lofgren, U/DH, sr.; Mackenzie Meadows, C, sr.
Key newcomers: Jordan Heiber, OF, fr.; Rylee Stout, C, fr.; Molly McGovern, OF, jr.
Outlook: The Saints are coming off a dream season, one that ended with them bringing home the state's second-place trophy in June. It speaks to what a high level of softball is played in this area that the Saints got second in the state while not even winning conference -- that honor went to St. Charles North. The Saints bring back the core of their state team looking for not only another long postseason run but also the UEC River title. "It's a great time to be a Saint," Horan said. "After last year's finish there is no shortage of excitement. The kids are excited and working really hard." Horan pointed to health and fitness as the keys to the season. "Tess, Alex, Olivia, Katie, Mackenzie Lofgren came into the season in their best shape," Horan said. "Even the two freshmen are in peak physical shape. The 10 returners will have a shot to win a starting spot. Pushing them will be the freshmen and McGovern. The girls know that they are expected to perform and if they do it will be tough to break the starting lineup but if they can't we have some kids that can win a spot in the lineup." Seven starters return, all who delivered plenty of key plays in last year's run. Hupe hit .356 with 20 steals, Peterburs tore the cover off the ball at .500 with 19 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs and 32 RBI, Latoria blasted 10 home runs and hit .362, Collalti batted .438 with 15 steals, Kolb batted .351 as a freshman with 20 steals and Cheatham started at second and hit .318. On top of all that offense Beno also returns after going 23-6 with a 2.31 ERA. About the only negative is Peterburs is starting the year banged up and Horan said she won't play until she can run at 100 percent. "As far as the conference goes, St. Charles North is the team to beat," Horan said. "They have been tops in our conference for awhile, they had a surprising exit from the playoffs last year so as far as I am concerned they have all the pressure on them in this area. They are a good team and we will have to play our best to beat them. One thing I guarantee -- we will continue to play fast and loose and have a great time at the ball field everyday."
St. Charles North
Coach: Tom Poulin
Last year: 25-6, 16-2 in Upstate Eight Conference River Division (first). Top returners: Sabrina Rabin, P/OF, sr.; Abby Howlett, 1B, jr.; Mickey Goetz, SS, sr.; Kaitlyn Waslawski, 2B, jr.
Key newcomers: Jordyn Wolfe, OF, fr.
Outlook: Nine starters are back for a St. Charles North team that had another excellent season last year only to see the season come to a surprise end in the regional final against South Elgin. The Northwestern-bound Rabin, last year's All-Area captain, leads that impressive group of returnees. She went 18-4 with a 1.49 ERA, 121 strikeouts and 18 complete games. At the plate she hit .534 with 35 steals, 47 hits and 34 runs. She's got plenty of talent around her including Abby Howlett, a junior already committed to Northern Illinois who batted .510 with a .698 slugging percentage, a 1.241 OPS, 49 hits, 10 doubles, 39 RBI and 27 runs. Goetz, headed to Olivet Nazerene, batted .333 with 34 hits, 30 runs, 24 RBI and an .869 OPS. Waslawski (.344, 33 hits, 28 RBI, 13 stolen bases) is an ideal No. 2 hitter with 7 strikeouts in 114 plate appearances. "It is great to have the entire team back," Poulin said. "They are very talented, dedicated to their craft and ultra competitive. We have multiple leaders and overall great people making up this team. It seems like they are more hungry for success than I have ever seen them. We have talked about taking the season one game at a time, but our team goals would be to win the conference and put ourselves in position to contend for a state title. First, we need to accomplish a regional title. One game at a time is the only way we can prepare for the tourney during the season, so we will focus daily on that. Our experience and familiarity with each other could be our strengths. I would also include our team speed as a strength. We need depth in the circle and have people who are more than capable that need to take advantage of their opportunities. We also need our outfield, defensively, to develop into one of our strengths. We have a lot of depth, which means a lot of options, at every position. If we maintain a team-first attitude and do whatever the team needs us all to do in order to be successful, then this could be a very memorable season." Having taken second in state three years ago and then watching UEC rivals Bartlett and St. Charles East follow suit, Poulin knows as well as anyone what the area is capable of. "I think our conference will, once again, be one of the strongest in the state at the top," Poulin said. "This area has been represented downstate the last few years and that tells you how about the quality of softball we have. We expect to compete for the conference championship with hopes that we can give ourselves the opportunity to defend it again."
Coach: Randy Haslett
Last year: 9-19, 4-10 in the DuPage Valley Conference (fifth). Top returners: Kaylee Hayton, P, sr.; Taylor Podschweit, SS, jr.; Kendall Podschweit, OF/INF, jr.; Gianna Drager, OF, sr.; Maggie Bailey, 1B/3B, sr.; Cara Jimenez, 3B/1B, so.; Tori Hunger, 2B, jr.
Key newcomers: Hannah Beatus P/OF, fr.; Carley Frauenhoff, C, so.; Jess Wayzer, C/OF, jr.; Corey McCreedy IF/OF.
Outlook: The Blackhawks enter their last season of DuPage Valley Conference play with seven experienced players who should make it a good finale. "The DVC is always tough," Haslett said. "Naperville Central will probably be the team to beat. I want our team to compete and have a chance to win every conference game. We would love to finish in the top half of the conference." Haslett is counting on his veterans to get them there. Hayton and Bailey both were honorable mention all-area selections last spring. "We have a lot of veterans returning this year and I think their experience will be a big benefit," Haslett said. "We have a lot of good hitters, who with a little more consistency this year, should be able to put some runs on the board." Hayton has pitched the past two years for West giving the Blackhawks an experience edge at a key position. "Having Kaylee on the mound for a third year should be a big advantage for us," Haslett said. "Defensively we should be able to hold our own as well. My goal is to get back over .500 this year, and finish in the top half of the DVC. We're on the verge of breaking through and hopefully this is the year we do it."