Rachel Becker LakesThe junior shortstop flirted with a .500 batting average last spring. She snatched it this season. The lefty leadoff hitter hit .540 (up 45 points from a season ago), while also socking 4 homers, driving in 31 runs and scoring 48. Verbally committed to Purdue University, she struck out only twice in a repeat all-area campaign. "Solid at shortstop and nice leadoff hitter for us," coach Bill Hamill said. Becker was even better in her third season on varsity. "She became more selective," Hamill said. "Last year she had difficulty with outside pitches. She wouldn't take them to left field. This year she became more disciplined. Yeah, (hitting to the opposite field) isn't glorious, but if they're going to throw it out there, you got to dump it out there. She became much better at doing that." She was named All-Northern Lake County Conference First Team.
Erin Bengston Grant"Benger" banged the softball. Every single softball. Well, almost every single softball. The 5-foot-1 junior slugger put together the most prolific season in the history of Grant's program, smashing a Lake County-record 22 home runs, driving in 70 runs and batting .596 with .664 on-base and 1.431 slugging percentages (2.095 OPS). She also had 11 doubles and 7 triples, and struck out only once in 134 plate appearances, helping the Bulldogs win 25 games. "Erin is absolutely electric as a softball player," coach Chris Van Alstine said of his three-time all-conference and two-time all-area player. "She holds nothing back when she swings, but the fact that she can control that much power the way she does is impressive." The captain of the Daily Herald Lake County all-area team, she also made a seamless switch from catcher to third base this season. She made a verbal commitment this spring to the College of the Holy Cross.
Delaney Bowen Vernon HillsOnly a concussion slowed down the speedy sophomore shortstop. The injury caused her to miss about two weeks of the season, but once she returned to the field, she resumed doing what she does. That's hit, field and speed around the bases. A repeat all-area selection, she posted a .449 batting average with 8 doubles, 5 triples, 4 homers and 35 RBI. She also posted a .522 on-base percentage and stole 11 bases. "She did a nice job offensively," coach Jan Pauly said. "She showed some power in key situations with runners on. She is always a threat on the bases with her speed." Bowen is verbally committed to Purdue University.
Caitlyn Britton WarrenIf her skill to hit the softball and pitch it aren't impressive enough, there's her ability to field her position. In the Blue Devils' Class 4A supersectional game against Barrington, the sophomore right-hander cleanly fielded a groundball and fired to first base for an out seven times. "She is, plain and simple, an athlete," coach Jenna Charbonneau said. Briton played mainly outfield and some infield as a freshman on varsity. As the Blue Devils' ace this spring, she won 22 games and posted a 2.36 ERA. Then there was what she did at the plate. Her solo shot against Barrington was her 16th home run of the season (one off the school record) and 78th RBI, a Lake County record. She registered a .505 batting average and also pounded 17 doubles. She is verbally committed to Central Michigan University. "That kid is a super-hard worker," Charbonneau said. "If I say be out there at 8 (a.m.), she's out there by 7:30 (a. m.) working. She puts in a lot of hard work in the off-season. She's stronger, she's faster, and I think that really showed (in the circle) and offensively this year."
Grace Brown Grayslake NorthHer batting average took a dip this season -- to .439. "I certainly wouldn't consider it a sophomore slump," coach Lea Corcoran said of her third baseman, who hit .506 in an all-area campaign as a freshman last year. One of the best power hitters in the county, Brown hit a school-record 10 homers (three more than last year and one more than Kristina Gandy's then-school mark of 9 hit in 2012) and drove in 42 runs (16 more than last year). Brown led the Knights in almost every offensive category for the second year in a row. She had more extra-base hits (23, which also included 13 doubles) than singles. Brown, who had 43 hits, also walked 11 times and got hit by a pitch seven times. "She's got a fantastic eye at the plate and is willing to get on base any way she can," Corcoran said. "She rarely swings at bad pitches and never more than once. ... She's been an exceptional player for us in her first two seasons. She can flat-out hit. And she's working to improve all aspects of her game every day. She's already a tough out, but she's going to be really scary over the next two years."
Molly Dietz LakesAn all-area player as a freshman, Dietz didn't have the same season last year. Coach Bill Hamill called her "average," only because her heavy involvement in the high school play kept her away from the softball field at times. "She missed a lot of time," Hamill said. The 2017 version of Dietz resembled the 2015 version -- well-above average. The lefty-hitting junior, who patrolled first base for the third varsity season, hit .433 with 18 extra-base hits, including 15 doubles, and struck out only twice. "Molly is so athletically gifted," Hamill said. "It just comes natural to her. She hits the ball with so much power, and she backloads." Dietz pulled a lot of pitches into right field and dropped hits into center too, but she thrived when pitchers threw her away. "Don't throw Molly outside because Molly will hit with power and chalk the left-field line," Hamill said. "She loves the outside pitch."
Karina Falkstrom Carmel CatholicThe senior partnered with Marie Kapelevich to win 3 doubles matches in the state tennis tournament last fall. Falkstrom showed off her sweet swing on softball diamonds again this spring. She led the Corsairs with a .435 batting average and knocked in 37 runs. Her 47 hits included 8 doubles and 7 homers. A three-year varsity player, she started at first base last season in helping the Corsairs place fourth in the state in Class 3A. The team captain started this year at catcher before moving back to first. "She works hard," coach Shane Schueneman said. "She's a quiet kid but just does what she's supposed to do, plays hard and is very reliable, and she has a strong arm." Falkstrom will continue her softball career at Pitzer College in California.
Mic Faunce StevensonThere was "The Mick." And then there was Stevenson softball's "Mic" the last two years. She hit for average, hit for power and threw well, and while she might not be Mantle-esque (Who is?), she plays ball at a high level. In her second season with the Patriots, after playing two varsity seasons for Marian Central, the senior catcher batted .530 with a school-record 61 hits, which included 8 doubles and 6 homers. She also scored a school-record 53 runs, knocked in 40 and posted a 615 on-base percentage. "Mic also did a great job catching," coach Perry Wilhelm said. "Great with balls in the dirt, great arm that kept runners close, and she called a great game."
Jill Foote AntiochThe recipient of many high-fives during her four varsity seasons, the senior had an extraordinary "high-five" day against Grant in early April. Foote saw five pitches in 5 plate appearances and did damage each time, going 5-for-5 with 2 homers, as the Sequoits rallied for a walk-off win. "She stepped it up when we needed her to (this season)," coach Anthony Rocco said of his third baseman/leadoff hitter, who signed with the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay before the season. "You can see why she's a D-I player. She handles the better pitching a lot better. She did a good job of letting the rest of our lineup know what was coming." An all-area player as a sophomore as well, Foote had a team-high 52 hits. She batted .452 with 9 doubles, 5 triples, 6 homers and 49 runs scored. She stole 22 bases in 22 attempts, hiking her career total to 82 stolen bases. She was 40-for-40 the last two years. "Her baserunning was excellent," Rocco said. "You didn't have to worry about her getting thrown out so you could take more risks with her." She was named All-Northern Lake County Conference First Team.
Piper Foote AntiochHow intelligent is the sophomore? She figured out how to get on base 25 times without swinging the bat. She led the Sequoits in both getting hit by a pitch (13 times) and drawing a base on balls (12 times). "She's a super-intelligent kid," coach Anthony Rocco said of his two-year starting center fielder. "She's probably the smartest kid in the program. From a coaching standpoint, she understands why we do certain things." In her second varsity season, Foote hiked her batting average nearly 100 points. She finished with a .458 batting average (.366 last year) with her 38 hits including 5 doubles and 6 homers. She also had 26 stolen bases in 26 attempts, knocked in 25 runs and boasted a 583 on-base percentage. "She'd get on base somehow," Rocco said. "She could get down in a count, but you wouldn't have to worry about her with 2 strikes because she could get herself out of it."
Jennifer Giesey Carmel CatholicCarmel graduated a stellar senior class last year that ended its season downstate (fourth place in Class 3A). The Corsairs still won 20 games this season thanks, in part, to their three-year varsity shortstop, who was once again a steady presence both in the field and at the plate. "She was our defensive player of the year," coach Shane Schueneman said of the two-time all-area selection. A team captain who transferred from Marian Central after her freshman year, Giesey posted a .410 batting average and drove in 37 runs. Her 43 hits included 8 doubles, 2 triples and 5 homers. She will continue her softball career at Winona State University.
Kaitlyn Griffin MundeleinA torn ACL interrupted her season a year ago. If there was any question whether she could bounce back and return to her old form this season, she answered it resoundingly. The junior first baseman led the Mustangs with 41 hits, posting a .380 batting average with 8 doubles and 20 RBI. She showed excellent command of the strike zone, getting hit by a pitch seven times and striking out only seven times.
Amanda Guercio Lake ZurichThe senior catcher strained her lower back late in the season -- she has scoliosis, coach Amanda Rodriguez noted -- and that likely cost her a chance at a 20-homer season. Guercio sat out a week. She finished the season with a still-staggering 18 home runs (school record) and equally impressive .614 batting average A four-time all-area selection, she also had 10 doubles, 1 triple, 48 RBI, 43 runs scored and 9 stolen bases (9 attempts). She walked 18 times, too, giving her a .692 on-base percentage. "Amanda Guercio has been a leader on our team the past three years," Rodriguez said. "Being a four-year varsity player, she has given a lot to our program. Not only is she someone for the younger players to look up to on the field, she also fills that role off the field. Amanda is the player who wants to be put in the pressure situation because she thrives in those situations. Since midway through her freshman year, I have given Amanda control of the pitch-calling. Even when she was out for a week, she called the pitches when Elizabeth (Chialdikas) was behind the plate. Amanda has been with me since Day 1 of me being the head coach, and it is going to be weird not seeing her every day. She has taught so much to the younger players and to me." Signed with Indiana State University, Guercio finished her Bears career with a school-record 45 homers.
Brooke Heraty Grayslake CentralHalfway through the season, Rams assistant coach Meghan Lynn pointed out to head coach Jason Schaal that Heraty's on-base percentage was higher than .600. So Schaal heeded Lynn's advice and moved the junior veteran to the leadoff spot in the batting order. "It really helped," Schaal said. Heraty not only excelled at the plate but behind it as well. She and her batterymate, senior ace Reagen Radke, were constantly on the same page. No wonder the Rams won 26 games and advanced to the Class 3A Antioch sectional final. "I've never seen a player elevate her game to another level as she did this year," Schaal said of Heraty. "Our pitcher-catcher combo, they work together. Brooke's catching lessons, Reagen goes. Reagen's pitching lessons, Brooke goes." The lefty-hitting Heraty batted .398 (41 hits) with a .500 slugging percentage. She was named All-Northern Lake County Conference First Team.
Hannah Heraty LibertyvilleThe oldest of five, Libertyville's No. 5 left quite an act to follow for her siblings -- and other future Wildcats. An all-area selection for the third year in a row, Heraty went 25-6 in the circle her senior season. She headed into the sectional final with a 2.06 ERA and 172 strikeouts (just 32 walks) in 183⅓ innings. At the plate, her numbers included a school-record 55 RBI, .455 batting average, 11 doubles, 1 triple, 11 homers, 8 stolen bases and 43 runs scored. "Hannah did really well playing both sides of the ball," coach Elissa Wisniewski said. "She did a great job scoring the top of our lineup. She finished her career very strongly." Signed with the University of Dayton, Heraty finished her Wildcats career with 27 home runs and 70 pitching victories.
Emily Hudgins WarrenAn all-area center fielder as a sophomore, she suffered a labrum tear in the Blue Devils' first game of last season and was done for the year. Hudgins was back at full-strength this season and was back to her old self. She patrolled shortstop and served as the Blue Devils' lefty-hitting leadoff batter. "She came back like nothing happened," coach Jenna Charbonneau said. Signed with Penn State University, Hudgins took a .579 batting average into the Class 4A Barrington supersectional. She stole 32 bases in 32 attempts and hit over .600 in conference play for the North Suburban champs. "Her speed kills," Charbonneau said. "We're definitely going to miss her at the top of the lineup and up the middle (defensively) with that speed. She catches flyballs, those little bloopers that normally drop in."
Lyndsey Lyon LibertyvilleHear her roar. Lyon mauled the softball, hitting .471 with 11 homers, 8 doubles and 49 RBI. The slick-fielding senior first baseman would have ended the season with a school-record RBI total had teammate Hannah Heraty not knocked in 55. "Lyndsey was rock-solid at first base and did a great job picking up the defense with any off-target throws," coach Elissa Wisniewski said of her three-year varsity player and two-time all-conference selection. "She also did a great job supplying power and RBIs in the middle of our order -- and she was extremely versatile. She executed multiple suicides bunts and bunts for hits, which kept defenses on their toes. She also did a great job keeping things light and balanced."
Emma Oriatti StevensonA varsity player since her freshman year, Oriatti busted out the "O" big-time this spring. The second baseman was voted team MVP after hitting .509 (57 hits) with 13 doubles, 8 homers, 47 RBI and 48 runs scored. She also drew 17 walks, hiking her on-base percentage to .640. Coach Perry Wilhelm called Oriatti a "tough out" and lauded her "approach with two strikes and two outs" and her ability to deliver time and time again.
Jenna Pozezinski Grayslake NorthA dislocated hip suffered before the start of her junior season threatened to end her softball career. Fortunately for the Knights, Pozezinski was determined to fight through it. The three-year varsity player earned all-area honors for the second year in a row, batting .480 as a senior (.431 junior year) and serving as the team's No. 1 pitcher. Her 49 hits included 10 doubles and 4 homers. She drove in 31 runs and threw 72 innings in the circle. "Jenna has been the (No.) 4 hitter for our team since she was a sophomore," coach Lea Corcoran said. "She just produces every year at the plate. ... She hits more rope line drives than anyone on our team. When she connects, the ball gets going in a hurry. She's overcome a lot of adversity and still managed to compete at a very high level. She just shows up every year ready to work hard and performs season after season. We're going to miss her bat in the lineup next year." Pozezinski will play softball at Concordia University Wisconsin in the fall.
Jessica Puccinelli Lake ZurichBears coach Amanda Rodriguez never had to worry about Puccinelli, who provided a consistent effort in center field, at the plate and off the field. The senior produced at a high level, too. She hit .439 this season with 19 doubles, 7 homers, 42 RBI and 43 runs scored. She is a repeat all-area selection and three-year starter. "Jessica Puccinelli is the player that you don't question," Rodriguez said. "When a ball is hit to her in the air, I'm not worried if she is going to catch it, and it's been that way for the past three years. And if it's on the ground, she will come up firing and make any play close. She has been my outfield leader for the past three years, and she is my mental game motivation. Jessica thrives about learning the mental game and being mentally prepared. She always wants to know more on how to better herself and her teammates. She is a team player that has helped continue the level of excellence expected in our program. She has prepared the younger outfielders to be ready to fill her role, and I'm excited to see what they do next year because of her influence." Puccinelli will continue her softball career at the University of Dubuque.
Franny Quenan LibertyvilleFranky, Fran can -- fill any role, fire up her team with one swing, feather a throw for a forceout. The junior shortstop and three-year varsity player delivered all season for the 29-game winners. She headed into the sectional final against Warren with a .488 batting average 11 extra-base hits (9 doubles) and 23 RBI. Her lone home run was a grand slam. She also won four games in the circle. "Fran did a solid job up the middle for us this year and really came on strong offensively toward the end," coach Elissa Wisniewski said. "Fran is an all-around team player and willing to play anywhere we need her to to succeed. She was the soul of our team."
Reagen Radke Grayslake CentralRams coach Jason Schaal has worked with Division I players. So he's seen top talent up-close. "I've had the opportunity to coach special players, and Reagen Radke is one of those," Schaal said. In four seasons on varsity, the last three as the Rams' ace, Radke was a part of 85 wins. "Freshman year, it was 'deer in headlights -- whoa,' " Schaal said. "But we had great leaders, and Reagen learned from them. Going into this year, she wanted to recapture that 2014 and what those seniors did for her, and she was awesome. All fall during open fields and open workouts, all those things, she was always being a leader. Just a great kid." Radke went 19-8 in the circle with a 1.84 ERA, striking out 225 batters (36 walks) in 170 innings. She also batted .348 for the Class 3A regional champs. A repeat all-area and three-time all-conference selection, she will pitch for Columbia College in Missouri. She was named All-Northern Lake County Conference First Team.
Kenzie Rother LibertyvilleAn achy kneecap slowed her last year. This year, with her surgically repaired knee healthy, she capped a terrific senior campaign with a school-record 35 stolen bases. The center fielder/lefty-hitting leadoff batter headed into the Wildcats' sectional final against Warren with a .500 batting average, 47 runs scored and 17 walks. "She was the leader and spark at the top of the lineup we needed," coach Elissa Wisniewski said of the four-year varsity starter. "With her speed, we were able to do a lot of things offensively. She put a lot of pressure on the defense because she was always a steal threat. She was the heart of our team."
Kayla Serio WaucondaThe Bulldogs missed Kayla (Wedl). Fortunately, they still had Kayla (Serio). Serio replaced two-time all-area captain Kayla Wedl (UIC) in the circle this spring and didn't disappoint. The sophomore, who played on varsity last year as well, produced a .409 batting average (36 hits), .527 on-base percentage and 18 RBI from the leadoff spot. She drew 20 walks and struck out only three times. Pitching-wise, the righty had 100 strikeouts and only 33 walks in 117 innings. When she wasn't pitching, she was playing a middle-infield spot. "Kayla Serio plays the game right," coach Tim Rennels said. "Her incredible walk-to-strikeout ratio complemented her team-leading batting average. ... Her hustle and work ethic will make her a success in her upperclassman seasons."
Ashley Stephens AntiochNo matter where coach Anthony Rocco played her during her four-year varsity career, the senior produced, particularly at the plate. Stephens served as the Sequoits' designated player and right fielder her freshman year. She moved to second base sophomore season, patrolled shortstop last spring and this year played both second and short. "She started off a little rough in the beginning of the year just because she didn't play in the fall," said Rocco, noting Stephens doesn't plan to play college softball. "When she got her swing, she was back to normal. I think she did even a better job. She worked on her high pitches." Stephens was an impact player as a freshman and made the all-area team the last three years. This season she hit .456 (47 hits) with 11 doubles, 2 homers, 36 RBI and 30 runs scored.
Claire Swedberg WarrenThe Blue Devils are graduating their Penn State-bound, line-drive-hitting, sure-handed, speedy middle infielder/left-handed bat. At least they'll bring back Swedberg. In the junior second baseman/shortstop, the Blue Devils have a player with similar skills of Emily Hudgins, who signed with Penn State University last winter. "Happy to have her back (next year) with that speed," coach Jenna Charbonneau said of Swedberg. "She'll probably take (Emily's) spot in the leadoff spot." Swedberg, who's verbally committed to Penn State, took a .475 batting average into the Class 4A Barrington supersectional. She stole her 26th base of the season (26 attempts) in the game and added an infield single. A second-year starter, she also hit 4 homers. "She had a great year up the middle," Charbonneau said. "She gets to the balls up the middle and just fires them."
Kelsey Ulrich LakesThe selfless attitude of the talented sophomore might have never been more apparent than when she had to miss the start of the Eagles' home game against Grayslake North because of her uncle's funeral. Determined so show up, even if it meant in the middle innings just to support her teammates from the bench, she got into the game late and scoring the winning run in the bottom of the seventh. She got spiked on her hand in the process but smiled through the pain. "Kelsey never asks what's in it for her," coach Bill Hamill said. "She does what's best for the team." That included moving from second base to left field late in the season because Hamill wanted to shore up his outfield defense. In her second varsity season, the speedy Ulrich hit .429 with 1 homer, 5 doubles, 3 triples, 13 stolen bases, 30 RBI, 30 runs scored and just 4 strikeouts. She was named All-Northern Lake County Conference First Team. "What I like about Kelsey is Kelsey hustles for everything," Hamill said. "She never questions anything. She's a constant student of the game."
Calista Warmowski GrantThe speedy sophomore shined defensively with her range and arm in center field on the varsity last season. Moving to shortstop this spring showcased her skills even more. Equal parts fearless and athletic, she constantly got a glove on balls in the hole and up the middle, often getting her uniform dirty in the process. At the plate, she hit .385 with her 45 hits including 16 doubles, 4 triples and 3 home runs. She also knocked in 26 runs, scored 45 and stole 16 bases in earning all-area honors for the second year in a row. "Calista played an amazing shortstop," coach Chris Van Alstine said. "I saw her make plays that I have never seen athletes make. She still had a solid year offensively, but her defense made her stand out."
Player School Yr. Pos.
Rachel Becker Lakes Jr. SS
*Erin Bengston Grant Jr. 3B
Delaney Bowen Vernon Hills So. SS
Caitlyn Britton Warren So. P
Grace Brown Grayslake North So. 3B
Molly Dietz Lakes Jr. 1B
Karina Falkstrom Carmel Catholic Sr. 1B/C
Mic Faunce Stevenson Sr. C/SS
Jill Foote Antioch Sr. 3B
Piper Foote Antioch So. CF
Jennifer Giesey Carmel Catholic Sr. SS
Kaitlyn Griffin Mundelein Jr. 1B
Amanda Guercio Lake Zurich Sr. C
Brooke Heraty Grayslake Central Jr. C
Hannah Heraty Libertyville Sr. P
Emily Hudgins Warren Sr. SS/OF
Lyndsey Lyon Libertyville Sr. 1B
Emma Oriatti Stevenson Sr. 2B
Jenna Pozezinski Grayslake North Sr. P
Jessica Puccinelli Lake Zurich Sr. CF
Franny Quenan Libertyville Jr. SS
Reagen Radke Grayslake Central Sr. P
Kenzie Rother Libertyville Sr. CF
Kayla Serio Wauconda So. P/2B
Ashley Stephens Antioch Sr. 2B/SS
Claire Swedberg Warren Jr. 2B/SS
Kelsey Ulrich Lakes So. 2B/LF
Calista Warmowski Grant So. SS
* -- all-area captain
Honorable mentionStephanie Bonaguidi (Antioch Sr. P), Kira Buckner (Mundelein Fr. 3B), Mallory Carver (Wauconda Sr. 3B), Elizabeth Chialdikas (Lake Zurich Fr. 3B), Meghan Ehemann (Mundelein Sr. SS), Carlie Gaylord (Antioch Sr. C), Sarah Finkel (Warren Sr. 3B), Tatiana Guletsky (Vernon Hills Jr. 1B), Emily Haley (Carmel Catholic Jr. CF), Samantha Hilldale (Libertyville Sr. 2B), Sarah Hoyer (Libertyville Jr. C), Elisa Koshy (Grayslake Central So. 1B), Alana Labaschin (Stevenson Sr. OF), Megan Lawrence (Antioch So. LF), Avery Malicki (Antioch So. 1B), Megan Mitchell (Grant So. 1B), Kayla Nommensen (Warren So. 1B), Georgia Ohren (Lakes Jr. CF), Alyssa Pauly (Stevenson Sr. 3B), Vera Pflugradt (Stevenson Sr. CF), Sydney Schuda (Carmel Catholic So. P/LF), Morgan Smigielski (Grayslake Central Jr. 2B), Faith Standerski (Grayslake North Fr. SS), Jordan Swiatkowski (Carmel Catholic So. 3B), Sydney Verastegui (Round Lake So. IF), Marla Walinski (Carmel Catholic So. 2B/P), Jordyn West (Mundelein Sr. CF)
Selections and profiles by Joe Aguilar