Softball: Scouting Lake County
NORTH SUBURBAN PRAIRIEANTIOCH
Coach: Anthony Rocco (fifth season)
Last season: 26-10, 10-2 in NSC Prairie
Key losses: SS Jessica Pedersen, CF Hannah Skoog, LF Taylor Schiltz, C Jessica Tyrell (Rock Valley)
Returning players: Jr. 3B/OF Jill Foote, Jr. SS/2B/OF Ashley Stephens, Jr. 2B/SS/3B Annie Wagner, Jr. P/1B/OF Stephanie Bonaguidi, Jr. P/OF Hannah Cook, Jr. OF/1B Jacklyn Geraty, Jr. C/1B/3B Carlie Gaylord, So. C/3B Deighton Butenschoen
Newcomers: So. 1B/P/OF Katherine Sorenson, So. OF/2B Kaylee Schreiner, Fr. OF Piper Foote, Fr. OF Callie Tubbs
Season outlook: With no seniors, the Sequoits are in no rush necessarily to "win now," though they should triumph a lot again this spring. "It gives us a nice two-year window," said coach Anthony Rocco, whose Sequoits had no juniors on last year's squad "Wauconda is still the team to beat in the (NSC Prairie) and in the playoffs. They're the roadblock you got to get through." Last season, Antioch split with Wauconda during the regular season, winning 6-4 and losing 1-0, before falling to the Bulldogs 2-0 in the state tournament. Antioch returns a strong junior group, led by veteran infielders Jill Foote (.418 BA, 16 extra-base hits, 22 SB last season) and Ashley Stephens (.451 BA, 19 extra-base hits), both of whom earned all-area and all-conference honors as sophomores. Foote has been the varsity's third baseman the last two years. Stephens moves from second base to shortstop to replace the graduated Jessica Pedersen. Junior Annie Wagner (.400 BA, honorable mention all-NSC) moves from right field to second base. Wagner's position move, along with the graduation of Hannah Skoog and Taylor Schiltz, means the Sequoits will have an entirely new starting outfield. The Sequoits return their 1-2 punch in the circle in junior right-handers Stephanie Bonaguidi and Hannah Cook, both of whom have thrown varsity innings since their freshman year. Bonaguidi (13-8, 3.20 ERA) and Cook (11-1, 3 saves, 0.97 ERA) pitched 117 and 87 innings, respectively, last season. Bonaguidi is the harder-throwing of the two. Sophomore lefty Katherine Sorenson will also pitch. Junior Carlie Gaylord and sophomore Deighton Butenschoen will split duties behind the plate. "We have four of our five best bats back from last year, statistically," Rocco said of Foote, Stephens, Wagner and junior outfielder/first baseman Jacklyn Geraty (.404 BA). "The big question for us will be filling the outfield spots and first base, and who's going to be out (No.) 2 hitter."
Coach: Chris Van Alstine (first season)
Last season: 9-22, 5-7 in NSC Prairie
Key losses: OF Jenna Wilson, OF Sydney Dawson
Returning players: Sr. SS Kenzi Sancken, Jr. 3B/2B Beka Wold, Sr. P Hannah McCall, So. C Erin Bengsten, P Sidney Gitzel, So. 2B Maddie Nourigate, Jr. OF Keyana Linbo, Sr. IF Brianna Burgeson, Sr. OF Marissa Abernathy, Sr. 1B Paige Auckland
Newcomers: Fr. IF/OF Calista Warmowski, Fr. 1B Megan Mitchell, Jr. OF Taylor Adkins, Jr. OF Lexi Rogalevich
Season outlook: The new pitching machine was scheduled to arrive last week. "The girls are all jacked about hitting off it," Chris Van Alstine said. As the Bulldogs' first-year head coach, Van Alstine, a former longtime assistant who replaces Mike Dolezal, has much more to be excited about. The Bulldogs return seven starters, including Northern Iowa-bound shortstop Kenzi Sancken, who's a two-time all-conference selection and started for the Bulldogs' 2013 team that won the NSC championship. "Kenzi is fantastic to coach," Van Alstine said. "She's got that D-I ride, but she hasn't pumped the brakes at all. She absorbs everything we tell her, and she just tries to get better." The returning players also include catcher Erin Bengsten, a powerful hitter who earned all-conference honors as a freshman last year. "She swings so hard, but it's such a well-formed swing," Van Alstine said. "She doesn't hold anything back." Senior Hannah McCall returns in the circle. She was the team's first-year ace last season. "She's a really smart kid," Van Alstine said. "She works at everything she does." Junior infielder Beka Wold was an honorable mention all-NSC choice last year and has been starting since her freshman year. Van Alstine has promoted freshmen Calista Warmowski and Megan Mitchell. Warmowski could start in either the infield or outfield. "I can't hit any groundballs past her," Van Alstine said. The coach calls Mitchell, a volleyball player, "tremendously athletic." Van Alstine has loaded his roster with athletes, which should translate into an aggressive team. "I was talking to Mike about how athletic we are," Van Alstine said of Dolezal, who's serving as an assistant coach. "We've been doing conditioning since the end of the season last year. ... We're fast. I tell them to do their job. 'Whatever job I give you, focus on your responsibility and no one else's. That's in the classroom. That's in the hallways. And when you're with us, you're with us.' If we do that, we're going to be tremendously successful."
Coach: Bill Hamill (eighth season)
Last season: 23-13, 8-4 in NSC Prairie
Key players lost: 3B Cassidy Schaar (Iowa Central)
Returning players: Sr. P/1B Ally Perdue, Sr. OF Ashley Horner, Jr. C Karlie Rotunno, Jr. 2B Jen Reed, So. SS Rachel Becker, So. 1B/OF Molly Dietz, So. OF Georgia Ohren, Jr. 1B/OF Melanie Grupka
Newcomers: Fr. 3B/C Camryn Jones, Fr. OF Kelsey Ulrich, Jr. P/OF Allison Gottelt
Season outlook: On back-to-back days last week, coach Bill Hamill had his team practice outdoors for two hours. His players were surprised to be dismissed early. Said Hamill: "They were like, 'Wow, Coach, you're letting us go before 5:30, 6 o'clock?' I told them, 'I had a list of stuff that needed to be done today. If you get done what I need to get done, we don't have to be here three hours.' " That sounds like a veteran team, and that's what Hamill has this season. The Eagles return seven starters and eight players overall. "They're a good-listening team," Hamill said. "They do what they're asked to do. No hesitation with it." The returning talent includes senior pitcher Ally Perdue, who's coming off an all-conference campaign and has been pitching on varsity since her freshman year. "Ally's working hard," Hamill said. "We'll go as far as she goes." As freshmen last year, shortstop Rachel Becker and first baseman Molly Dietz (10 HR, 43 RBI, .480 BA) were all-conference selections. The lefty-hitting Dietz was all-area, as well. Jen Reed (second base) and Karlie Rotunno (catcher) earned honorable mention all-NSC honors as sophomores. Hamill's outfield returns sophomore Georgia Ohren and senior Ashley Horner in center and right, respectively. Horner will be playing her fourth season on varsity. The Eagles don't open until they make their annual trip to Orlando, Fla., over spring break. "They're a good group of girls," Hamill said.
Coach: Patrick DeDina (second season)
Last season: 12-21, 2-10 in NSC Prairie
Key players lost: P Ashley Wegner, 1B/P Hayley Steinberg, C Kylie Bart, 3B Amanda Olson, 2B Mike Crisantos, SS Raven Nicoline
Returning players: Sr. OF/C Katie Bleim, Jr. P Leighlani Yazzie
Newcomers: Sr. OF Caitlin Caballero, Jr. IF/OF Libby Larson, Jr. OF/IF Gina Placencio, Jr. OF Leslie Vargas, Jr. IF/OF Veronica Vasquez, Jr. IF/OF Andrea Escobar, So. P Charla Ryan, So. OF Alexis Cordova, So. IF/OF Taylor Hay, So. IF/OF Brianna Mcginney, So. IF/OF Hailey Swieton, So. OF Kailey Greenwood, So. IF/OF Najelly Salgado
Season outlook: The Panthers posted double-digit wins last season, then graduated double digits. Gone are 11 players, leaving this year's squad exceptionally young. The Panthers have only two returning players in Katie Bleim, who will move from outfield to catcher, and junior pitcher Leighlani Yazzie, who backed up the graduated Ashley Wegner last season. Bleim is one of only two seniors, with the other being Caitlin Caballero, who did not play softball last season. Sophomore Charla Ryan also pitches. Ryan had the game-winning hit in her varsity debut, as the Panthers beat Grayslake North in a state tournament play-in game last May. "We are looking at this season as a year to grow," coach Patrick DeDina said. "After graduating 11 seniors last year, we are looking for younger athletes to step up. We will be a team comprised mostly of sophomores and juniors. For most of these ladies, it will be their first time at the varsity level." DeDina reported that nearly 20 freshmen came out. At least at the start of the season, he plans to keep all of them on the JV team. "What I like about the (varsity) team is the players are very excited," DeDina said. "They're a young group. I think they're going to make some mistakes early in the season, but I'm hoping that as they get a little more experience, things will start coming around for them."
Coach: Jan Pauly (second season)
Last season: 11-20, 6-6 in NSC Prairie
Key losses: RF Izzy Cirone, P Carly Stern (not playing)
Returning players: Sr. SS/2B Dana Meline, Sr. 1B/CF/P Danielle Comitor, Sr. 2B/1B/OF Sami Saliba, Sr. C Rose Ferolo, Jr. OF Anna Cirone, Jr. 3B/C Sara Lenzi, Jr. OF Jessica Salerno, So. IF/C/OF Nicole Pieper, So. 1B Tatiana Guletsky, So. OF Sammi Hansen
Newcomers: Jr. P Jenna Joyce, Fr. 2B/SS Delaney Bowen, Fr. P/1B Mackenzie Mahler
Season outlook: The Cougars won only 11 games last season but came oh-so close to a 12th ... and it would have been an absolute stunner. Wauconda needed extra innings to edge the upset-minded Cougars in a Class 3A regional final. That one game showed the potential of the Cougars, who have essentially the same crew back this season. "I think it was good for the girls to see what they could potentially accomplish," second-year coach Jan Pauly said. "Coming in as a new coaches last season, it was hard. Different regime, different ways of doing things, different mentality. I think the players made some adjustments, and they got on board. I think that (regional final against Wauconda) was a great day for us as a program." Among the few losses heading into this season is senior Carly Stern, who would have been pitching on varsity for a third-straight season. She battled injury last spring, Pauly said, and did not come out this year. Four other seniors are back, and all are veterans. Middle-infielder Dana Meline has been starting on varsity since her freshman year and earned all-area honors for the second year in a row after hitting .509 (56 hits) last season. Senior infielder Sami Saliba (.455 BA, 33 RBI) was also all-area. She could start at either second base, first base or in the outfield. Senior Danielle Comitor, who moves from first base to center field, batted .356 with 22 RBI in an all-conference junior campaign. Senior Rose Ferolo is a stabilizing force behind the plate. Comitor also pitched last season and will do so again this year. While Stern did not come out, junior Jenna Joyce did. Joyce did not play the last couple of years. "We look for her to make major contributions toward the middle or end of the season," Pauly said. "She's still coming back from not pitching." Junior left fielder Anna Cirone (honorable mention all-NSC last year) and junior third baseman Sara Lenzi are also back. Speedy junior Jessica Salerno is a slap-hitting outfielder. Sophomores Nicole Pieper, Tatiana Guletsky and Sammi Hansen all played on varsity last spring. Freshman Mackenzie Mahler is also in the pitching mix, while freshman infielder Delaney Bowen is the sister of former Grayslake North star Jordyn Bowen. Pauly likes her team's depth. "We're deeper at the pitching position because we picked up Mackenzie (Mahler), and we're deeper in the infield because we picked up Bowen, who's going to hang real well," Pauly said. "And our freshmen from last year are a year better and a year stronger."
Coach: Tim Rennels (17th season)
Last season: 27-12, 11-1 in NSC Prairie
Key players lost: CF Paige Motley (Rock Valley)
Returning players: Sr. P Kayla Wedl, Sr. C Taylor McCarthy, Sr. 3B Brooke Sefcik, Sr. IF Willow Schanz, Jr. 1B Alex Steffens, Jr. IF Mallory Carver, Jr. OF Hayley Redmann, Jr. IF Hailey Davenport, Jr. OF Sarah Ricci, So. 1B Kelly Weller, Jr. OF Taylor Lambert, So. OF Taylor McCarthy
Newcomers: So. C Annika Giunta, Fr. SS/2B/P Kayla Serio
Season outlook: With his pitching and hitting star set to embark on the final season of her amazing four-year varsity career, Bulldogs coach Tim Rennels knows the time is now. Come June, the Bulldogs could be flipping not only graduation caps skyward but ball caps, as well. "It's graduation time," Rennels said. "We're going to battle." Wedl, who signed with UIC after committing during her junior year, begins her fourth year as the varsity's ace. She was the captain of the 2015 Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team after posting an 0.73 ERA with 381 strikeouts, while batting .517 with 14 homers. She's been an all-area and all-conference player since she was a freshman. "It's been a blur," Rennels said. "You get used to the consistency she brings." The Bulldogs have another college-bound player in slugger Brooke Sefcik (Carthage), who moves back to her natural position, third base, after playing shortstop last season. Sefcik hit 10 homers, batted .394 and had a team-leading 20 walks last season in earning all-area and all-conference honors. Lefty-throwing catcher Taylor McCarthy (.515 BA) missed a month last season with a knee injury but still put together an all-conference campaign for the second year in a row. "It just shows her character," Rennels said of McCarthy. "No one knows how hard she worked to get back on the field for us down the stretch." First baseman Alex Steffens was all-NSC as a sophomore last year, while strong-armed third baseman Mallory Carver earned honorable mention honors. Rennels believes he has another potential star -- another Kayla, no less. Freshman Kayla Serio will likely play in the middle of the infield and, yes, she also pitches. She brings skill, energy and softball smarts. "I got Kayla going out, and Kayla coming in," Rennels joked. "(Serio) will be Wedl's protégé and looks really good (in the circle)." Serio, Hailey Davenport and Willow Schanz are in the mix at shortstop and second base. Another newcomer is sophomore catcher Annika Giunta, who's a transfer from Carmel. Steffens and corner outfielders Hayley Redmann and Sarah Ricci, all juniors, have been contributing on varsity since they were freshmen. Taylor Lambert and Alyssa McCarthy (Taylor's younger sister) are other starting-outfield candidates. In total, the Bulldogs have 12 girls who played on varsity last spring. Wauconda has won back-to-back NSC Prairie titles and has seen its season end in the Class 3A supersectionals each of the last three years. "This team has now been to the championship game," Rennels said. "This team has been within the one play, the one out, the one run of winning big and really leaving their legacy. So they are intrinsically motivated this year."
EAST SUBURBAN CATHOLICCARMEL
Coach: Shane Schueneman (first season)
Last season: 30-8, 15-5 in ESCC
Key players lost: 3B Jenny Behan (James Madison), 1B Sarah Koesser
Returning players: Sr. C Amanda Elert, Jr. SS/P Jen Giesey, Sr. OF Emma Bartz, Sr. 2B/SS Dani DeLozier, Sr. P Claire Petrus, Sr. OF Taylor Ganan, Jr. 1B/OF Karina Falkstrom, Jr. OF Lauren Caffarelli, Sr. 3B/OF Anne Poll, Jr. OF Erin Warzecha
Newcomers: Fr. 3B Jordan Swiatkowski, Fr. 2B Emily Krysa, Fr. OF McKenna Pett, Fr. P Darcey Petrus, Fr. P Sydney Schuda
Season outlook: Even with the graduation of the Corsairs' all-time homer leader, there is plenty of talent. So much so that coach Shane Schueneman is taking essentially two teams (19 players) to Gulf Shores, Ala., where the Corsairs are scheduled to play five games. "We got to make some (roster) decisions when we get back," Schueneman said. A former head coach at Waukegan, Schueneman served eight seasons as an assistant under Jason Raymond, who left to coach girls basketball at St. Viator. Schueneman takes over a team that graduated only two starters in Jenny Behan (school-record 53 home runs in four all-area seasons) and Sarah Koesser (11 HR, 41 RBI in 2015). The returners include three all-conference players in senior catcher Amanda Elert, senior second baseman Dani DeLozier and junior shortstop Jen Giesey, who committed to Winona State following last season. Giesey's dad, Dann, will assist Schueneman after serving as Carmel's baseball coach the last three years. Also back are two other college-bound players in senior outfielder Emma Bartz (Northwestern) and senior pitcher Claire Petrus. In her second varsity season, Bartz hit .378 with 8 homers and 42 RBI last year. "She's the fastest kid on our team, and she's got a lot of power," Schueneman said. "She has a lot of upside." Petrus won 23 games in the circle last season. Elert, who doesn't plan to play college softball, enjoyed a monster 2015 campaign. After missing her sophomore season due to an ACL injury, Elert had 10 homers, 55 RBI and a .516 batting average. DeLozier batted .429 as a junior, her second full season on varsity. Lauren Caffarelli is back to patrol center field. Senior outfielder/third baseman Annie Poll has been on varsity since her freshman year. The talented freshman class includes Jordan Swiatkowski, who could start at third base. "We should be pretty strong,"Schueneman said. "Actually, overall, we're a lot deeper. We have battles everywhere for positions. ... It's the deepest program we've had since I've been there, for sure."
NORTH SUBURBAN LAKELAKE ZURICH
Coach: Amanda Rodriguez (third season)
Last season: 19-19, 6-6 in NSC Lake
Key players lost: SS Brittney Pettinger, P Katie Malek (not playing), 2B Vanessa DiVincenzo (not playing), OF Rachel Dawson
Returning players: Jr. C/3B Amanda Guercio, Jr. CF/C Jessica Puccinelli, Jr. 1B Sarah Schnecker, Sr. SS Melissa Goldberg, So. OF Abby Jokerst, Jr. OF Tara Wilkes
Newcomers: Jr. P/OF Lindsey DeLuga, Jr. OF Emily Hunt, Fr. 2B/SS Megan Croke, So. 3B Mackenzie Brinn, So. Fr. 2B/SS Julia Zaucha, Fr. P/OF Taylor Zelich, Fr. P/3B Stephanie Keefe
Season outlook: A small senior group shrunk even more when two key members of last year's squad did not come out this season. Fortunately for the Bears, their junior group includes some potent bats. Four freshmen could provide a spark as well. "I got a lot of young'uns," coach Amanda Rodriguez said. Her top returning players are all hard-hitting, tall juniors: catcher/third baseman Amanda Guercio, center fielder Jessica Puccinelli and first baseman Sarah Schnecker. Guercio (.457 BA, 23 extra-base hits, 40 RBI, 10 SB last season) verbally committed to Wisconsin-Green Bay during the off-season, and she is a two-time all-area and all-conference selection. Puccinelli (2015 all-conference) and Schnecker are the Bears' Nos. 4 and 5 hitters, respectively. Alas for the Bears, seniors Katie Malek, who was the Bears' No. 1 pitcher last year, and second baseman Vanessa DiVincenzo, who was honorable mention all-NSC, have decided not to play this season. That leaves Melissa Goldberg as the team's lone senior. She moves from third base to shortstop. The freshmen are pitcher/outfielder Taylor Zelich, middle infielders Julia Zaucha and Megan Croke, and pitcher/third baseman Stephanie Keefe. Rodriguez said Zelich is unable to throw until April because of a sore arm, but she is able to hit. In the meantime, junior Lindsey DeLuga and Keefe look to handle the pitching duties. Croke or Zaucha could start at second base. Rodriguez calls Croke a "good slapper" and "fast." Sophomore Abby Jokerst and junior Tara Wilkes, both of whom played varsity last year, are starting corner-outfield candidates. "I'm excited because they're a very talented group of young girls," Rodriguez said. "I just hope that they can learn the ropes of varsity. A couple of the girls have played 16U and 18U, so I'm hoping that they'll feel comfortable on a varsity team."
Coach: Elissa Wisniewski (fifth season)
Last season: 24-12, 7-5 in NSC Lake
Key losses: CF Michaela Mooney (Truman State), 1B Madi Dembinski
Returning players: Sr. 3B/SS/OF Jamie Stevens, Sr. OF/SS/P Jessie Lauret, Jr. P/OF/2B Hannah Heraty, Jr. OF Kenzie Rother, Jr. 2B/OF Sam Hilldale, Jr. C/1B Lyndsey Lyon, So. OF/2B Emily Hilldale, So. IF/P Franny Quenan, So. C/3B Sarah Hoyer
Newcomers: Fr. IF/OF Maggie Evers, Jr. 2B/C/OF Madeleine Hollinger, Jr. OF/SS Allison Flores
Season outlook: What figures to be another successful season for the Wildcats is not off to a good start. Coach Elissa Wisniewski said senior third baseman Jamie Stevens and junior right fielder Kenzie Rother are both nursing knee injuries, which likely will keep them off the field initially. "Their MRIs came back clean," Wisniewski said. "We're waiting for them to get through the (physical therapy) protocol. It should be a couple of weeks." Stevens (.464 BA, 39 RBI, 13 SB last season) is a two-time all-area and three-time all-conference player and has signed with three-time Division III national champion Tufts University. Rother (.443 BA, 9 SB last season) is a stellar defensive right fielder. In Stevens, Rother, senior middle infielder Jessie Lauret and junior pitcher Hannah Heraty, the Wildcats return four all-conference players. Heraty verbally committed to Dayton during the off-season. While she won 19 games and struck out 135 batters last season, Heraty also hit a ton (.466 BA, 9 HR, 46 RBI). Franny Quenan and Lauret also pitch. Quenan was injured most of her freshman year. "She's healthy this year, so we're looking for her to step up," Wisniewski said. Lauret, a three-time all-NSC selection, committed to Purdue before her junior year but will not attend there. Instead, she is pursuing other options, Wisniewski said. The speedy Lauret, who figures to start at either a middle-infield position or in the outfield, hit .412 last season and also posted a 4-0 pitching record. Sarah Hoyer returns behind the plate after starting last season as a freshman. The Hilldale sisters -- Emily (sophomore, outfield/second base) and Sam (junior, second base/outfield) -- both return as well. Wisniewski said freshman Maggie Evers has a "good bat" and is the athletic type that fits the mold of the team. Junior newcomer Allison Flores is a slap hitter. "I think we have a lot of potential," said Wisniewski, whose Wildcats graduated only two players. "I think last year the kids had a ton of potential and a lot of talent, but we just didn't have the experience at the varsity level. So there was that learning curve. We took our lumps a couple of times, not being able to finish off games. I think this year they know what it's about. They understand. So I think this year we'll be able to finish those games off and be able to take that next step."
Coach: Brett Wilhelm (fifth season)
Last season: 27-9, 8-4 in NSC Lake
Key losses: SS Maddie Zazas (Concordia), 3B Maria DeVito (Eastern Illinois), OF Hannah Bulgart (Augustana), C Maggie Mahar
Returning players: Sr. 3B Karlee Busscher, Sr. P/2B/OF Nicole Parney, Jr. OF Jordyn West, Sr. SS Amanda Diaz, So. P/2B Breanna Adams, Sr. OF/C/IF Victoria Avis, Jr. OF/1B Olivia Michalski, Jr. C/SS Meghan Ehemann, So. 1B Kaitlyn Griffin
Newcomers: So. C/3B Peyton Pribyl, Sr. OF Emma Mizalko, So. P/1B Annie Morelli, Fr. P/SS Allison Lambert, Fr. OF Danielle Lambert, Fr. IF Heather Avis. Fr. UT Molly Pedroza
Season outlook: There's no denying what the Mustangs lost: a pair of four-year-varsity starting infielders (Maddie Zazas and Maria DeVito) and two other three-year varsity starters (outfielder Hannah Bulgart and catcher Maggie Mahar). But as his Mustangs seek their third season in a row of 20-plus wins, coach Brett Wilhelm wants them to understand that the roster still boasts plenty of talent. "This year's mindset," Wilhelm said, "is, 'We don't need girls to be those girls that graduated. Be who you are and be the best you can be.' " Wilhelm notes that his top two pitchers from last season are back. Senior Nicole Parney recently signed with Benedictine University. Breanna Adams flashed plenty of potential in the circle as a sophomore last spring. The infield features hard-hitting senior third baseman Karlee Busscher, who belted 9 homers last season and earned honorable mention all-conference honors. A big loss is junior Meghan Ehemann, who had a promising first year on varsity last spring but will miss the season due to a labrum injury. Sophomore Kaitlyn Griffin, who got some varsity time last year, will play first base. Senior Amanda Diaz, who started in the outfield last season, replaces the slick-fielding Zazas (school-record 60 doubles in four seasons) at shortstop. Taking over for DeVito (.486 BA last season) at second base will be Parney and Adams. Who starts will depend on which of the two is pitching. Junior Jordyn West is back to patrol center field, which she started playing midway through her freshman year. She earned all-conference honors last season. "Defensively, I think she's one of the best in the area," Wilhelm said. Versatile senior Victoria Avis is a candidate to start at either catcher or a corner-outfield spot. Oliva Michalski will play some outfield too. Sophomore newcomer Peyton Pribyl also catches. "We're looking good," Wilhelm said. "I really like this group. I can't complain."
Coach: Alex Vikartofsky (second season)
Last season: 18-16, 4-8 in NSC Lake
Key losses: SS Taylor Koenigs, DP/C Kayliegh McGovern, OF Molly Thon
Returning players: Sr. SS Trish Porzycki, Sr. P Myra Peterson, Jr. 3B Alyssa Pauly, Jr. 2B Emma Oriatti, Jr. CF Vera Pflugradt, Jr. IF/OF Alana Labaschin, Jr. OF Hannah Epstein
Newcomers: Jr. C Mic Faunce, So. OF Gwen Heilman
Season outlook: The Patriots enjoyed an improbable run to the supersectional last year as the No. 10 seed, and their enthusiasm is high again, despite the graduation of shortstop Taylor Koenigs, who was one of the best players in program history. The Patriots are headed to Cocoa Beach, Fla., on spring break, marking the first time the program has ever traveled. "(Stevenson) baseball opened the door last year," coach Alex Vikartofsky said. "They set the tone, and softball has followed." Replacing Koenigs at shortstop is strong-armed veteran Trisha Porzycki, who caught last season in her second varsity season. The Patriots have added an experienced catcher in junior Mic Faunce, who is a transfer from Marian Central. "Mic Faunce behind the plate is fantastic," Vikartofsky said. "And Trish Porzycki brings a whole other level of energy to the infield." Fleet-footed junior center fielder Vera Pflugradt is back for her third year as a varsity starter and is coming off an all-area and all-conference season in which she hit .467 with a .583 on-base percentage and 33 stolen bases. Junior third baseman Alyssa Pauly was honorable mention all-conference last year. Senior Myra Peterson will anchor the pitching staff again. Hannah Epstein moves from first base to outfield. "Our core (nine players) is looking really strong," Vikartofsky said. "Last year, at the beginning of the season, defense was our Achilles' heel. We had a lot of sophomores." Experience should be a strength this year. "I'm going into the season really optimistic that we'll pick up where we left off last year," Vikartofsky said. There will be some change, at least on the diamond, as the Patriots have moved in their outfield fences. The corner distances are now 205 feet, as opposed to 225. Left field has been moved in from 255 feet to 215. The fences are 6-feet tall. "There will be some home runs," Vikartofsky said. "But you're going to have to (elevate) them."
Coach: Jenna Anderson (second season)
Last season: 31-3, 11-1 in NSC Lake
Key players lost: SS Shannon McKeon (San Diego), 1B Rachele Belletini (North Central), 2B Amber Leneau, OF Jensen Plata
Returning players: Sr. 3B Sabrina Trevino, Sr. 1B/P Julienne Egofske, Sr. C Crystal Pennell, Sr. OF Nicole Somppi, Jr. P Hannah Nommensen, Jr. CF Emily Hudgins, Sr. P Sage Staranowicz
Newcomers: So. SS Claire Swedberg, Jr. OF Devon Plata, Fr. OF/1B Kayla Nommensen, Fr. IF/OF/P Caitlyn Britton, Sr. OF Taylor Aaron, Sr. IF Grace Magnuson
Season outlook: The Blue Devils won 21 games during the regular season two years ago ... and won the Class 4A state championship. Last year, they entered the state tournament with 29 wins ... and lost in the sectional semifinals, 3-2 to New Trier. "You got to get hot at the right time," coach Jenna Anderson said. "We got to get hot in May. You can lose some games in March and April." The Blue Devils don't figure to lose often this season. They boast four Division-I players in senior third baseman Sabrina Trevino (IUPUI), senior first baseman Julienne Egofske (Bucknell), junior pitcher Hannah Nommensen (North Carolina) and junior center fielder Emily Hudgins (Penn State). Trevino (17 HR, .377 BA), the lefty-hitting Egofske (8 HR, .429 BA), Nommensen (15-1, 2.50 ERA, 204 K in 132 IP) and the left-handed Hudgins (.481 BA) all earned all-area and all-conference honors last season. "It's nice to have a core group back with us again this year that knows our expectations and knows what we can do," Anderson said. "Those players can take (the younger players) under their wing. They know what it takes to go Division I and work their butts off." Trevino and senior catcher Crystal Pennell (honorable mention all-NSC last year) both started for the 2014 state-championship team. Nicole Somppi is back to patrol right field. The Blue Devils have plenty of bats, and Nommensen could be even better in the circle this spring. "She worked really hard in the off-season," Anderson said. "I know she worked on her off-speed a lot."
Sophomore Claire Swedberg, a lefty slapper, takes over at shortstop from the graduated Shannon McKeon. Lefty freshman outfielder/first baseman Kayla Nommensen is the younger sister of Hannah. Anderson calls fellow freshman Caitlyn Britton, who played JV basketball, "super athletic." The Blue Devils opened their season this week at Barrington's Spring Fling and will head to Murphysboro, Tenn., for spring break.
FOX VALLEY FOXGRAYSLAKE CENTRAL
Coach: Jason Schaal (third season)
Last season: 16-21
Key players lost: C Katie Strickland, 3B Brandy Heraty (Dubuque), SS Juliana Frusolone
Returning players: Sr. 2B Teagan Truskowski, Jr. P Reagen Radke, Sr. 1B Maddie Marshall, Jr. OF Lindsay Brust, So. SS Morgan Smigielski
Newcomers: So. C Brooke Heraty, So. SS/P Zoe Styczen, So. 3B Lexi Waigand, So. OF Nicole Warren, Jr. OF Kaci Snyder, Fr. IF/OF Libby Bien
Season outlook: A young team is in transition. Which doesn't mean the Rams are necessarily expecting to suffer growing pains this spring. "The last year for us in the Fox Valley Conference is going to be a great challenge," said coach Jason Schaal, whose team will play in the new Northern Lake County Conference next year. "It's just going to build us for the new conference." The Rams have only two seniors, but both are varsity veterans. Second baseman Teagan Truskowski put together an all-area campaign in her second varsity season, batting leadoff and leading the team with a 403 batting average (16 extra-base hits, 4 HR). First baseman Maddie Marshall got a taste of varsity softball as a sophomore as well and then hit .289 with 16 RBI as a junior. Then there's junior Reagen Radke, who will be pitching on varsity for the third year in a row. She'll be counted on to throw a lot. "I'm expecting her to get 20-25 starts, if not more," Schaal said. "She's done a great job in the off-season, and she's gotten a little stronger. I'm really looking forward to watching her grow the next two years." Radke also hit .392 in 79 at-bats last season. As a freshman last year, Morgan Smigielski saw action in the circle. She could start at shortstop this season. The rest of the infield includes sophomores Brooke Heraty (catcher), Zoe Styczen (infield) and Lexi Waigand (third base). Junior Lindsay Brust (.284 BA, 3 HR, 22 RBI last season) is back in center field. Sophomore Nicole Warren and junior Kaci Snyder could patrol the corner spots. Freshman Libby Bien is in the mix as well. Schaal had nine seniors on his team last year. "We're young, but all of our coaches really like the talent that these younger grades are bringing," Schaal said. "We got solid pitching on both levels (varsity and JV). Now we just got to make sure we're hitting the rights spots and executing, and it should be a fun spring."
Coach: Lea Corcoran (first season)
Last season: 15-17
Key losses: SS Kayla Switalla, C Jenny Moore, OF Allison Szramek, OF Cassie Cowperthwaite
Returning players: Sr. P/SS Jessica Vaughn, Sr. P/2B Dani Runyon, Jr. OF Katie Moats, Jr. SS/2B/OF Lauren Olsen, Jr. OF Brooke Phillips, Jr. 1B/P Jenna Pozezinski, Jr. 1B/3B/OF Rebecca Sosa, So. C/OF Lindsea Spiewak
Newcomers: Jr. 3B/SS/2B Shannon Cremin, Jr. 2B/OF Keely Napoli, Jr. C/3B Carissa Popp, So. C/OF Angelica Diaz, So. OF Molly Rutkowski, Fr. 3B/1B Grace Brown
Season outlook: Brand-new to the job, first-year head coach Lea Corcoran is hardly new to Lake County. A hard-throwing pitcher during a four-year varsity career at Grayslake, she was the captain of the 2005 Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team, before playing collegiately at LaSalle and IUPUI. She was named to direct Grayslake North less than two months ago. Molly Tomlinson, who gave birth to her first child last summer, had coached the Knights since their inaugural season in 2007. Former Antioch star Lauren Moore was named Tomlinson's replacement but then took an assistant-coaching position at her college alma mater, Loyola. Corcoran has coached AAU softball for the Grayslake Pride (4 years) and, more recently, the Northern Ice (2 years). She also did one year of in-house coaching through the Grayslake Park District. She does have familiarity with some of her players and will use the team's spring-break trip to Orlando, Fla., to further evaluate her roster. "I know some of the girls from travel and pitching lessons, and some of the them I didn't coach directly but they were in the same organization," Corcoran said. "But I'm really trying to go into the season as if I don't know any of them. I'm trying to look at it brand new and let them work hard at practice and sort it out that way." Corcoran inherits a pair of three-year varsity players in Jessica Vaughn and Dani Runyon, both of whom pitch and play the infield. The other veterans are Katie Moats, Lauren Olsen, Jenna Pozezinski, Rebecca Sosa, sophomore Lindsea Spiewak and junior Brooke Phillips, who will miss the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. "I expect our returning varsity players to make a big impact this year," Corcoran said. Six newcomers include freshman corner infielder Grace Brown. "I expect our more experienced players to lead our team and help the new girls transition to varsity," Corcoran said. "We should have a very competitive season."