Scouting Fox Valley softball

  • Kaneland finished second in the Class 3A state tournament last year and returns much of that team including sisters Rose Roach, left, and Hailey Roach, right.

    Kaneland finished second in the Class 3A state tournament last year and returns much of that team including sisters Rose Roach, left, and Hailey Roach, right. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Updated 3/28/2019 4:40 PM

Aurora Central Catholic Chargers

Coach: Tom Babyar


Last year: 16-15, 6-6

Top returners: Seniors Danielle Brown, P; Isabel Gonzalez, 2B; Casey Feltes, INF/OF; Juniors Isabelle Hernandez, 3B; Kaitlyn Carlson, 1B; Alheli Velazquez, CF; Sophomores Lizzy Albert, SS; Sammy Martinez, RF; Ava Wilkins, OF

Key newcomers: Junior Addyson Sulaver, INF/OF; Sophomore Gracie Hare, OF; Brooke Berens, OF/INF; Freshman Olivia Hernandez, C

Outlook: The Chargers return one of the best cores in the Fox Valley area. "They are enthusiastic right now," said Babyar, the Hall of Fame coach who spent much of his career at York. "They believe in themselves. They are working hard and I have no complaints. We'll see where it goes." Brown, a returning All-Area selection, leads the returnees after going 11-10 last year with a 1.73 ERA and 216 strikeouts in 105 innings. She's signed with Loyola but hurt her knee at the end of last year, didn't pitch during the summer and threw just a couple times in the fall. Brown stuck out 12 but walked seven in a season-opening win over IC Catholic Prep. "She wasn't Dani Brown," Babyar said. "That's just not her. She doesn't walk that many people. She's going to do nothing but get better this season. We're just hoping Dani gets a good season. If you have a real good pitcher that's 70, 80 percent of the game." Babyar likes the potential of his offense. "I think the team has the capiblity of scoring some runs. We have four or five girls who can just run. We haven't had that before." Velazquez will lead off. "She can run," Babyar said. "She keeps getting better and better. Lizzy I always say she's like our Javy Baez. She's so athletic. The girls are expecting big things from themselves which is the key." Aurora Central will drop down to 2A for the postseason which means the Chargers will avoid Kaneland in 3A who has ended their season twice recently. Babyar said Bishop McNamara, Riverside-Brookfield and St. Francis are teams to watch in conference.

Aurora Christian Eagles

Coach: Tracey Stoneberg (first year)

Last year: Didn't have a team

Top players: Senior Grace Folino, SS/3B/C; Junior Skylar Epstein, CF/2B; Freshmen Bradey Saxon, SS/3B; Felicity Allgood, C/P; Britney Bridel, P/1B; Thaya Luse, 3B/1B

Outlook: Stoneberg, a Hall of Fame inductee at Waubonsee Community College, was an assistant coach at Aurora Christian from 2015-17. She's helping bring the Eagles program back after Aurora Christian did not field a team last year. Folino, the lone senior, is one of many who are glad to have a team again as she's a two-time all-conference selection. Stoneberg likes the leadership Folino and Epstein are providing. "They are doing a great job leading a very young team," Stoneberg said. Aurora Christian has a total of 11 players. "It makes us a small team full of utility players who are taking on different positions to help our team to be competitive this season," Stoneberg said. Bridel and Allgood will handle most of the pitching even though Stoneberg said their primary positions are second base and catcher, respectively. The Eagles have their share of challenges ahead but are excited about the upcoming season. "Without a ball field, sharing a gym with baseball and track teams, this makes getting ready for the season more of a challenge but also instills in our players a will to fight through any circumstance and adapt to different situations," Stoneberg said. "We are looking forward to a successful season."

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Bartlett Hawks

Coach: Jim Wolfsmith (16th year, 366-162)

Last year: 24-11

Top returners: Seniors Charlotte Linnartz C/3B; Gianna Campo, OF/INF; Anna Tomillo, CF; Junior Riley Scrivner, SS/OF; Sophomore Lizzy Jacoby, P.

Key newcomers: Seniors Vanessa Rincon, P/1B; Katie Edwards, P; Junior Erika Rosberg, C (injured last year); Sophomore Nicolette Campo, P/3B/OF, Amanda Frieden, C; Abby Tomillo, 3B/C; Freshman Nicole Young, SS/2B

Outlook: Linnartz, a third-year varsity member who will play college softball at Washington University, leads a small group of returnees for the Hawks. "She's a great kid, great student," Wolfsmith said. "She was an all-conference kid last year." Campo hit 5 home runs with 25 RBI last year. "Real big bat," Wolfsmith said. Tomillo will provide exceptional defense in center. "Anna is one of best center fielders I've ever coached in her ability to read a ball and get a jump on a play," Wolfsmith said. "Having her back roaming center field is huge." Jacoby pitched as a freshman including holding Huntley to 1 run and will be backed up by Gianna Campo's younger sister, Nicki. Frieden played JV catcher last year. "She's got real good feet, good speed, really strong arm," said Wolfsmith who likes his team's depth at catcher including Rosberg, returning from injury. Scrivner also got in a lot of varsity at-bats last year hitting about .300. "We've got some talent but we're really inexperienced this year," Wolfsmith said. "We're real excited as coaches because of the newness to everything. Talent is there, we've got good speed, but we've got a whole bunch of kids who it is their first time playing varsity softball. There's going to be some fun times and crazy times, hopefully more fun than crazy."

Batavia Bulldogs

Coach: Torry Pryor (first year)

Last year: 20-13, 13-5

Top returners: Seniors Allison Bahlmann, 3B; Peyton Sachse, 2B; Juniors Hanna Mackowiak, C; Noelle Chaney, P; Sophomore Cassidy Carby, SS/3B


Key newcomers: Sophomores Betsy Thayer, P; Alex Klein, OF; Freshman Lucy Lisberg, INF/OF

Outlook: Pryor takes over for Lupe Castellanos after the Bulldogs lost to the hosts last year in the Class 4A Oswego East regional championship game. Carby is back after a big freshman year that saw her step into the No. 3 hole early in the season and provide a powerful bat. She made the All-Area team after hitting .474 with a .554 on-base percentage and .884 slugging percentage. Hit 9 home runs, 9 doubles and 2 triples while scoring 38 runs and driving in 38. Batavia has to replace seven graduated seniors. "We have a young roster," Pryor said. "However, many versatile players are competing with each other defensively and bring strong bats to the plate."

Burlington Central Rockets

Coach: Scott Richman (first year)

Last year: 18-6

Top returners: Seniors Lindsay Jamrozek, 1B/3B/C; Hallie Litton, IF/OF; Maissie Rabe, OF; Abby Sanders, P/1B; Juniors Alisyn Catenacci, P/1B; Peyton Curtis, C/IF; Reili Gardner, CF; Hanaa Nkhikhssi, SS; Kate Snow, OF

Key newcomers: Juniors Kassidy Nagel, IF/OF; Morgan Tenaglio, OF; Hailey Esterly, IF; Freshman Lauren Knief, 2B/SS.

Outlook: Richman takes over for Erica Snyder with a 10-year background in coaching including stints with the Algonquin Aces and four seasons as the freshman softball coach at Jacobs. The Rockets have to replace Julia Barnes who went 18-6 last year and hit .423. Richman will turn to returnees like Sanders, who batted .426 last season with 14 runs and 13 RBI, Reili Gardner (.400, 20 runs, 21 RBI) and Jamrozek (.387, 22 runs, 21 RBI) to spark the offense. Gardner is a returning all-conference selection. Catenacci gives the Rockets experience in the circle after pitching 57.1 innings last year with a 2.08 ERA. "The season arrives with much anticipation," Richtman said. "Our focus is on program and team, emphasizing teamwork over individualism while setting goals that are high, aggressive, and attainable. One can feel it at practice. The girls are fully present, engaged, and confident. A team bond is developing because of their commitment to each other. This bond in combination with exceptional talent will be the key to a successful season, on and off of the field," Richman said.

Cary-Grove Trojans

Coach: Tammy Olson (26th year, 463-340)

Last year: 15-13, 6-10

Top returners: Senior Emma Hill, P; Juniors Alina Krembuszewski, 2B/RF; Katy Wieczorek, 3B: Kelly Johnson, SS; Jazzy Flashing, CF

Key newcomers: Juniors Emily Keeler, C; Grace Clarke, 1B/3B; Sophomore Paige Hoscheit, U; Freshmen Abby Hennessey, 1B/3B; Gwenn Moran OF

Outlook: Cary-Grove looks to improve on a sixth-place finish in the Fox Valley Conference. Hill, headed to Purdue Northwest, made first team all-conference last year. Krembuszewski is a two-time all-conference selection, Wieczorek and Johnson also made all-conference, and Flashing is a 3-year starter. Olson said the teams to beat in the FVC this year include Huntley, Hampshire and Crystal Lake South. "We have five seasoned players back this year who are coming in ready to compete for the title," Olson said. "We have new players that will step in to help strengthen our lineup offensively and defensively. I'm looking forward to an exciting year."

Crystal Lake South Gators

Coach: Scott Busam (16th year)

Last year: 19-7, 11-5

Top returners: Seniors Emily Sulikowski, 3B; Christina Toniolo, P/1B; Alyssa Niketopoluous, P/1B; Maddie Bush, 2B/C; Skylar Olsen, OF; Juniors Baylee Kassel, IF; Kyra Swartz, OF; Sophomore Brooke Kuffel, SO, SS

Key newcomers: Junior Jessica Gwizdak, IF; Freshman Alexis Pupillo, C/IF

Outlook: The Gators enter the season as one of the most experienced teams in the area with plenty of big bats in their lineup. Toniolo is going to University of Illinois-Chicago and Niketopoluous to Mt. Mercy University. "We're are a senior-led team this season, so hopefully we can make it a memorable, fun season," Busam said. "Many of the girls have been playing for me all four years, so they already work well together." With Huntley also returning a strong core of players, Busam knows dethroning the Red Raiders won't be easy. "As always, the FVC will be a daily grind, and with some luck and some good weather, hopefully the Gators will be in the discussion at the end," Busam said. " I've had as much fun coaching these girls as I've had in years; they're hardworking, selfless, efficient, and really, really fun to be around."

Dundee-Crown Chargers

Coach: Tracy Beatty (12th year)

Last year: 19-11

Top returners: Seniors Cady English, OF; Hanna Gestrich, SS; Kylie Ryza, 1B; Juniors Abby Arsenault, OF; Alaina Azar, 3B; Megan Thompson, OF.

Key newcomers: Juniors Caleigh Gertz, P; Grace Dierwechter, C

Outlook: In her 25th year overall, Beatty's Chargers will have a different look without Sydney Ruggles who won 19 games last year with 276 strikeouts in just 187 innings for a second-place finish in the Fox Valley. Ruggles also won 21 games with a 1.96 ERA as a junior so replacing her in the circle will be a key to the team's success. Gestrich and English both made all-conference last year.

Elgin Maroons

Coach: Dr. Nick Bumbales (fourth year)

Last year: 0-23

Top returnees: Seniors Abby Sensor, 2B/P; Caityln Keith, 3B/C; Lexi Smith, OF; Sandy Gomez, DP/P; Juniors Aaliyah Morales, SS/P; Rayanne Schubert, 1B; Briauna Brown, OF; Sophomores Emma Carrero, OF, Loanis Charneco, OF/2B

Key newcomers: Seniors Diamond Murray, 2B); Gwyn Canlas, 2B/OF; Rocio Corona, IF; Junior Alexis Acevedo, IF/OF; Freshmen Mireya Morales, C/P; Maddie Stine, P/OF; Cozette Merza, P/OF

Outlook: Bumbales returns as head varsity coach after a two-year hiatus. He inherits four-year varsity starter Sensor, and three-year varsity starters Keith, Smith and Morales. Bumbales said his freshman Morales will be one of the top newcomers in the conference. Elgin is looking for its first win since 2017. "Our success will depend on pitching depth and the speed our young pitchers can come along," said Bumbales who called Glenbard South, West Aurora, South Elgin and Bartlett as the teams to beat in the Upstate Eight.

Geneva Vikings

Coach: Greg Dierks (30th year, 507-440)

Last year: 22-8

Top returners: Seniors Alyssa Kramer, 3B/OF; Sydney Erdmann, OF; Juniors Emily Viebrock, 1B, Sam Keller, SS; Carissa Bombardiere, OF; Delyla Mroz, OF; Sophomore Bella Walton, IF

Key newcomers: Seniors Hannah Gregg, OF; Chloe Rzeppa, IF/OF; Haley Veltri, 1B; Junior Madison Femia, C; Sophomores Shelly Deisz, P; Allison Mraz, C/2B; Freshmen Reese Berndt, IF/OF/P; Sydney Haake, P

Outlook: Dierks is likely entering the final season of his 500-win, 30-year career at Geneva. The Vikings will have to replace the middle of their defense at pitcher, second base, center field and catcher, the later which was filled the past three seasons by two-time All-Area captain Katie Keller. Keller finished as the school's career leader in doubles (43), batting average (.539), slugging (.946) and walks (67) and second in numerous other categories including home runs (22). The Vikings also have to replace ace pitcher Ali Dierks who went 13-6 with 115 strikeouts. Keller's sister Sam returns to shortstop; she's committed to Winona State. Kramer (Western Michigan) and Erdmann (Concordia) also will play college softball. "Although we have a lot of returning players, we need to replace graduates right down the middle of our defense," Dierks said. "Those are obviously key positions but we are working hard to find the right people for those spots. We have a great bunch of girls on the roster and we are looking forward to having another successful season." Dierks said it's hard to handicap the new DuKane Conference but tabbed St. Charles East as the favorite among the schools joining from the Upstate Eight.

Hampshire Whip-Purs

Coach: Kelly Wasilewski (fourth year, 57-40)

Last year: 15-13

Top returners: Seniors Sarah Bowen, CF; Morgan Haefling, SS; Junior Gwen Malecke, 3B; Katie Del Re, P; Shai Ann Currie, P

Key newcomers: Freshmen Madison Kinczewski, U; Shelby Siegbahn, U

Outlook: After a fourth-place FVC finish and a 6-4 loss to Harlem in the regional finals, the Whip-Purs return a strong core looking to improve on their record. Bowen and Haefling have both committed to St. Xavier. "We are excited to bring back a core group of players from last season's roster," Wasilewski said. "We have quite a few challenging nonconference games on our schedule this season and look forward to continuing to build on the successes we've had the last few seasons. This year's team consists of a group of very hard working and dedicated girls that are focused on helping this program compete in a tough Fox Valley Conference."

Huntley Red Raiders

Coach: Mark Petryniec (16th year, 314-214)

Last year: 32-6

Top returners: Seniors Sofia Tenuta, C; Grace Kutz, 1B; Kendra Mitchell, CF; Taylor Zielinski, LF; Juniors Teagan O'Rilley, 3B: Victoria Schulte, INF; Sophomores Briana Bower, P; Marley Reicher, RF; Lindsey Morgan, C/IF

Key newcomers: Senior Courtney Mills, INF; Juniors Madelyn Lowe, OF; Madeline Rainey, OF; Micah Goodrich, INF; Sophomores Aubrey McFadden, P; Abigail Simandl, INF; Freshmen Reese Hunkins, INF; Jori Heard, P

Outlook: Following another Fox Valley Conference championship, regional championship and loss to Barrington in the sectional finals, the Red Raiders return much of that team that once again promises to be one of the best around. They have a power pitcher in Bower who is only a sophomore with a number of future collegiate players including Tenuta (Iowa Central Community College), Kutz (Wisconsin-Oshkosh), Mitchell (Heartland Community College), Zielinski (Carthage College), O'Rilley (Wisconsin-Green Bay) and Mills (Quincy University). Tenuta only allowed 2 passed balls with a .996 fielding percentage last year while hitting .471 with 8 doubles, 8 home runs and 62 RBI. It will take some getting used to, however, to not see Tiffany Giese in a Red Raiders uniform after she wrapped up her stellar career going 24-3 last year in the circle while batting .597 with 83 hits. "Every year we challenge the team to win conference and advance further in the playoffs than previous teams," Petryniec said. "We have a talented group of players that have been pushing each other so far this season. We lost some key players to graduation and are looking forward to our new additions to our program to come in and immediately contribute. We have a great mix of veterans and newcomers working to gel together as new teammates. If our pitching, hitting and defense come together, we will be a strong team to compete against this season."

Golden Eagles

Coach: Katie O'Brien (fifth year, 53-58)

Last year: 13-13-1, 8-8

Top returners: Seniors Emily Pena, C; Katie Armstrong, P/1B; Hannah Slocum, SS; Junior Savannah Svedman, U; Sophomores Delaney Garden, P/U; Sarah Lynch, OF

Key newcomers: Junior Jenn Entz, OF; Freshman Abbey Nesnidal, P/U

Outlook: Pena leads the returnees for Jacobs. She's committed to play at Division I Seton Hall. O'Brien likes the senior leadership on this year's squad. "We have a strong group of experienced seniors leading a young team this season," O'Brien said. "We have multiple girls who can play different positions. So depending on who is in the circle, the field may change a bit."

Kaneland Knights

Coach: Mike Kueffler (fourth year, 73-38)

Last year: 27-10, second in Class 3A

Top returners: Seniors Hailey Roach, 3B; Maddy Wheatley, LF; Lauren Callahan, C; Juniors Donatella Sommesi, 2B; Emilee Erickson, P; Lillie Lindgren, C; Sophomores Rose Roach, SS; McKenna Ryan, P; Olivia Ortegel, 1B

Outlook: Last year was an unbelievable season for the Knights, who defeated Providence 8-1 in the Class 3A state semifinals and led Montini 8-4 in the seventh inning of the Class 3A state championship game. The Broncos then scored 12 runs in the seventh inning for a stunning 15-8 victory, and Kaneland returns most of its team from that game looking to write a different ending. "It is always tough to lose a game like that but I'm still proud of those young ladies," Kueffler said. "We made it to the state championship game. What we took out of that is I'm happy as heck we got there and proud of the young ladies that got us there. The big thing we are looking at is last year we had one girl with state playoff experience and now we have eight." Those eight include returning All-Area selections Rose Roach who joins her sister Hailey to man the shortstop and third base positions, respectively. "We're real happy with our left side of the infield," Kuefler said. "Hailey is in her fourth year of varsity, her third year at third base, she's a tough kid. Rose, there's kids you have to coach every day; Rose comes in and you learn as a coach to let her play. She's just tremendous." Rose Roach is committed to Auburn. She'll be joined up the middle by Sommesi, also a returning All-Area player who hit over .500 last year out of the leadoff spot. Erickson won 20 games last year. "She just did a tremendous job for us," Kueffler said. "It (state) is definitely a motivating factor this year. From what we've seen so far this spring she's throwing really well." The Knights have put together a strong nonconference schedule hoping to prepare themselves for another long postseason run -- and perhaps a happier ending. "There's no three little outs," Kueffler said of the seventh inning last year at state. "This is a great group of kids. I've been here nine years and the past three or four years the softball program has continued to get stronger and stronger each year. Even this year our JV team is tremendous. We're really super excited about our team and as long as these young ladies come together we'll be competitive again."

Larkin Royals

Coach: Anne Vogt (eighth year)

Last year: 6-22, 4-14

Top returners: Senior Kiara Villa, P, OF; Sophomores Liz Bowman, SS; Kathy Garcia, INF; Katie Turner, INF

Key newcomers: Junior Ashley Miller; Sophomore Jenna Dubinski; Freshmen Kailey Cronin, P/U; Ariela Bermudez, P/U; Audriana Escobar, OF

Outlook: The Royals welcome back four players who hit .375 or better: Villa (.375), Bowman (.518), Garcia (.382) and Turner (.425). They also bring in two transfers, Miller from St. Edward and Dubinski from Burlington Central. "We are excited about the young talent with three returning starting sophomores, three freshmen who will be contributing immediately and the two transfers who will play key roles," Vogt said. The Royals also return senior Delaney Newman and juniors Brynne Farnsworth, Abby Stout and Elizabeth Edgar. "We are looking forward to competing in our conference with the strongest overall roster we have had in several years," Vogt said.

Rosary Royals

Coach: Brian Carson (first year)

Last year: 8-8-1

Top returners: Senior Kaleigh Lentz, 1B/OF; Juniors Cloe Saltijeral, C; Kal Capparelli, OF; Sophomore Brooke Capparelli, P/INF;

Key newcomers: Freshmen Emily Hurst, SS; Lily Cooper, C/INF; Molly Fritz, INF

Outlook: There's a lot of change at Rosary. The Royals have a first-year coach in Carson and play their first season in the Metro Suburban Conference South Blue. "I don't know much about the conference but we should be very competitive," said Carson. "Our strengths are sound defense and strong hitting. We have a solid core of returning players and have added good young talent to our team. Strong leadership from our returning players is setting a great example for our newcomers." Carson has plenty of experience coaching softball in Aurora. He coached the Aurora Central Catholic JV team for two years, West Aurora's sophomores for three years, was IMSA's head coach for two years, varsity assistant at Rosary for two years and now the head Rosary coach. He also has an extensive background in men's fastpitch softball which he has played since he was 5 years old and has been a player-coach since 1990 including several teams that have been among the top in the world rankings.

St. Charles East Saints

Coach: Jarod Gutesha (fourth year, 87-20)

Last year: 25-7

Top returnees: Seniors Maddy Stout, OF; Paige Ligocki, C/INF; Krista Sbarra, U; Alex Wooten, C/INF; Alena Macri, OF; Junior: Lauren Luna, 1B/C; Sophomores Katie Arrambide, P/U; Kati Gheorghe, INF; Elliot Sanders, U: Madelyn Rouse, P/U

Key newcomers: Senior Jessica Caicedo, U; Sophomores Kristina Singleton, P/U; Chelsea Campagna, INF; Freshman Izzy Howe, P/INF

Outlook: After winning the Upstate Eight championship and a regional crown last year, then losing in the sectional semifinals to their rival St. Charles North, the Saints look primed for another big season. While graduating four seniors from that team, they do have 10 returners with varsity experience. Stout hit .429 last year with 5 home runs and 31 RBI. She has career 16 home runs. Ligocki also has hit 16 home runs in her four years of varsity softball. She batted .337 last year with 23 RBI. Arrambide burst on the scene as a freshman, joining Stout on the All-Area team while going 17-4 with 165 strikeouts in 130 innings with a 2.15 ERA. Earned Conference Pitcher of the Year and third team ICA All-State. Sbarra batted .372, Wooten hit .354 and Luna checked in at .289 with 3 homers and 5 doubles. Gheorghe started all 32 games at shortstop. Rouse went 7-3 with a 2.63 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 69 innings. Howe will join the two sophomores to give the Saints a young and talented staff. "Pitching will be strong," Gutesha said. Seniors Ligocki (Grand Valley State University), Sbarra (UW-Whitewater), Wooten (UW-Parkside) and Stout (University of Indianapolis) are all planning on playing college softball. "We will be guided by strong senior leadership," Gutesha said.

St. Charles North North Stars

Coach: Tom Poulin (eighth year, 194-63)

Last year: 20-9

Top returners: Senior Grace Sobieski, SS; Junior Sydney Eby, 1B/OF; Sophomore Anastasia Pappas, P/SS/2B

Key newcomers: Senior Sydney Powell, P/OF; Sophomore Megan DeMeyer, P; Freshman Ashlee Chantos, OF/2B

Outlook: Nobody peaks in the postseason like the North Stars who captured their third sectional championship in four years last season before losing 5-3 to York in the supersectional. A number of key players from that team graduated including four-year pitcher Jillian Waslawski, who went 14-9 last year with a 2.51 ERA while batting .300 with 18 RBI. "We will be quite young and inexperienced as far as varsity softball experience goes," Poulin said. "New leaders need to emerge as we begin another season journey to prepare for postseason success." Sobieski is committed to St. Leo University. Eby and Pappas provide dangerous bats. Poulin likes his team's versatility defensively and depth at multiple positions. "We do have talent and great attitudes," Poulin said. "We have high character kids who are centered on team. The new conference will be a constant challenge."

St. Edward Lady Wave

Coach: Erv Gernand (second year)

Last year: 11-14

Top returnees: Seniors Sarah Mendoza, 2B; Chloe Davies, P; Annalise Avila, OF; Stephanie Fowle, 1B; Jenny Reynoso, OF; Sophomores Hannah Dorley, P, SS; Grace Vitek, OF; Madison Schueler, OF

Key newcomers: Freshmen Lailani Baez, U; Delaney Nolan, U; Maddie Pogarzelski, C.

Outlook: Mendoza, Avila, Dorley and Vitek give St. Edward four returning starters with a roster of just 11. "It will be challenging having such a young and inexperienced team," Gernand said. Mendoza batted .360 last year. Of the freshmen, Gernand said Delaney and Lailani are versatile, can play anywhere and the coaches haven't decided where they will play. "The freshmen all look like they can contribute to this year's team," Gernand said. "We will be challenged having such a young and inexperienced team."

South Elgin Storm

Coach: Brad Reynard (fourth year)

Last year: 16-12, 12-5

Top returners: Seniors Casey Brennan, CF; Geneva Pollman, LF/P; Sidney Strama, P; Sami Koss, SS; Juniors McKenna Eichholtz, C; Kaylie Humes, 2B; Sophia Salazar, P

Key newcomers: Junior Morgan Meinicke, 1B/SS; Sophomore Eve Hartmann, 1B/C; Freshmen Cara Cruthers, C/IF; Sami Jimenez, 3B/C; Angelina Guido, P/OF

Outlook: You can't find a better defensive center fielder than Brennan, who will play in college at Quincy. She's also an excellent hitter, an All-Area selection last year who batted .521 with 14 doubles, 5 triples and 4 home runs for the Upstate Eight River champions. Pollman (Triton college) and Strama (Agnes Scott College, Georgia) also will play in college and give South Elgin depth and talent in the circle. "I think that one of our strengths will be our pitching staff," Reynard said. "We return our entire staff from last season. Also our outfield will definitely be a strength." South Elgin should be one of the favorites in the new-look Upstate Eight Conference. "Our conference has taken on a major overhaul and I believe it's up for grabs for any of a number of teams," Reynard said. "We are very excited to get to some nicer weather in Tennessee for our annual spring trip."

Streamwood Sabres

Coach: Will Shogren (third year)

Last year: 8-19

Top returners: Seniors Taylyr Crocilla, P; Corinne Angle, C; Sophomore Tessa Freedman, 1B

Key newcomers: Freshman Nicole Barcenas, OF/U

Outlook: The Sabres are focused on a .500 season. They have experience in an important position with Crocilla. "We have a lot of returning varsity players this season," Shogren said. "Our strengths should be pitching as we have two senior starting pitchers. Our infield should be a strength as well -- again this is due to having returning players at the varsity level. Our team goal is to be a winning team. Our team needs to work on run production this season. In addition to this, as always, limiting free bases will be another way we can achieve our overall goal."

West Aurora Blackhawks

Coach: Randy Hayslett (seventh year, 125-82)

Last year: 13-14, 10-7

Top returners: Seniors Payton Lundberg, P; Sophia Delgado SS/2B/C; Mariana Stinson, 1B/3B/OF; Juniors Gab Drager, 3B; Gabi Nilles, C; Shai Erdrich, CF; Eternity Gonzales, P; Sophomore Kennedy Zies

Key newcomers: Juniors Mackenzie Pierce, OF; Emily Herbert, 2B, OF: Sophomore Rose Marmolejo, 1B/OF; Freshmen Riley Mont, 2B/C/3B; Sara Archer, P/3B/OF

Outlook: The Blackhawks finished behind South Elgin and Bartlett in the Upstate Eight last year and lost to Downers Grove South in regional play. The big question is Lundberg who dominated in the circle as a freshman and sophomore, earned a college scholarship from DePaul but then lost her command last year. "Captain and vocal team leader," Hayslett said. "Has been working hard to regain her dominant form on the mound. Her bat has come a long way and she will hit in the middle of our order this year." Delgado will play college softball at St. Ambrose. "Quiet leader," Hayslett said. "An all-around great defensive player with tremendous softball instincts. She will primarily play shortstop this year." Delgado batted .360 last year with 16 RBI and 18 runs. Drager is committed to Western Illinois. "Just great quiet hands in the field -- tremendous defender and competitor who did a great job keeping us in games last year on the mound," Hayslett said. Drager hit .290 with 2 homers and 19 RBI last year. Nilles is another college commit who will go to Lewis University after batting .380 with 11 RBI and 19 runs. " Has one of the best arms in the area as a catcher and great speed on the base paths," Hayslett said. Erdrich hit .365 last year and will take charge of the outfield, according to her coach. Gonzales went 7-4 with 87 strikeouts in the circle last year. "Really stepped up last year on the mound for us," Hayslett said. "Has really improved each year on the mound." Zies hit .300 with 14 RBI as a freshman. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks they lost Holloway, last year's leadoff hitter and a Purdue Northwest commit, with a torn labrum. "Our infield defense should be very good as usual and with Nilles behind the plate -- it will be tough to run on us," Hayslett said. "We are five deep in the circle, so we will always have fresh arms. We bring back six starters with quite a bit of experience. Losing Janae is quite a blow, but we still have speed on the bases with Nilles and Erdrich, and some nice gap power to produce some runs. We will need some new faces to step up in the outfield and we will need some production at the bottom of our order. But overall, I'm excited about this team and our potential. I fully expect us to challenge for the conference title once again. We would also like to get back to having a deeper postseason run."

Westminster Christian Warriors

Coach: Bill Bickhart

Top returners: Seniors Grace Schmitt, 1B; Rachel Schmitt, C; Chris Lang, LF; Junior Sophie Kovachevich, CF; Sophomores Emma Wiewel 3B; Paige Anderson, 2B

Key newcomers: Sophomore Alyssa Cunningham, P/1B

Outlook: The Warriors return six starters. "We are very optimistic about being able to compete with the other teams in the Northern Athletic Conference," Bickhart said.

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