Softball: Scouting Fox
As the 2020 softball season gets underway, the Fox area has a virtual impossible act to follow.
How could you get a finish that topped last June when a pair of area schools, Huntley and St. Charles East, met in the Class 4A state championship game?
Definitely a high bar to clear, but with the amount of talent returning at both those schools plus several more, it promises to be another exciting spring on the diamond.
Huntley heads into the year as the defending state champion after its 1-0 win over the Saints. The Red Raiders return 11 players from that 34-7 team.
"We have depth at each position and we're looking for our combination of hitting, pitching and defense to make another deep run in the playoffs," Huntley coach Mark Petryniec said.
The Red Raiders had quite a run of narrow postseason wins, beating McHenry 4-3 in the sectional final, Hersey 3-1 in the supersectional and Marist 3-2 in the state semifinals, then the thriller over the Saints.
They bring back the pitcher who won all those games, junior Bri Bower, who committed to Mississippi State last fall. The hard-throwing right-hander finished with a 27-5 record and 353 strikeouts in 212 innings. She had a 1.12 ERA and 0.735 WHIP.
The school's home run record holder, Teagan O'Rilley, also is back. She will play college softball at Butler while other key returnees include Reese Hunkins, Vikki Schulte (McHenry County College), Lindsay Morgan and Marley Reicher. Maddy Rainey will play next year at Cornell College.
St. Charles East, 26-11 last year, also brings back its pitcher who held Huntley to the 1 run, junior first-team ICA all-stater Katie Arrambide (17-8, 234 Ks, 1.66 ERA) who is committed to Harvard. Senior Lauren Luna (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire), a third-team all-stater, hit .381 with 9 HRs last year.
Sophomore Izzy Howe and juniors Sklar Misch and Madelyn Rouse provide plenty of talented pitching depth.
"Going into the season we obviously have Katie that did great things for the team last year but our entire roster is very solid," Saints coach Jared Gutesha said. "We will play solid defense and have an extremely athletic roster. Every player on the roster will have a strong role."
Across town at St. Charles North, Tom Poulin's North Stars return senior first baseman Sydney Eby and sophomore Ashlee Chantos (2B/OF) but have a pretty young team that played four freshmen last year and might have more this season. Poulin pointed to the senior leadership of Laine VandeHei as a bright spot in the off-season and early practices.
Batavia should be one of the more experienced teams with eight starters returning from a 14-16 team: Noelle Chaney (sr., P), Hanna Mackowiak (sr., C), Cassidy Carby (jr., 3B), Betsey Thayer (jr., P), Alex Klein (jr., SS/OF), Kaitlyn Collazo (jr., INF/OF), Taily Kledzik (jr., OF) and Leah Karel (jr., C).
Chaney won 10 games last year and will play college softball at Charleston Southern University; Carby batted .388 last year.
Crystal Lake South edged Huntley for last year's Fox Valley Conference title. Junior Brooke Kuffel, a Wisconsin commit, returns from that 31-3 team while the Gators also welcome back Kyra Swartz and Alexis Pupillo.
Jacobs, 16-13 last year, will look to senior pitcher Savannah Svedman, junior Lewis commit Delaney Garden (P/OF) and junior Sarah Lynch (P/OF). The roster includes only two seniors and five returnees.
"We will be very young, but we still look to be competitive and use this season to build for the future of the program," Jacobs coach Katie O'Brien said.
Tracy Beatty begins her 26th season coaching and 13th at Dundee-Crown. She is looking for freshman Addison Pino to help Caleigh Gertz handle the pitching load.
"We count on senior catcher Grace Dierwechter and shortstop Alania Azar to lead the team with hard work and experience," Beatty said.
Cary-Grove returns Kelly Johnson (sr., SS), Alina Krembuszewski (sr., 2B), Katy Wieczorek (sr., 3B), Jazzy Flashing (sr., CF) and Frankie Cruz (sr., C) who all made all-conference.
"We are a senior heavy team who works very hard," said Trojans coach Tammy Olson who expects Huntley, Crystal Lake South and McHenry to be the teams to watch in the FVC.
Bringing back two All-Area players, senior lefty pitcher Emilee Erickson and junior shortstop Rose Roach from a 30-7 team, Kaneland is another squad that could go far in 3A. Erickson (Winona State) went 18-2 with 209 strikeouts in 120 innings and an 0.81 ERA last year. Roach (Auburn) hit .543 with 17 doubles, 7 triples, 8 home runs and a 1.563 OPS.
The Knights also return Donatela Sommesi, Olivia Ortegel, Olivia Stoker, Emma Bachio, Lillie Lindgren, Danyelle Borysiwicz, McKenna Ryan, Grace Algrim and Cassidy Motyka and welcome newcomers Kailey Plank, Mackenzie Hardy, Veronica Latka and Rachelle Hendricks.
South Elgin finished 25-7 last year. The Storm went 17-1 in the Upstate Eight to tie Glenbard South for the conference title.
Senior catcher McKenna Eichlotz is committed to Hillsdale College and senior pitcher Sophia Salazar is headed to Cardinal Stritch University. The Storm also returns senior second baseman Kaylie Humes, junior outfielder Eve Hartman, sophomore Cara Cruthers (C/SS/OF) and sophomore Sammy Jimenez who will catch and play third base.
"We will be an extremely young team this year with only three seniors returning on our roster," South Elgin coach Brad Reynard said.
Bartlett returns five starters on a roster that includes three freshmen and three sophomores.
"Trying to rebound from an injury riddled year that saw us slip back a bit," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said.
Junior Abby Tomillo will catch and play third after leading the Hawks last year with 25 RBI, plus a .342 average. Seniors Riley Scrivner and Erika Rosberg, junior Lizzy Jacoby and sophomore Nikki Young each hit at least .280 last year.
Annette Mazzei, Alexa Burzawa and Izzy Chowanec along with freshmen Addie Koth, Gracie Jacoby and Chayse Bednarke will all play key roles.
"Practices have been great," Wolfsmith said. "Kids are engaged and working hard. I think we will be strong on the mound and at the plate."
Elsewhere in the Upstate Eight, Larkin returns senior all-conference catcher Ashley Miller, junior all-conference infielder Katie Turner, plus seniors Brynne Farnsworth and Abbie Stout, juniors Liz Bowman and Kathy Garcia, and sophomores Audrey Escobar, Ariela Bermudez and Kailey Cronin. Coach Anne Vogt said Miller is narrowing her college options.
Vogt also is excited about newcomers Abby Pluss, and freshmen Bailey Johnson (C/1B) and Angelica Gonzalez.
Fox Valley softball at a glance
Top teams: Huntley, St. Charles East, Crystal Lake South, Kaneland
Top players: Katie Arrambide, jr., St. Charles East; Alania Azar, sr., Dundee-Crown; Bri Bower, jr., Huntley; Cassidy Carby, jr., Batavia; Gabriella Cardinale, sr., Streamwood; Alisyn Catenacci, sr., Burlington Central; Noelle Chaney, sr., Batavia; Ashlee Chantos, so., St. Charles North; Shai-Ann Currie, sr., Hampshire; Shelly Deisz, jr., Geneva; Katie Del Re, sr., Hampshire; Grace Dierwechter, sr., Dundee-Crown; Gab Drager, sr., West Aurora; Sydney Eby, sr., St. Charles North; McKenna Eichlotz, sr., South Elgin; Emilee Erickson, sr., Kaneland; Tessa Freedman, jr., Streamwood; Delaney Garden, jr., Jacobs; Reili Gardner, sr., Burlington Central; Caleigh Gertz, sr., Dundee-Crown; Kati Gheorghe, jr., St. Charles East; Eternity Gonzales, sr., West Aurora; Izzy Howe, so., St. Charles East; Reese Hunkins, so., Huntley; Kelly Johnson, sr., Cary-Grove; Sam Keller, sr., Geneva; Alina Krembuszewski, sr., Cary-Grove; Brooke Kuffel, jr., Crystal Lake South; Lauren Luna, sr., St. Charles East; Sarah Lynch, jr., Jacobs; Hanna Mackowiak, sr., Batavia; Gwen Malecke, sr., Hampshire; Ashley Miller, sr., Larkin; Lindsay Morgan, jr., Huntley; Gabi Nilles, sr., West Aurora; Teagan O'Rilley, sr., Huntley; Addison Pino, fr., Dundee-Crown; Alexis Pupillo, so., Crystal Lake South; Maddy Rainey, sr., Huntley; Marley Reicher, jr., Huntley; Rose Roach, jr., Kaneland; Erika Rosberg, sr., Bartlett; Sophia Salazar, sr., South Elgin; Vikki Schulte, sr., Huntley; Riley Scrivner, sr., Bartlett; Donatela Sommesi, sr., Kaneland; Savannah Svedman, sr., Jacobs; Kyra Swartz, sr., Crystal Lake South; Abby Tomillo, jr., Bartlett; Katie Turner, jr., Larkin; Emily Viebrock, sr., Geneva; Katy Wieczorek, sr., Cary-Grove; Kennedy Zies, jr., West Aurora.
Season skinny: There's plenty of change in the air. For the first time in 30 years, Geneva (18-12) has a new coach. Greg Dierks retired after last year's run to the supersectional, and Annie Plackett takes over. She's looking to returning seniors Sam Keller (.486 avg., 6 HRs), Emily Viebrock, Carissa Bombardiere, Madison Femia and Delyla Mroz to lead the team along with returning pitchers Shelly Deisz and Sydney Haake. At Streamwood, new coach Colleen Hill has eight returning players from a 15-10 team including four-year starter Gabriella Cardinale and three-year starter Tessa Freedman. "We have a versatile group coming back that is dedicated to the program," Hill said. "We have five seniors on the team who have demonstrated excellent leadership. We will have a pretty strong infield along with a fast and developing outfield. Everyone complements one another well." Scott Richman is a second-year coach at Burlington Central but the Rockets have a new challenge joining a Fox Valley Conference that includes defending Class 4A state champion Huntley. And the Red Raiders didn't even win the FVC last year -- that title belonged to 31-3 Crystal Lake South. "We will face extremely tough competition," Richman said. "Even so, goals are appropriately high because the athletes work hard at practice every day and I expect the same on game days. If there is one thing I know about the teams in this conference is that every team comes ready to play every day. If one wants to see a quality high school softball game, I would advise watching a Fox Valley contest." The Rockets feature Illinois State-bound center fielder Reili Gardner and senior pitcher Alisyn Catenacci (Goshen College) along with senior Kate Snow (2B/OF), senior Peyton Curtis (C), and sophomores Rylie Duval (SS) and Lauren Kneif (3B/OF). Gardner hit .469 last year with 14 steals in 14 attempts and a 1.250 OPS. One benefit of the new conference for the Rockets is renewing their rivalry with Hampshire, who went 16-19 last year, 6-10 in the FVC. The Whips return senior pitcher Katie Del Re, Gwen Malecke (sr., INF/OF), Miki Snider (jr., INF), Shai-Ann Currie (sr., P/OF) and Alyssa Cork (sr., OF). Malecke (Bellarmine University), Currie (Concordia) and Del Re (North Central) will all play college softball, and they will help freshmen Kayla Valdez and Elyse Garcia adjust. "We are excited to have a core group of seniors returning whose leadership will drive the success we have this season," Hampshire coach Kelly Wasilewski said. "We expect to be more competitive in a tough FVC and improve on last year's record." Like Burlington Central, West Aurora is off to a new conference -- the Southwest Prairie. A pair of four-year starters, Gab Drager and Gabi Nilles, lead the way. Drager (Western Illinois) moves from third base to shortstop after hitting .353 with 22 RBI. Nilles has a rocket arm at catcher; she hit .515 last year with 33 runs and 21 steals. Eternity Gonzales (Aurora University) will handle much of the pitching after going 6-1 with a 3.33 ERA.