Softball: Grayslake North ready for more success
Grace Brown left a legacy. Grayslake North's softball team hopes it's just starting one.
Coming off a school-record 26 wins and Northern Lake County Conference championship, the Knights return nine players, including Division-I-bound shortstop Faith Standerski. The group should keep Grayslake North winning again, despite the graduation of Brown, a three-time all-area player who was the Lake County all-area captain as a junior. Brown, who's playing for Milwaukee School of Engineering, pounded a school-record 45 homers in her four-year varsity career in addition to totaling 166 RBI and a slash line of .492/.590/.970.
"You don't replace a player like Grace Brown," said coach Lea Corcoran, whose 2019 Knights went 26-10, including 11-1 in the NLCC. "But she's left a legacy of hard work and dedication that continues in this team."
Standerski, a Northern Iowa signee, returns for her fourth varsity campaign. She is coming off a second team ICA all-state season in which she hit .551 with 75 hits, 66 runs scored, 48 RBI, 8 home runs, 5 triples and 19 doubles. She also stole a school-record 25 bases. Joining her is fellow all state (third team) and all-area center fielder Jess Pozezinski (.419, 44 hits, 46 RBI, 7 HRs, 15 2Bs). Add in all-area honoree Nicole Hughes (.520, 52 hits, 49 RBI, 7 HRs, 15 2Bs) and the Knights return three of their four highest averages from last year. The sophomore Hughes moves from outfield to third base, taking Brown's spot in the infield.
Crafty lefty Scout Kram, a Rock Valley College signee, settled into the ace role last season amassing an 8-1 record to go along with a 2.93 ERA and 55 Ks in 59⅔ innings. Sophomore Gianna Certa, while splitting time between varsity and JV, recorded a 6-2 varsity record with 69 strikeouts in 58 innings. Seniors Grace Moats, Maddy Wais and Nina Wittig all return for their third year on varsity and will help anchor the outfield. Juniors Meghan Delahunty and Shannon Hill split catching duties last year. Newcomer Ella Smith has great speed and has never been thrown out stealing on the JV level, Corcoran said.
"We are faster and more athletic this year and will look to capitalize on that in the field and on the bases," said Corcoran, whose Knights will compete in the Class 3A state tournament, after being in Class 4A last year. "Our five seniors want to create a legacy that lasts long after they've graduated and continue the winning tradition they've established the last few years. We're focused and ready to defend our NLCC title."
The Rams (24-8) return five starters in pitcher/outfielder Corinne Heidloff, shortstop Kennedy Stoffel, pitcher/infielder Madeline Peterson, infielder/outfielder Rachel Smigielski and third baseman/pitcher Avery Nims.
Heidloff will be entering her third year on varsity. She was second on the team in innings pitched and posted a team-best 1.183 ERA. The slick-fielding Stoffel batted .349 last year, Peterson belted 7 homers as a sophomore, Smigielski had 6 homers and 38 RBI as a freshman last spring, and Nims posted 8 homers and 30 RBI while batting .354.
"The coaching staff is excited for this upcoming season," Rams coach Jason Schaal said. "We bring a lot of girls back from our sectional team last spring, and they bring with them a lot of experience. With the loss of (Elisa) Koshy, (Grace) Bradley, (Ashlynn) Coleman and (Bridget) Marshall, the Class of 2020 has some big shoes to fill. We are confident they will lead this season's team, and hopes of winning another regional championship are high. We may not have as much power in the lineup this year, but with (junior Jenna) Dooley, (senior Ashley) Reese, (junior Megan) Morrissey and a few others we have definitely increased our team speed."
The Sequoits (27-6-1), who won the NLCC title in 2017 and 2018, return sophomore right fielder/shortstop Gabby Debevec, senior pitcher/two-year ace Jeri Bonaguidi (22-5, 3.20 ERA last season), junior catcher Hailey Webb, junior first baseman/pitcher Rilee Schreiner (.420 BA, 2.16 ERA in 45 IP) and junior utility player Faith Miller. Antioch, however, graduated shortstop Piper Foote (Western Illinois) and fellow all-area infielder Abby Pyburn. Additionally, slap-hitting leadoff hitter Ashlyn Sundell did not come out for her junior season, which would have been her third on varsity.
Coach Anthony Rocco has up four athletic freshmen, including hard-throwing pitcher/third baseman Syerra Gilmore.
"We're going to be young. There are going to be some mistakes," Rocco said. "I think infield defense will be fine. Outfield will be our main concern. The biggest thing for us overall is still hitting, though. Graduating Piper, Abby and Megan Lawrence, and losing Ashlyn, that's four of our five best hitters."
The Bulldogs (16-17-1) have seven freshmen on varsity, but coach Chris Van Alstine notes his team is not inexperienced.
"We had 22 talented freshmen try out this year ... and, honestly, there could have been more [who made varsity]," Van Alstine said. "These seven, combined with the varsity returners, are an unreal hardworking group. Practices are fast-paced, and the energy level is incredible."
Frances Williams returns in the circle, and Jaylee Pfau is back after a year off to add not only in the circle but at the plate as well.
"Her swing looks fantastic," Van Alstine said. "One of the big questions is where we play Becca (Fabry). She had only 1 error at third all year, but since all-state catcher Sarah Gallivan graduated we have to figure out where her abilities would best serve this team."
Bella Conticello is the only returning starter in the outfield. Kaylin Berwanger, who played on varsity as a freshman, is out with a broken finger but will be back. Laura Schwabe looks to take over shortstop after all-stater Calista Warmowski graduated. Speedy Tylee Lewis looks to help in the outfield.
"I really think this group can be special," Van Alstine said. "My seniors understand that if they want to make their mark on this program and school, they need these freshmen to perform. I really hope people overlook us because we are young. That is completely fine with me."
The Eagles (9-16) return a group that includes junior corner infielder Ally Dietz (.493 BA, 12 2Bs), junior Annie Willis, senior Emilie Cain, senior Grace Goodrich, sophomore Grace Dunsworth and sophomore CC Fleming.
"We will be a strong hitting team and young," Eagles coach Bill Hamill said. "Expectations are up in the air. With hard work, they could be tough this year."
The Bulldogs (6-19) are young, again. The good news is, most of their sophomores got a lot of experience last year at the varsity level. Coach Tim Orisek calls Hannah Miller and Angelica Cho "great seniors" who will provide great leadership. The Bulldogs return three All-NLCC players in Alexis De La Roca, Calli Janik and Taylor Koehler along with a pair of pitchers in Rachel Peat and Cho.
"Rachel improved over the course of last season and has come into this season very determined to prove herself," Orisek said. "The seniors that graduated will be missed, especially Kayla Serio and Sydney Rodgers who were anchors for us defensively, but I am confident that the returning players along with our three freshmen (Bryn Lucht, Olivia Romer, Lia Taglia) can compete and fill those spots. One of our team goals is to play a hard seven innings every single game, and the players know that the results they want will only come from their effort and focus in our practices."