Softball: Optimism reigns supreme at Stevenson
Stevenson was once a perennial softball power in Lake County with a home ballpark featuring power alleys so vast they could have boasted their own ZIP codes.
Times have changed.
Stevenson moved its outfield fences in a few years ago, and while hitters have improved their power numbers, the Patriots haven't overpowered opponents. Their 14-14 record last year made it four straight springs without a winning season. Between 1995 and 2015, only once (in 2012) did the Patriots not boast a winning record. The run of consistency, mainly under coach Larry Friedrichs, included 30 wins in 2006 and Elite Eight appearances in 1998 and 1999.
Times are changing.
There is reason for hope in Lincolnshire, and it starts with third-year coach Heather Ruchim, who was a three-time all-area infielder for Friedrichs from 2003-05.
"I'm very optimistic about the upcoming season," Ruchim said. "This year's team has a lot of speed, top to bottom. In the off-season the majority of our girls participated in a strength training program. As a result, the girls came in on Day 1 more prepared and hungry than they have ever been. Their hard work has made them more confident individuals that believe they can compete with any team that we face. The girls are chomping at the bit to get started."
The Patriots showed last year they can hit. The question is whether they can pitch and play defensive effectively. The returning players include junior all-area shortstop/pitcher Haley Barnes (. 422 BA, 25 extra-base hits), Maggie Trotter, Reagan Koenigs, Lexi Gitler, Elle Ruchim (Heather's half-sister) and Hailey Peterson. Koenigs, Gitler and Ruchim all started as freshmen last season. Freshmen Michaela Duffy and Alyssa Martin are up this spring, as is sophomore Allie Stevens.
"There is a different, positive energy among the group this year," Heather Ruchim said. "They believe in their abilities and that of their teammates. I can't wait for them to see their hard work and dedication during the off-season pay off come game time. We are going to surprise a lot of teams."
The Wildcats (26-8 last season) will have a different look. Coach Elissa Wisniewski stepped down after eight successful seasons, including a sectional-final berth last spring. The Wildcats also graduated a trio of all-area players in two-year ace Amanda Page, third baseman Maggie Evers and shortstop Aliya Haddon.
Gone is 2019 Lake County all-area captain Caitlyn Britton (Central Michigan), who leaves a huge void both at the plate and in the circle. But The Blue Devils (23-5) return four starters in junior catcher/outfielder Emily Craig, junior middle infielder Brooke Mangler, junior pitcher/shortstop Kassie Jimenez (. 444 BA, 32 hits) and senior outfielder Kayla Hopkins. The newcomers include freshman pitchers Sydney Jackson and Kailey Albers, sophomore outfielder Cynthia Mobile and sophomore infielder Hailey Conger.
"With a lot of new faces with talent this year, we are looking to have a great season," Blue Devils coach Jenna Charbonneau said. "We will be very competitive and a strong team. Looking forward to seeing what this team can do."
Coach Heather Ryan says her veteran squad is "determined to get Mundelein softball back to the top of the conference and far into postseason."
There appears to be ample offense with All-NSC returners Kira Buckner, Kendall Klatt, Cheyenne Pellettiere and Kellie Shanahan. Buckner, a two-time all-area player, managed 223 strikeouts with an ERA of 2.50 last season, despite missing multiple games in the middle of the season due to injury. A strong middle of the batting order features University of Wisconsin-Whitewater signee Klatt (9 HRs, .350 BA) and Pellettiere (22 RBIs, .353 BA) as well as the consistent bats of Shanahan (. 409 BA as a freshman last year) and Emma Hallin (. 333 BA).
"Look for the Mustangs to bring intensity and determination to the field this spring," Ryan said. "Our goal is to start the year strong and carry it all the way through to the postseason."