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Picking Clay to win this year’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference softball championship was like one of those Captain Obvious TV commercials.
The Eagles return eight starters — including the conference player of the year and pitcher of the year — from last year’s TRAC champions, a team that was ranked No. 6 in the final state coaches poll, after losing to eventual Division I state runner-up Elyria in the regional final.
Yes, Captain Obvious, Clay is favored to repeat its TRAC championship.
The Eagles got all eight first-place votes in a preseason poll of conference coaches. Notre Dame, which Clay defeated 13-3 in last year’s district final, was picked for second, Whitmer third, and Central Catholic fourth.
Clay (26-3, 12-2 TRAC last year) has never had a team return with more high-level experience for 14th-year coach Brenda Radabaugh.
It starts with seniors Honnah Susor (CF) and Brooke Gallaher (P), who were the TRAC player and pitcher of the year, respectively.
Susor batted an eye-popping .585 (55 for 94) with three home runs, 21 RBIs, 50 runs scored, and 28 stolen bases.
Gallaher, an All-Ohio second-team selection, was 15-2 in the pitcher’s circle, with a 1.10 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 108 innings. She also batted .448 with 34 RBIs.
The other returning senior starters are Harleigh Isbell (SS), who batted .394, and Danielle Lorenzen, the No. 2 pitcher who was 10-1 with a 1.80 ERA.
Also back are juniors Hayley Schiavone (3B, .434, 22 RBIs), Jamie Miller (1B, .349, 30 RBIs), and Brooke Gyori (RF), and sophomore Haley Dominique (LF, .455, 22 RBIs).
“With 10 returning letter winners, including our entire pitching staff, I am very optimistic about the season,” said Radabaugh, whose team was off to a 3-1 start through Tuesday. “Our players have worked extremely hard during the offseason and have set some high goals for this year.
“I have faith that we can work together to reach those goals.”
If Clay does get a challenge it will most likely comes from Notre Dame (18-9, 11-3), which returns five starters for fifth-year coach Norm Kujawa.
Back are fourth-year seniors Cassie Gillespie (P-1B, 10-4 pitching; .414 batting average, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs), Amanda Del Monte (SS, .409, 4 HRs, 30 RBIs) and Molly Walters (CF, .298), and juniors Mary Armbruster (3B, .294) and Sarah Long (OF, .338, 16 RBIs).
“Although we graduated some talented players, we return six letter winners and five starters, and our additions are all experienced players,” Kujawa said. “Our goals remain high for the season.”
Whitmer (16-11, 9-5) and 19th-year coach Mark Figliomeni also expect to contend near the top of the TRAC behind six returning starters and a seventh letter winner with significant experience.
Back are seniors Makayla Taylor (3B-P), .329, 5 HRs), Meghan Franz (1B-2B, 3 HRs), Lyndi Winzeler (CF, .325), Mallory Rao (SS), and Cassidy Lutz (IF-OF), junior Jordan Hanf (2B, .355), and sophomore Olivia Combs (1B-C, .311).
“There are seven letter winners, so there is experience at the key positions,” Figliomeni said. “It is key that the experience shows up from the start of the season for the Panthers to be in the hunt for their first TRAC title.”
Central Catholic (14-13, 10-4) also is reasonably experienced with five starters returning for fifth-year coach Larry Jaworski.
That group includes senior Lexi Galernik (OF), juniors Ashley Best (2B, .372, 18 RBIs), Lauren Best (P), and Maggie Buchele (1B, .348, 19 RBIs), and sophomore Kelsey Wielfaert (OF).
But with just three seniors and three freshmen starting, the Irish are a young team.
“We may get off to a slow start, but we have high expectations as the season moves forward and we adjust and get to know each other,” Jaworski said. “Our team has a lot to learn and, through patience and persistence, we have a very positive look for success in the future.”
St. Ursula (6-16, 5-9) appears equipped to make a climb in the TRAC standings with nine returning starters for new coach Brian Jones.
The Arrows will be paced by seniors Mary Richberg (C-IF), Caroline Lewandowski (1B, .357 batting average), Emily Uhlman (SS-P), and Hannah Heffernan (OF), juniors McKenzie Frame (IF-OF), Mary Eilert (IF-OF), and Kisten Webb (IF-OF), and sophomores Cassie Ott (P-IF-OF) and Cat Mehan (OF-C).
Richberg — who will play at Niagara — Lewandowski, and Uhlman are all fourth-year players.
“With all nine starters returning from last year’s team, I am looking for big things in 2014,” Jones said.
Fremont Ross (15-12, 7-7) also has a new coach in Jen Bair, who was greeted by four returning starters plus two other letter winners.
The Little Giants expect leadership from seniors Kelsey Ivy (SS, .394) and McKenna Pettiford (OF) and juniors Brina Hrynciw (OF) and Mo Fox (OF-2B), all of whom are returning starters. Top newcomers to the lineup include senior Andrea Ysasi (C), sophomores Kayla Foos (P) and Val Samson (IF), and freshman Chloe Swaisgood (P-IF).
“We are a young team with a new infield and new coaching staff,” Bair said. “We are looking to take things one step at a time and build upon the basics. We are excited and look forward to what the season can bring.”
Findlay (4-23, 2-12) hopes to make strides upward this year behind senior Shelby Roether (2B), juniors Libby Crow (P-utility) and Kailyn Abell (OF), and sophomores Brooke Brigadoi (SS) and Mariah Nill (OF).
Coach Mike Colyer also expects contributions from freshmen starters Taylor Steinke (3B), Kirstin Paris (OF), Mickey Schmits (C), and Riley Langstaff (1B).
“This team is composed of a really talented group of young players guided by solid veteran leadership,” Colyer said. “They are working hard and are committed to the fundamentals we are driving. This is a really strong group of competitors that is hungry for success on the diamond.”
Lima Senior (0-19, 0-14) is hoping to see improvement under fifth-year coach David Lawrence, who has six returning starters to lead the way.
Pacing the Spartans will be seniors Amanda Daglio (OF), Ashley Daglio (P-OF), Kristen Nuckles (2B), Kiaysha Ward (OF-IF), and Emily Nance (OF-P), and juniors Kayleigh Twining (SS-P) and Kali Wilcutt (IF).
“We are looking for big things this year with consistent fielding, hitting and pitching,” Lawrence said.