Gibsonburg and Cardinal Stritch finished tied atop the Toledo Area Athletic Conference softball standings in 2012 and are expected to battle it out once again for this year’s conference title.
Gibsonburg (19-8 overall, 9-1 TAAC) has a solid nucleus back, led by three first-team All-TAAC players — seniors Lexi Busdeker (infield, .416) and Danielle Fisher (pitcher/infield, .319, 17-6 record, 2.59 ERA) and junior Elena Mancha (catcher, .346).
Also returning for fifth-year coach Kyle Leatherman are seniors Lauren Rahe (infield, .324) and Sadie Sneider (outfield, three home runs) and junior Filomena Mendoza (infield, .449, 31 RBIs), who was a All-TAAC second-team selection.
“We have seven returners,” Leatherman said. “We’re looking forward to a strong year, but we must fill some important shoes of players that graduated.”
The Golden Bears’ biggest losses were the offensive production of All-TAAC standouts Brittany Potts (.457, 38 RBIs) and Jessica Busdeker (.368, 23 RBIs).
Cardinal Stritch (20-6, 9-1) returns six starters, although junior outfielder Rosa Mondragon begins the season sidelined by a knee injury.
Back to lead fourth-year coach Don Zbierajewski’s Cardinals are seniors Alex Veres (catcher/third base, .348, 29 runs) and Lexi Jagielski (infield/outfield), junior Alexa McCourt (infield/outfield, .292), and sophomores Drew Fancher (pitcher/first base, .356, 27 RBIs, 5-0 record, 1.35 ERA) and Cailyn Horna (outfield/infield).
Veres was a first-team All-TAAC selection, and Fancher made the TAAC second team.
“Although we lost five starters, losing Rosa Mondragon to start the season, we expect to be competitive in the TAAC,” Zbierajewski said. “I am expecting Alex Veres to have a huge year this year, and Drew Fancher has worked very hard over the winter with her eeeeeeeepersonal pitching coach. She should fill the role of the ace of the staff.”
Northwood (17-9, 6-4) returns three starters to aid first-year head coach Jennifer Noonan, who moves up after five years as an assistant.
Back is the productive trio of seniors Katie Vancs (third base/outfield, .317) and Katelyn Napier (outfield/shortstop, .357) and junior Brianna Crispin (outfield/catcher, .381).
Some top newcomers to the lineup are senior Miranda Maldonado (shortstop) and juniors Alyson Seibert (pitcher), Ashley Buczko (catcher), Emily Murphy (second base), and Marissa Bonnette (first base).
“Although we graduated eight seniors last year, we have worked hard, and I expect our hard work to pay off on the field,” Noonan said. “We have great team morale, and as long as our team stays healthy, I expect to have a really successful season.”
Ottawa Hills (6-15, 4-6) looks to climb into the TAAC title chase this season under second-year coach Jeff Deckebach, who is counting on his core of five returning starters to lead the Green Bears.
In that group are seniors Syd Hoffman (third base/catcher) and Madeline Shaffer (outfield, .294), juniors Abby Lyon (first base, .312) and Gaby Guilliod (catcher), and sophomore Sarah Baehren (pitcher).
Adding depth will be senior Susi Martinez (second base/outfield) and sophomore Maddie Freeman (shortstop/pitcher).
“Our pitching and catching will be better then last season,” Deckebach said. “Both Sarah Baehren and Maddie Freeman have a year of varsity pitching experience under their belt and have been working hard.
“We have some speed at the top of our order, and the middle of our lineup will be solid. We should be competitive in the TAAC but will need to stay healthy and get some production from our younger players if we want to challenge for the title.”
Danbury (4-19, 2-8) returns five starters for fourth-year coach Chris Matta, who is optimistic about his Lakers competing better in the TAAC this season.
Returning are EveLynn Hermiller (pitcher/outfield), Engelica Cichocki (outfield), Cassidy Rhodes (second base), Kylah Mackall (pitcher/infield, .300), and Elissa Rae Barrere (catcher/infield, .340).
“We hope to be much more competitive this year,” Matta said. “We have worked hard off season developing a stronger pitching staff. We had only one go-to pitcher last year. This year we throw two righties and a lefty who have developed significantly over the summer.
“I believe our hitting will add strength to our season this year as well, but I am concerned about our defense. We should fair well in the TAAC this season.”
Emmanuel Christian (3-13, 0-10) returns seven starters for second-year coach Brennan Arbogast, who is confident his Warriors are capable of a climb in the TAAC this season.
Back are seniors Mackenzie Arbogast (first base) and Madi Smith (shortstop), juniors Chelsea Graham (catcher), Lizzie Harrington (center field), and Rachael Smith (right field), and sophomores Cassidy Daniels (third base) and Carlee Marzec (second base).
Another plus is the addition of promising freshman pitcher Jillanne Groenhout.
“We are looking to see some improvement this year in our team,” coach Arbogast said. “We have a freshman pitcher from whom we’re expecting good things. We also have two seniors, who are four-year starters, that we are expecting to lead our team. We hope and expect to be more competitive in the TAAC than last year.”
Toledo Christian joins the TAAC mix this year after playing 2012 as a club team that recorded a 3-10 record under coach Mike Geis.
Back as starters from that team are senior Aubrey Geis (catcher), junior Evie Rossol (shortstop), and sophomore Bethany Kollmorgen (pitcher). Other top players for the Eagles are senior Bethany Brown (infield), sophomores Lia Kaiser (utility) and Madi Zaborowski (infield), and freshman Megan Draper (pitcher/infield).
“There are some very young, but promising players on this year’s team who are getting better every day,” coach Geis said.