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More royalty seems in store for Elmwood s softball team in the Suburban Lakes League this season.
The Royals, defending SLL champions, are considered the outright favorites to win another title. Elmwood received seven out of eight first-place votes in a preseason coaches poll. Eastwood, which received one first-place vote, is picked to finish second, followed by Gibsonburg, Woodmore, Genoa, Lake, Lakota and Otsego.
Elmwood (29-2, 14-0 SLL last year) has seven returning letter winners from a team that reached the Division III state semi-finals a year ago. The Royals have plenty of pieces in place to make a run at a second straight undefeated league experience.
Elmwood coach Matt Hoiles is cautiously optimistic about the potential for the Royals to put together another strong season.
So far, we re still trying to understand how to play the game because we have players in new roles and we re still struggling with that, said Hoiles, who is in his 10th season of coaching the Royals. I think this group benefited a lot from that experience last year. A lot of them were part of the supporting cast last year and now they re in the lead roles.
It s going to take some time.
Sophomore pitcher Marissa Lee is in position to make a major impact as the Royals ace after posting an 8-2 record as a freshman. She saw time on the mound even in the postseason run, including work in the regional final and state semifinal games.
She s taken in all that experience and she s still young, Hoiles said, of Lee. I have to remind myself she s only a sophomore.
Morgan Arnold, a sophomore catcher, completes the young and talented battery for Elmwood.
Offensively, the Royals are led by senior utility player Kelsey Sease and junior third baseman Emily Reynolds. Both are coming off productive seasons in which they hit over .300.
In addition, junior first baseman Vanessa Schwind is expected to provide a lift in the lineup after missing time on the field last season due to an injury. She s expected to be back at full strength.
Hoiles likes the makeup of this year s team, but isn t suggesting it s as good as last year s group that went undefeated in the SLL and finished the season with a stellar 29-2 overall record.
I don t think that s going to happen with anybody going 14-0 this season, Hoiles said. It s a three-team battle between Genoa, Eastwood and us. The most consistent team will probably win the league.
Eastwood (18-11, 7-7) is returning a good group led by all-leaguers, outfielder Megan Eisenhour, catcher Kerri Gangwer, third baseman Brooke Albright and shortstop Katie Dewyre, who batted .407 a year ago.
Our league is very good and very balanced, Eastwood coach Joe Wyant said. There are at least six teams in the league good enough to compete for the league title. We feel we can be competitive and hopefully we have a chance to win it.
Gibsonburg (18-10, 7-7) coach Kyle Leatherman begins his first season in charge with an experienced Golden Bears team led by all-leaguer pitcher Alaina Haubert, as well as pitcher Samantha Stainbrook and outfielder Aubrey Goetz. Leatherman intends to utilize Haubert and Stainbrook on the mound.
Samantha and Alaina are a pretty good one-two [pitching] combination, Leatherman said. Alaina is more of a power pitcher and Samantha is more of a spot pitcher.
Senior outfielders Kati Bailey and Reba Burmeister are also top returners among nine returning letter winners.
I m pretty excited because we have a lot of returners back, Leatherman said. There are a lot of returners who didn t like the kind of season they had last year.
Woodmore (14-10, 6-6) will lean on senior ace Sami Michaelis, who posted a 1.27 ERA a year ago. Catcher Emma Sullivan, infielder Kaylee Paul and outfielder Rachel Bouldin are also expected to provide some senior leadership. Junior infielder Shelby Phillips is also a returning letter winner.
Genoa (17-8, 9-5) has six returning letter winners, but only one senior outfielder Courtney Mowery. Casidy Bubera, a junior, is the team s leading returning hitter. Sarah Muncey, a junior, and Mallory Murphy will take over the pitching duties.
With the youth of this group, they have an upside, Comets coach Tom Kontak said. It just might take time to develop and grow to ultimately get to their best.
Lake (17-12, 7-7) will lean on senior shortstop Lauren Lind, who batted .301 last season.
Lakota seniors Samantha Braber and Alicia Bickford are the top returners, along with juniors Rachel Hoffman, Hannah Podach and Breanne Nonnemaker.
Otsego (14-11, 6-8), under first-year coach Mackenzie Heban, has Emily Limes, Meghan Froman, HillaryKister and sure-glove infielder Katelyn Downing to lean on in what is expected to be a season of adjustment.