Cardinal Stritch has sat in the catbird s seat in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference for six straight seasons, but plenty of foes are in position to keep the Cardinals from taking flight this spring.
Stritch has won six TAAC titles in a row, but Ottawa Hills and Emmanuel Christian should provide strong challenges.
From what I ve seen we may be third, Stritch coach Rick Henning said. Ottawa Hills and Emmanuel Christian are probably ahead of us right now. I think Northwood and Danbury will be in the mix as well. It should be balanced.
Henning said Ottawa Hills has the two best pitchers in the league (Gabrielle Vitale and Natalie Temme), while Emmanuel Christian also has a solid hurler (Rachel Harnica).
Maumee Valley and Toledo Christian are not fielding teams this spring.
Cardinal Stritch (13-11, 8-0 TAAC last year) has five starters back, including the reigning TAAC player of the year. But senior 3B Kristen Roznoski is still recovering from an elbow injury and is currently the designated hitter.
Roznoski, an all-district first team pick, led the league with a .548 average and 33 RBIs.
She s a slap hitter, Henning said. She s one of those go, go, go girls. Hopefully, she ll only be the DH for a few more weeks.
Senior catcher Blair Okorowski earned All-TAAC first team last year after batting .425 with 32 RBIs. Senior LF Jessica Mondragon has been a nice surprise.
Junior SS Brianna Wlodarz earned All-TAAC honorable mention, while sophomore CF Amanda Sinay also has been hitting the ball well.
Ottawa Hills (11-8, 6-2) has eight returning starters as it seeks its first TAAC crown since 1998.
We have good team chemistry, said Green Bears coach Paul Komisarek, who is in his fifth season. I believe our players have the game savvy to be very competitive in the TAAC and beyond. Our infield is strong and our outfield is very fast.
Senior 3B Erin Dull, who was All-TAAC second team, is a power hitter (.481 and 20 RBIs) and four-year starter.
Other key returnees are senior 1B Shelby Sampsel, junior C Karla Dixon (All-TAAC second team), junior SS/P Gabrielle Vitale, sophomore P Natalie Temme (2.03 ERA), sophomore 2B Tessa Dekebach (.407), junior OF Wesley Backoff and sophomore UP Lauren Abendroth. Freshman CF Nancy Rumpf has been a pleasant surprise.
Emmanuel Christian (5-15, 1-7) has 11 players that saw significant playing time.
EC coach Michelle Dick, who has a 57-55 record in five seasons, has 14 varsity players, including six seniors. Senior P Rachel Harnica (.316, 15 RBI) hits clean-up, while senior SS Lacey Anagnostu (.385) is the leadoff hitter. Senior C Emily Armstrong, senior 2B Kaitlyn Cramer and six returning juniors all will contribute.
An obvious strength this year is the leadership, Dick said. I did not graduate anyone from last year s team. They have a good knowledge of the game.
Danbury (5-10, 3-5) has seven returning starters, including three seniors.
Senior SS Jackie Lammers earned All-TAAC first team last season, while junior 2B Heather Bahnsen made the second team.
Experience should be a strength, while pitching and defense are concerns, according to Lakers coach Gene Peluso.
Junior C Devin Pollock, junior P Kelcie McGhee and senior CF Destiny Taylor also are top returning players.
Northwood (6-17, 2-6) suffered through its worse year under coach Dan Fuller s 12-year tenure.
But with two seniors and four returning starters, Fuller hopes his team can return to the form it had when it won TAAC titles in 2001 and 2002.
Senior C Ashley Lu was All-TAAC first team after batting .404. Senior SS Emily Hensler is a two-year starter. Sophomore 3B Sammie Brisbin and junior 1B/OF Monica Traber also are expected to make impacts. Junior Alyssa Rable P is a returning starter.