Marissa Lee has been a four-year starter for Elmwood. Lee had a 19-6 record with a 2.47 ERA last season.
Elmwood softball is in a pretty healthy state right now.
The defending champions have plenty of experience and talent to be the clear favorite to close out the final Suburban Lakes League season at the top.
"The expectations are really high with this many starters back," said Elmwood coach Matt Hoiles, who has nine key returners. "A lot of these girls grew up with the program and understand the tradition."
Elmwood is the favorite in a coaches poll, followed by Lake, Genoa and Eastwood. Yet, that doesn't mean everyone plans to just hand over the title to the Royals.
Expect the Royals to be challenged.
"I like our prospects," Genoa first-year coach Jeff Eisenbrandt said. "We have a lot of talent on the team, and they all bring something and contribute."
Gibsonburg third-year coach Kyle Leatherman expects the competition to be fierce.
"The league is strong as always," said Leatherman. "Being this is the last year for the SLL, it's going to be a challenge each time out because each team wants to win it."
Hoiles isn't expecting an easy time.
"It's one of the strongest leagues, especially for Division III teams, in the state," Hoiles said. "The league overall may not be as good as it has been, but you better come to play every night."
Morgan Arnold has been a four-year starter for Elmwood. She hit .434 with 28 RBIs last season.
Elmwood (20-10, 10-2 SLL last year) returns Morgan Arnold, the SLL player of the year, and fellow senior Marissa Lee. Both are four-year starters and are the only Royals who were on the team in 2008 when it advanced to the Division III state semifinals.
Arnold was second in the SLL last season with a .434 batting aberage. She had four home runs and 28 RBIs. Lee posted a 19-6 record on the mound with a 2.47 ERA, while striking out 159 as the Royals reached the regional final.
Also back are juniors Stephanie Barringer (3B), a three-year starter, Whitney Striff (1B) and Sierra Beckford (OF) -- both two-year starters. Sophomores Britney George (SS) and Ragan Yarnell (OF) are two-year starters.
"They've worked extremely hard, and they want to get back to where they've been before," Hoiles said.
Lake (15-11, 7-5) looks to contend with All-SLL first-team infielder Adrienne Lowe (.409, 29 stolen bases) leading the way. She had a 2.50 ERA last season.
Megan Schnell, a junior, earned All-SLL second team after batting .376. Senior Kaysie Brittenham, All-SLL second team, is also being counted on.
Genoa (15-14, 2-10) begins a new era under Eisenbrandt, who has seven experienced seniors, including All-SLL outfielders Harlee Hummel (.370, 19 RBIs) and Julie Swartzmiller (.333, 17 RBIs).
Seniors Cayla Pickard, Cara Harmeyer and Hannah Morrison are also expected to contribute, as well as junior infielder Patricia Snider.
"I think we're pretty much considered an underdog," Eisenbrandt said. "We were picked to finish third but that was probably because we have 10 seniors on the roster."
Eastwood (19-8, 9-3) came up a victory shy of repeating as league champions a year ago.
All-League pitcher Christine Foster, a senior, leads the way as the Eagles hope to win a second title in three seasons. Foster (13-4, 1.16 ERA) struck out 151 batters last season.
Outfielder Saige Smith and infielder Hannah Hirzel are also experienced players. The starting lineup includes six sophomores and one freshman.
"We're young, but we are athletic," Eastwood coach Joe Wyant said. "We'll be competitive."
Woodmore (15-9, 6-5) is looking for a young team to mature quickly this season under coach Aaron Clouse.
Bailey Ulinkski, a senior catcher, is one of five letter winners. Juniors Andrea Bouldin, Kalyn Tate, Brittany Mondragon and Leah Bench make up the nucleus for an otherwise inexperienced lineup.
Otsego (4-19, 1-11) gets a fresh start under first-year coach Shawn Watson.
Gibsonburg (16-9, 7-5) is led by four returning letter winners.
Pitcher Tayler Henline, catcher Katey DuShane and fellow senior infielder Abby Copley, are expected to provide plenty of experience, along with junior outfielder Brittany Potts.
"We have holes to fill," said Leatherman. "As long as we learn from our mistakes we can become successful."
Contact Donald Emmons at: email@example.com or 419-724-6302