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Clay shared first place in the 2012 regular season, and is expected to contend for this year’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference softball title along with Notre Dame, which last year reached the Division I regional final.
The two squads of Eagles tied for first in a preseason poll of TRAC coaches, with Whitmer and Fremont Ross picked to place third and fourth, respectively. Central Catholic, which tied Clay in the standings before winning the TRAC playoff championship a year ago, has graduated the conference’s top pitcher, Erin Seiler. That void was enough to slate the Irish for fifth place.
Clay (18-9, 11-3 TRAC) and 13th-year coach Brenda Radabaugh will be counting heavily on six returning starters, a core that includes seniors Emily Novak (catcher, .346 batting average in 2012), Hanna Cowell (first base), and Lindsay Schiavone (second base).
Also back are juniors Brooke Gallaher (pitcher, 7-6 record, 1.89 ERA), Harleigh Isbell (shortstop), and Honnah Susor (outfield, .370).
“I feel as though we will be contenders for the TRAC title,” Radabaugh said. “We have solid pitching combined with six returning starters. This should be the foundation of a strong defense.”
Notre Dame (18-12, 10-4) didn’t win the TRAC title as predicted in 2012, but was the last conference team standing in tournament play, falling to perennial power Elyria in the regional final.
The Eagles return nine players from that team, including seniors Jenna Inman (pitcher/outfield, 8-7, 4.07 ERA), Rachel Born (third base), Nichole Wilkins (outfield/first base), and Cory Brickman (catcher/second base).
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Junior Cassie Gillsepie (pitcher/first base, 10-5, 2.12 ERA, .432 average, nine home runs, 25 RBIs) has been one of the area’s top talents the last two seasons.
Fourth-year coach Norm Kujawa will also rely on juniors Amanda Del Monte (shortstop, .337, 18 RBIs), Emily Lehmkuhl (catcher/outfield), and Molly Walters (center field, .292), and sophomores Mary Armbruster (second base) and Sarah Long (outfield).
“We feel we have several strengths,” Kujawa said. “Balanced offense, solid defense, two pitchers that have the ability to dominate a game, a genuine caring for each other as teammates, and a hunger to continue the success we enjoyed in last season’s state tournament.
“We expect to compete for the TRAC title in what is a very competitive and balanced league. We return nine players that now know how to deal with adversity and what it takes to become a champion. We’re focused and ready to go.”
Whitmer (14-13, 9-5) has nine returning players, and that experience should put 18th-year coach Mark Figliomeni’s Panthers in good position to challenge for the TRAC title.
Back to lead the way are seniors Kailyn Bates (pitcher, 8-10, 2.34), Kylie Kretz (outfield, .308), Kendra Pratt (second base, .308), Shelby Swartz (shortstop, .275), and Tori Weidinger (catcher, .304), and juniors Meghan Franz (second base, .407), Cassidy Lutz (utility), Mallory Rao (third base), and Makayla Taylor (pitcher/third base, .350).
“Pitching will be key and must be consistent and staying power for the entire season,” Figliomeni said. “Our hitters must produce consistently for us to be successful.
“The TRAC will be tight this year, and the new format will favor the consistent team, not the team that peaks at the right time.”
Fremont Ross (18-11, 8-6) graduated six players that helped the Little Giants compete near the top of the TRAC last season, but has three of its top players back in seniors Meghan Michael (first base, .495, five home runs, 38 RBIs) and McKenzie Gallagher (pitcher, .462, 18-11 record), and junior Kelsey Ivy (shortstop, .345).
Other returnees adding depth are and seniors Kiera Hall (catcher, .308) and Lindsay Overmyer (third base, .262), and sophomore Brina Hrynciw (outfield, .310).
“We are looking to be competitive in 2013,” said 15th-year coach Mike Gilbert. “With our returning pitcher, McKenzie Gallagher, and catcher, Kiera Hall, we should stay close in games throughout the year. Kelsey Ivy and Meghan Michael bring experience and leadership to the infield.
“As a team, we need to concentrate on every play and continue to improve.”
Central Catholic (20-7, 11-3) tied Clay for the regular-season TRAC title, and won the conference’s playoff. But no team has lost more than the Irish with the graduation of Erin Seiler (18-7 record, 1.18 ERA, 337 strikeouts in 172 innings, .437 batting average), one of the top pitchers in Ohio.
In a rebuilding effort, fourth-year coach Larry Jaworski will rely heavily on seniors Kaitlin Bronikowski (shortstop), Carley Ceglio (outfield), and Rachael Drenner (catcher).
Also helping Central’s cause will be junior Lexi Galrenik (outfield), and sophomores Maggie Buchele (second base), and Paige Cubberly (pitcher/first base).
“I expect our team to be battling for the league title,” Jaworski said. “The strengths of our team is the leadership of our players, their want and will, and their great practice ethics. They want to become better players and athletes.
“This will be one of the fastest teams that I have ever coached, and I am expecting to use our quickness to our benefit.”
St. Ursula (8-18, 4-10) looks to make a climb in the TRAC under fourth-year coach Amy Muszynski and six returnees, a group which includes no seniors.
Leadership is expected from juniors Mary Richberg (catcher, .341, 23 RBIs), Caroline Lewandowski (first base, .289), Hannah Heffernan (center field), Emily Uhlman (shortstop), and Maddie Krell (DP/utility), and sophomore McKenzie Frame (outfield).
Muszynski hopes to get a boost from promising freshmen Cassie Ott (pitcher), Kirstin Webb (second base), and Catherine Meehan (outfield).
“We are hoping to be competitive in the league and build off of a couple of big wins we had in the TRAC last season,” Muszynski said. “The defense will look very different with many position changes taking place.”
Findlay (4-23, 4-10) hopes to build under first-year coach Michael Colyer and a core of seven players with varsity experience.
Leading a young Trojans group will be senior Jessica Blubaugh (outfield, .292), junior Shelby Roether (infield, .254), and sophomores Bree Snapp (pitcher), Kaylee Lentz (catcher), Maddie Willis (infield), Payton Bruskotter (infield), and Libby Crow (infield).
“Our team is quick, both defensively and offensively,” Colyer said. “Although young, they have experience, and the desire to succeed. It is a group of hard workers looking to break out."
Lima Senior (1-22, 0-13) hopes to make some strides this season.
Fourth-year coach David Lawrence will look for leadership from seniors Kyra Allen (first base, .305), Makalea Chiles (center field), and Summer Miller (catcher/outfield). Also helping the effort will be junior Kristen Nuckles (second base/outfield) and sophomore Kayleigh Twining (pitcher/shortstop).
“We have some players that are going to have to learn to play some different positions than they are used to playing,” Lawrence said.
“With that, we need to play error-free softball and have some consistent pitching.”