As sure as spring will roll around each year, the Springfield softball team also can always be counted on to compete for a Northern Lakes League title.
The Blue Devils have captured four of the last eight league championships. The feat is even more impressive given the NLL’s stature as one of the state’s top conferences.
Four of the league’s eight teams have reached the state semifinals since 1990. Perrysburg (1991) and Anthony Wayne (2003) have won state titles, while Springfield reached the final four in 2010. Northview advanced to the state semifinals in 1992. The Generals also earned a berth in 2001 and the Yellow Jackets did in 1990.
With seven starters returning from a state-ranked team, Springfield is favored to defend its 2012 title.
Anthony Wayne, which has won five NLL titles in the last eight years, and Perrysburg were hit hard by graduation. Southview, which knocked Springfield out of the postseason last year, is expected to give the Blue Devils their stiffest test.
Springfield (24-3 overall, NLL 13-1) will be led by sophomore power hitter Hannah Girlie and junior ace Bre Buck.
Girlie earned All-Ohio second-team honors after leading the NLL with a .549 average and nine home runs. Girlie, a shortstop, also drove in 28 runs. Buck (15-2) had a 2.56 ERA with 137 strikeouts.
Coach Rob Gwozdz, who has a 206-92 record in 12 years, led the Blue Devils to a No. 5 state ranking last year.
“Our strengths would be our pitching and offense,” Gwozdz said.
Sophomore third baseman Brianna Espino earned all-district second team honors after blasting seven home runs to go along with a .393 average and 27 RBIs.
Sophomore second baseman Libby Mathewson (.364) had 20 RBIs. Sophomore outfielder Kiley Aller had a .391 average and 12 RBIs.
Junior pitcher Lauren Yates (8-1) had a 1.85 ERA and 40 strikeouts.
Senior catcher Ashley Zappone had a .360 average and 19 RBIs. Leadoff hitter Kiley Aller, a center fielder who batted .391, and Mathewson, the No. 2 hitter, will be counted on to get things going.
Southview (10-4, 16-11) reached the D-I district final last year under fourth-year coach Jim Zoltowski.
“We have lots of varsity level experience and excellent senior leadership along with a very talented group of underclassmen that we need to contribute,” Zoltowski said.
Eight starters are back, led by seniors Kate Austin (C/OF) and Jess Knepper (C/IF) and juniors Bri Michel (P/IF/OF) and Sarah Klepzig (P/IF/OF).
Austin has signed to play at Concordia University, while Knepper (.462) has signed to play at Hillsdale College. Michel (3-3) batted .419. Klepzig finished with a .440 average.
Also back are juniors Taylor Dunlap (IF), Hanna Gerken (OF), Chelsea Zoltowski (1B/OF), and Lindsey Moyer (IF).
“Getting healthy and staying healthy is important,” Zoltowski said. “We expect to compete within our league and our very tough, non-league schedule.”
Anthony Wayne (19-10, 10-4) reached the district semifinals last season under longtime coach Carolyn Vogtsberger, who has 374 wins entering her 20th season.
Vogtsberger said her team’s strengths should be offense and pitching depth. Four starters are back.
Junior Haley Olvera (DH/OF) is the top returning batter with a .378 average and 21 runs scored. Olvera also drove in 12 runs.
Rachel Graver, who is the lone senior on the roster, had seven RBIs and five stolen bases. She will play third, catcher, and outfield.
Junior Logan Rupp will be taking over on the mound.
Juniors Hayley Leach (1B/OF), Emma Hoffman (3B), and Mac Rhodes (IF/1B) also will be counted on, along with sophomore Autumn Dickey. Rhodes, a three-year starter, batted .338 with 14 RBIs.
Perrysburg (19-9, 8-6) reached the Division I regional semifinals, where it lost 6-5 to Elyria.
Ryan DeMars enters his fourth year with a young team with only four returning starters.
Senior shortstop Katie Dunphy, a four-year starter, batted .460 with eight home runs and she drove in 20 runs. Dunphy also scored 42 runs.
Senior Raegen Vickers (CF) batted .250. Junior pitcher Kayleen Jurski (5-2) had a 1.79 ERA. Jurski also batted .260 with 18 RBIs.
Also back are juniors Mallory Creps (3B) and Taylor Tafelski (LF).
“In order to be successful our young players will have to step up and adjust quickly to the quality of play at the varsity level in the NLL,” DeMars said. “We have strong leadership and talented players and I expect that we will compete in every game and improve on our fourth place finish from last year.”
At Maumee (7-19, 0-14), first-year coach Shawn Watson inherits an experienced club.
“We are a veteran team that is learning a new offensive and defensive strategy,” Watson said. “The players are adapting to these strategies well.”
Senior catcher Kendall Murphy batted .400 with 10 RBIs. Senior outfielder Abigail Ohair hit .333 and had 18 stolen bases.
Junior pitcher Samantha Fowls had a 4.54 ERA with 122 strikeouts. Fowls also had a .367 average and 22 RBIs. Sophomore Salwa Al-Hajabed (3B) batted .362 with two home runs and 15 RBIs.
Also back are seniors Joeal Olman (OF), Bailee Patterson (2B), Kaylyn Quiniff (1B), Cassidy Uscilowski (P), and juniors Janie Hudson (OF) and Emily Young (SS).
“Athleticism isn’t a question with this group,” Watson said. “They have put the time and sweat into their dream, now it’s time to show it on the field.”
Napoleon (16-13, 7-7) won a sectional title under coach Joe Meyer, who is in his 15th season.
His returning letter winners are seniors Sarah Pilkington (P/IF), Bailey Bost (IF), Taylor Murphy (IF), Courtnee Paxton (C/IF), and Paige Weirich (OF), along with junior Allison Lamming (P/IF).
Pilkington (.337) had 20 RBIs and four home runs. Paxton hit .273, while Lamming had a .259 average and Murphy .258.
Meyer said he has good athletes in the outfield and experience at catcher, pitcher, and on the infield.
“Our girls love to learn,” he said. “We are a work in progress. We have some talent.”
Northview (6-20, 2-12) has four seniors and seven letter winners back. First-year coach Todd Omey, who previously led the program at Swanton, said he likes his team's abilities in the field.
“I think our strength will be our defense, having those kids back,” Omey said.
Junior Cassidy Ghesquiere (2B) had a .438 average and drove in 13 runs. She also stole seven bases and scored 23 runs.
Senior Hayley Ulmer batted .402 with 22 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. Junior Lori Meyer (SS) returns after an ACL injury. Juniors Maddie Garro (3B/P) and Bre Quinones (P) also are back.
“We need to hit the ball better. Our team batting average needs to improve,” Omey said. “We want to improve. We need to start learning how to win.”
Bowling Green (15-12, 6-8 NLL) will field a young team with very little pitching experience.
Coach Jim Cress, who is in his fourth year, said a good portion of the Bobcats' offense graduated.
“So we need players to gain confidence at the plate and be productive offensively,” Cress said.
Those with some experience include seniors Kristi Eikenbery (IF) and Lily Murnen (OF), juniors Hanna Addy (C), Reagan Morman (2B), Kelsey Parker (1B) and Hanna Williford (P/OF) along with sophomores Harper Craft (OF), Emily Sidle (3B) and Anna Szabo (IF).
“We have the potential to develop and be very competitive, but it will depend largely upon the focus and energy our players bring to each practice and game,” Cress said.