Otsego is favored to win the NBC title with, from left, Tayler Bowen, Danielle Lashaway, Nicole Thomas, Paige Ireland, Natalie Wright, Savannah Schwind, Kylie Asmus, and Emily Carson.
Runs may be at a premium in the Northern Buckeye Conference this season with several softball teams featuring dominant arms in the circle.
Otsego will lean on sophomore pitcher Kylie Asmus, who averaged nearly two strikeouts per inning last year. Asmus had a 1.82 earned run average.
The Knights, who are the preseason pick to win the NBC, also will field a team with a seasoned player at almost every position.
“When you have that defense behind a pitcher like Kylie Asmus, you can usually be competitive in every game,” Otsego coach Dan Sheperd said.
Defending champion Eastwood has seven starters back, including senior pitcher Whitney Foster, who earned all district first team honors and had a 0.95 ERA.
Elmwood lost just one starter. The Royals also have the NBC co-player of the year back in senior shortstop Brittany George.
Lake coach Dave Rymers said the NBC is loaded with quality pitchers.
“Every game in the league will come down to who can best eliminate physical and mental mistakes,” Rymers said.
League play starts April 17.
“The Northern Buckeye Conference is always tough from top to bottom, so you have to bring your ‘A’ game every day,” Shepherd said.
Otsego (15-10, 7-7) finished in the middle of the pack last year, but the Knights are expected to charge to the top behind Asmus, who had 230 strikeouts as a freshman.
Senior catcher Emily Carson is a four-year letter winner. Juniors Savannah Schwind (SS), Tayler Bowen (2B), and Nicole Thomas (OF) also are back. Sophomore Paige Ireland (1B) and senior Natalie Wright (OF) also have experience.
“We have a couple new starters and a couple others changing positions,” Shepherd said. “We will have to see if that combination works. We finished in the middle of the pack last year, and I think that we should be an improved team.”
Elmwood (19-10, 9-5) has eight starters back for veteran coach Matt Hoiles, who has a 282-105 record entering his 14th season. The Royals had won two straight titles before Eastwood won last year.
“With a number of returning starters back, we are looking to regain what we had lost last year and capture a league title and advance deep into the state tournament,” Hoiles said.
Sophomores Miranda Benshcoter and Olivia Myers will split time in the circle.
George batted .455 with 28 RBIs, three home runs, six stolen bases, and 28 runs scored.
Other returning starters include senior Katie Bottesch (2B), senior Ragan Yarnell (LF), junior Madison Arnold (CF), junior Chelsie Schmitz (1B), junior Tori Hillard (U), and sophomore Rebecca Harvey (3B).
“We will have to replace Whitney Striff and Sierra Beckford, but with the players that have come in and the returning players, hopefully they can fill their shoes,” Hoiles said.
Eastwood (24-14, 12-2) will be led by Foster, who went 21-3 en route to earning All-Ohio second team honors.
Coach Joe Wyant, who is in his sixth year, said his Eagles should have a good shot at repeating.
“We should contend for the NBC title,” he said. “We need good pitching and more offense to reach our goals. I feel we have a good group to work with and very good senior leadership.”
Foster was named co-pitcher of the year in the league.
Junior Cassidy Rolf (3B) earned all-district and all-league first team honors after batting .466 with 17 extra base hits and 35 RBIs. Senior Ally Gabel (OF) also earned all-league and district first team honors. Gabel had a .414 average and scored 40 runs.
Senior Jessica Young (2B) was named All-NBC first team after hitting .329. Other returning players are seniors Emily Helm (OF) and Diana Bushman (1B/C) and junior Anna Rahrig (C/1B).
Rossford (18-10, 8-6) should be strong defensively with seven starters back. Bulldogs coach Tom Kralovic, who enters his 12th season, has no seniors.
But junior catcher Margo Jackson was named NBC co-player of the year and earned All-Ohio second team honors. Jackson had a .540 average and 35 RBIs.
Junior Lindsay Skala (SS) earned all-NBC second team honors (.340 average) along with junior pitcher Mandy Longeway (P).
Juniors Maddie York (CF) and Kelly Swope (1B) also return with experience.
“Our team strength is our team chemistry,” Kralovic said. “We also have consistent pitching. We’re just waiting for the bats to come around. Our goal is to stay in contention and compete for the league championship.”
Pitching will be the strength for Woodmore (21-5, 9-3), which will be led by senior Maddie Phillips (21-5).
Phillips had a 0.82 ERA and 207 strikeouts. She also batted .478, scored 27 runs, drove in 26 runs, and had nine doubles. Phillips was named co-defensive player of the year in the NBC and was all-district first team.
Coach Aaron Clouse, who is in his sixth season, led the Wildcats to the district semifinals.
Sophomore catcher Hana Zollinger hit .273 and scored 13 runs. Junior Cailey Willhardt (CF), junior Courtney Clowers (INF, 17 RBIs), senior Leah Bench (OF), and sophomore Natalie Davis (OF) also are back.
Key newcomers will be sophomore Kari Kruse (1B) and junior Grace Weirich (2B).
“Maddie Phillips is returning from an excellent sophomore season,” Clouse said. “She will be consistent and we know what we are going to get from her.”
But Clouse lost his entire infield.
Genoa (14-13, 5-9) has a good mix of speed and power at the plate, according to coach Jeff Eisenbrandt, who enters his third season.
“This season we want to focus on playing consistent during games and also focusing on playing together as a team,” he said. “I am looking for the two freshmen to solidify our outfield.”
The Comets also have two senior pitchers and a freshman that will battle for time on the mound.
Junior Katie Jensen (3B/2B) batted .397 with two home runs and 12 RBIs. She also scored 24 runs. Junior Ciara Albright (SS) batted .385 with two homers, eight RBIs, and 22 runs scored.
Senior pitcher Mackenzie Hoyles (8-8) has 72 strikeouts and a 2.35 ERA. Hoyles also batted .342 with three home runs, 15 RBIs, and 17 runs scored.
The other returning starters are seniors Paige Neuman (P), Haley Plantz (1B), Payton Wolfe (OF/3B), and juniors Andrea Harmeyer (C ), and Brynn Skilliter (OF). Freshmen Lea Theisen (P), Haley Gerke (OF), and Haley Pickard (OF) also will play.
Lake (6-20, 1-13) has only three seniors, and the Flyers will rely heavily on a large junior class eager to prove themselves, according to coach Dave Rymers.
He said the leadership of returning seniors, Kayla Encalado (SS) and Sammy Whiteman (C), will help the team learn how to compete and do the little things necessary to be successful.
Encalado earned all-league second team honors after batting .390 with 28 RBIs and 10 extra base hits. Encalado is a four-year starter.
Junior Sumer Woodruff (IF) had a .279 average in 2012. Sophomore Allie Kontak (CF) had a .347 average. Junior Ana Henneman returns at first base.
“We want to improve each day, finishing in the top half of the league, and making a tournament run into districts,” Rymers said.
Fostoria (5-21, 3-11) has six returning starters for coach Clayton Moore, who is in his first season.
Seniors Ashlyn Roberts (CF) and Claire Meyers (LF/1B) are back, along with sophomores Alexus Smith (C/ CF), Jada Hampton (2B/SS), Erica Moore (SS/ P/C), and Kaitlyn Gonyer (3B/OF/C). Junior Alex Hersch will pitch and also play first base.
Roberts earned All-NBC first-team honors.
Juniors Christina Cleveland (IF/OF), Kendra Lamalle (OF), and Yessinia Ramirez (OF) also are expected to contribute.