Colin Likas on preps | You heard it here first

Colin Likas on preps | You heard it here first

It might not feel like spring outside. Just ask the seven athletes who stopped by The News-Gazette this past Wednesday for the photo on D-1 with temperatures near the freezing mark. But it's time for our third segment of the 2017-18 high school sports season, which kicks off Monday with baseball and softball games on the docket. Preps coordinator COLIN LIKAS checks in with 25 predictions before the spring sports action starts to heat up:

BASEBALL

1. Mahomet-Seymour will be a big threat. Coach Nic DiFilippo's squad has eight returning starters, including Notre Dame signee Brooks Coetzee. The Bulldogs will improve on a Class 3A regional semifinal finish last season and could vie for a spot in Peoria come early June.

2. Dalton Hoel will steal 50 bases. Tuscola's three-sport star cruised to the area title in stolen bases with 44 last season, so why not up the ante in his senior campaign? It would add to a fun 2017-18 for Hoel, who already helped the Warriors to a Class 1A football state runner-up finish.

3. A local player will hit 10 homers. During the 2017 season, three guys finished with seven dingers — and all three return in Oakwood's Chase Vinson, along with Tuscola's Andrew Erickson and Brayden VonLanken. One of these three, or maybe someone else, will make the leap to double digits.

4. Cam Robinson will pace pitchers. The Champaign Central standout and John A. Logan signee nailed down 11 victories last season as the Maroons soared to fourth place in Class 3A. Robinson will lead the area mound managers again and the right-hander is likely to reach double figures once more.

5. A freshman will make the first team. Seven first-year high-schoolers were included in our 2017 All-Area coverage, and none were on the first team. That will change this season, as many local coaches have said they'll be working with young rosters in 2018.

SOFTBALL

6. St. Joseph-Ogden will be top dog. Coach Randy Wolken's outfit loses a quartet of four-year starters, but Bailey Dowling is still around. The reigning News-Gazette Player of the Year and Alabama commit has a talented group of teammates as well, which means the Spartans can follow up on their Class 2A state runner-up finish.

7. Ten girls will hit 10 or more homers. Dowling's 22 blasts led the area scene last year, when five athletes finished with 10 or more home runs. But eight more players ended with eight or nine long balls, and most of them are returning along with Dowling, Villa Grove's Reagan Cheely (10) and Watseka's Magan Harris (10).

8. Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman will make noise. The Buffaloes are returning essentially their entire lineup, minus now-Danville Area Community College athlete Hayley Hardin. Last season's unit earned a No. 4 seed in the 2A tournament and qualified for a regional final. Beware the Buffaloes making a deeper run this time.

9. Someone will toss 200 innings. Softball is a different beast than baseball when it comes to pitch counts and pitcher management. Former Tuscola athlete Morgan Day led locals last season with 182 innings pitched, and multiple girls followed close behind. This year, someone will break into the 200 range.

10. Madison Eberle will strike out 300. Just a sophomore with Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Eberle recorded 261 punchouts last season to earn her spot as the top returning pitcher in that regard. Age can only improve her stuff, and it's going to equal at least 300 Ks in 2018.

GIRLS' SOCCER

11. An area athlete tallies 40 goals. Mahomet-Seymour's Meredith Johnson-Monfort (a future Illini) and Centennial's Mary Woods finished with 34 and 30 goals last season, respectively. While both coaches have increased their schedule difficulty this year, at least one of these two will break the 40-goal plateau.

12. St. Thomas More will make a super-sectional. Coach James Johnson's Sabers made the deepest local 2017 postseason run, falling in a Class 1A sectional final. With nine returning starters, the time is right for STM to take the next step.

13. Mahomet-Seymour wins the Apollo Conference. While coach Joey Gruner's club returns five seniors, it must also replace four starters from the previous campaign. But Johnson-Monfort, starting netminder Sarah Hohenstein and the Bulldogs will have what it takes to capture the inaugural Apollo crown.

14. Danville improves to 20 victories. The Vikings scored six wins last season but return 14 athletes from that 2017 group. Goaltender Mary Emma York and leading scorer Lauren Ellis will key Danville to a nice improvement in regular-season action.

15. Maupin and DuPree will battle it out. Behind Johnson-Monfort and Woods in returning area scorers, we have Monticello's Mia Maupin and Champaign Central's Naomi DuPree. These two contributed 19 and 17 goals, respectively, last season. First one to 25 takes third in the area?

BOYS' TENNIS

16. Uni High contends for a sectional title. Coach David Bergandine's Illineks took second in the Class 1A Centennial Sectional last year, slipping behind Mt. Zion by a 32-16 margin. But Uni High returns 2017 state doubles qualifiers Van Gundersen and Samuel Li, along with a few other starters, and will vie for a plaque.

17. Jared Thomas goes back to state. The Centennial star posted a 2-2 record in the 1A singles tournament last season after capturing an individual sectional championship. He was the only area boy to compete in the state singles finals, and the junior will occupy a spot in that event again this year.

18. Wade Baillon and Jake Sellett make a charge. This sophomore/senior pairing compiled a 3-2 mark in the 1A state doubles event last season, so there's nothing to suggest they can't fare even better in 2018.

19. Champaign Central gets into state. Coach Scott Davis returns five of his top six athletes from last season. At least one Maroon will make a big leap into the state singles bracket this year.

20. Danville gets involved in state. The only local 2A boys' tennis program returns all but one player from its 2017 squad. Led by Ryan Vadeboncoeur and Bradlee Sexton, the Vikings will make some sort of state splash.

TRACK AND FIELD

21. Urbana proves forceful at state. The Tigers sent eight individuals and three relays to state last season across both of their programs, and no one involved has graduated. Led by reigning Class 2A state champions Tyler Carrel (pole vault) and Diamonasia Taylor (high jump), Urbana isn't going away in 2018.

22. Wilson wins at least one title. Danville junior Ameia Wilson qualified for the 3A state finals in three events last season — the long jump, 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash. She placed second in the latter two races, so look out for this youngster to take home at least one individual win.

23. Summitt double dips. Uni High senior Arielle Summit took down the Class 1A 800 run at 2017 state while finishing runner-up in the 1,600. The individual who defeated her in the latter event has graduated, opening the door for Summitt to be a two-time champion in 2018.

24. Welter goes higher. Monticello senior Aliyah Welter, a future Louisville athlete, soared to the Class 2A pole vault state win with a clearance of 12 feet, 9 inches last season. Expect the daughter of coach Cully Welter to fly over 13 feet this time around.

25. Barr repeats — at least. Ridgeview/Lexington junior Mason Barr was the 1A 300 hurdles champion and served as anchor to the Mustangs' state-champion 800 relay unit. He also collected fourth in the state 110 hurdles. Could this star be a three-time winner in 2018? Chances are strong.

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fuddrules wrote on March 12, 2018 at 4:03 am

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In girls track and field, both STM and SJO, have a legitimate shot at a state title.   Really surprised neither team mentioned as they both have better shots at a title than a few teams mentioned in other sports.