Chart toppers: Best area softball teams
Coach Randy Wolken is back for his 35th year as the Spartans’ coach and has a team with promise. “This could be one of the best infields I have been lucky enough to coach,” Wolken said.
Shortstop Mady Poulter and second baseman Molly McElwee were all-conference picks a year ago, and Wolken said, “Mady will be the best defensive shortstop in SJ-O history before she leaves.” Last year’s third baseman, Hannah Gawthorp, is a Parkland College recruit who can play first base or in the outfield. SJ-O retains All-Area pitcher Lexie Boaz, who was 18-2 last spring. Hannah Monk will handle the catching duties full time. Veteran outfielders are left fielder Allison Rose and right fielder Ashlynn McConaha.
“We have a very strong freshman class with Andrea Coursey (third baseman) and Tori Witruk (pitcher/first baseman) leading the way,” Wolken said. “Both of these two are strong hitters and will make an impact this spring.” Left-hander Maureen Short also may be called upon to pitch. “Up and down the lineup, we will have better-than-average hitters, so offense could be a plus,” Wolken said. “We are a lot deeper this year than in the past because of the newcomers.”
Others looking to find a role on varsity are sophomore Jo Hanna Sage along with freshmen Katelyn Burch and Logan Frerichs. With 11 wins, Wolken will earn his 900th career victory.
The Bulldogs have a strong battery, regardless of who is pitching and catching. Madison O’Donnell, last year’s No. 2 pitcher, is backed by Kirsten Finch and freshmen Morgan Cheek and Mollie Spoerer. Juniors Lucy Stahl and Emily Ziegler will provide a solid defensive presence behind the plate. In all, eight letter winners return from a regional championship team.
Among the veterans, besides O’Donnell, Stahl and Ziegler, are All-Area shortstop Alyssa Spoerer and Jessica Hammack, who was injured much of last year. Infielders Hannah Fortune and Madeline Odle are back, and junior Ashley Anglin will be the outfield anchor in center. Newcomers who will make an impact, besides Cheek, Finch and Mollie Spoerer, are versatile London Acree and Emma Valle, both of whom can play multiple positions. “We feel we are going to be competitive in every game,” coach Mark Jones said. “I have a good feeling about our team. By the time the postseason rolls around, we should be in the mix for advancing.”
The Sages had the area’s premier underclassman slugger last spring. All-Area pick Allie Hislope hit 11 home runs, second in the area. The school’s career home run leader (27) has signed to play with Davenport University. She is closing in on Monticello’s all-time RBI record.
Senior pitcher Chrissy Gadbury and junior shortstop Sam Valentine — who has started since she was a freshman — are other featured players in a strong junior-senior class. “Valentine is the leadoff and our quickest player,” coach Courtney Hoffman said. “As a team, we have some power hitters. Defensively, we have to step up and back up our pitchers. We are hoping to reduce our errors.” Junior Sophie Catlin will get some innings in the pitching circle.
The Chargers need to replace the offensive firepower of three graduated starters but enter the season with two top returning pitchers in Danielle Staske and Amy Janson. Coach George Hendricks looks to seniors Lexi Hall and Brianna Perry to be prominent parts of the offense.
“We should be strong up the middle with Hall and Janson (as middle infielders),” Hendricks said. “If our players learn and accept their roles, we have the potential to develop into a good defensive team with good offensive production. This would allow us to continue progress toward being a good local team and a competitive area team.”
Janson and two other sophomores, Makena Brillhart and Lindsey Wyss, are expected to provide an offensive spark. “Also key to our development as a team will be needed contributions from seniors Katie Brown and Kaity Wyss, who played last year, and new varsity players Aoloni Sprout, Alyssa Kaiser, Brittany Flowers, Kaamilyah Karim and Hannah Bamert,” Hendricks said.
The Purple Riders have a solid returning nucleus, starting with All-Area standout Taylor Edwards, a pitcher, and catcher Klaire Karmazinas. Center fielder Sydney Spellman, an all-league second-teamer last year, is another holdover.
“We will have a whole new infield,” coach Craig Vandeveer said. “If the new kids can mature quickly, we will be fine.”
Among the newcomers projected as immediate impact players are Jordyn Edwards, Megan Lindenmeyer and Faith Spellman.
“We should compete for the LOVC and, hopefully, everything will come around to help our pitching,” Vandeveer said.
Taylor Edwards, who also competes in track during the spring, averaged 1.7 strikeouts per inning last year and helped Arcola earn a share of the Little Okaw Valley crown with Villa Grove.