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Rockets reload for deep postseason run

Varsity Softball Preview 2013

By Ryan Kaczmarski

The BAY varsity softball team had a disappointing 2012 regular season, going 12-16 overall, but the Rockets made it to the Division II district semifinals and hopes are high the team can bounce back and contend for the West Shore Conference title and make a deep run in the playoffs.

The Rockets will have many new faces in the starting lineup this season.

“We lost a lot of great leadership due to graduation last year,” Rockets head coach Katie McCarthy said. “Our pitcher-catcher combo graduated, which is always a big loss for any school. However, I think that we are doing a great job filling those roles this year.”

The five returning letter winners are Courtney Woodworth, Stephanie Sheppa, Lowry Wisner, Tina McGovern and Kelly Cooper.

“All of our returning letter winners will be key players this year as they bring the experience and leadership needed in any tough game,” McCarthy said. “Courtney Woodworth and Kelly Cooper have been working very hard in the offseason on their pitcher-catcher chemistry. Courtney brings calm leadership that the team will need in stressful situations.

“Stephanie Sheppa is our returning left fielder and will be the anchor in the outfield with our newcomers,” she added. “Lowry Wisner will be the first baseman this year, and her positivity is contagious. She will be a huge positive influence on the newcomers also.”

McCarthy sees the strength of her team as being its willingness to work hard.

“All of these girls come to practice every day ready to work,” she said. “We have girls who want to be here and want to win. Our weakness will be our varsity inexperience in some key positions. We will be a young team this year, but (we’re) excited for the season to start.”

ROCKY RIVER is looking to put last season in the rear-view mirror, and move ahead with new confidence and a new coaching staff. Pirates first-year head coach Duane Sunagel has the task of changing the girls’ view on competition and winning.

The key returning letter winners are Morgan Graham, Nina Paulic, Anjelica Kucinic, Katarina Kucinic, Lizzie Cahill (injured), Jessica Rucker, Lauren Ihnot and Eve Schodowski. Two freshmen who will compete for varsity playing time are Anna Seffernick and Emma Opdycke.

“Graham is doing a good job handling the inexperienced pitchers,” Sunagel said. “Seffernick demonstrates that she can have a successful high school career. She will be asked to step in the circle and handle much of the pitching chores with the loss of Cahill (foot fracture).”

The Pirates program is only 19 girls strong, and will not field a junior varsity team this year.

“That hurts the development of the underclassmen in the program,” Sunagel explained. “Some of the freshmen will have to step into roles earlier rather than later.

“We are working on being competitive in 2013, something that has been lacking in recent years,” he added. “Of course we want to play as a team to enhance our chances at winning. The girls are buying into a new system and new coaching staff. The upperclassmen are excited about the change and using their past experiences to motivate them.”

LAKEWOOD fields a varsity team featuring five juniors, nine sophomores and a freshman in its first season playing in the West Shore Conference this year.

“This year’s softball team is very young and inexperienced,” Rangers first-year head coach Lori Reese said. “With no seniors in the program, we need to look to our juniors for leadership. Juniors Erin Hoffert, McKenzie Nekl, Zoe Lewis, Analise Beltran and Evelyn Thomas will all contribute to the cause.”

The returning players with limited varsity experience and playing time are Hoffert, Nekl and sophomores Taylor Knatura, Katie Ribar and Amy Ritschel.

“Although we lack experience, we do have many athletic and multi-sport athletes in our program,” Reese said. “We will rely on those experiences to help guide us for the coming season.

“Being a new coaching staff at Lakewood, the players and the coaches will develop a better understanding of the way things should work. The softball culture in Lakewood is evolving to where we hope to create excitement in the community.”

MAGNIFICAT also has a new coaching staff, which will be trying to turn around a program that has faltered in the past couple of years.

Kasey Whitehead has taken over the team, and she is giving the Blue Streaks a totally different atmosphere to thrive in.

“The girls have worked extremely hard to prepare themselves for the battle ahead in 2013,” she said.

The returning players are seniors Alexis Setta and Nicole DiRando; juniors Destine Keeton, Kristina Randall, Carly Levindofske and Courtney Ross; and sophomores Julie Burzanko, Elizabeth Dougher, Jordan Hall, Alexandra Dietel and Laura Girgash. Incoming freshmen Christina Cotton and Baylee Price will compete for varsity playing time.

“We have been overemphasizing that we are like a big puzzle, and if one of our players is missing or not playing their role, we are not complete,” Whitehead said. “Our team motto is: Dedication, Determination, Discipline. All of these things are qualities and goals that our players have for each day that we practice and are together.”

FAIRVIEW lost its first team All-Patriot Athletic Conference short stop, Erin Wolansky, to graduation, and has five returning letter winners from last year’s team that went 8-17 (no seniors). The key returning players are Mo Klag, Annie Fratzke, Sarah Stafford and starting pitcher Marisa Rinehart.

“We are relatively young again this year,” Warriors head coach Kathryn Bzdafka said. “We will continue to improve throughout the season. We need to make the routine plays, do the little things right and control the controllables.”

LUTHERAN WEST has 10 returning letter winners, and is looking to easily top last year’s record of 4-17. The key returning players are Emily Mystic, Carey Smith, Madison Jakabcic, Megan Thomas, Alison Silberhorn and Jessica Mecklenburg.

“Emily Mystic plays with intensity, enthusiasm and power the entire game,” Longhorns first-year head coach Ellis Stevens said. “Silberhorn has good command and power in the (pitching) circle. Megan Thomas has the ability to play her position any place I put her.”

A relative newcomer to the team is senior Lindsay Thomas (did not play last season).

“Our future looks very bright for the program this year – and with the talent in our junior varsity program being coached by Marissa Stover – and for years to come.”

WESTLAKE is looking to build on the success of 2012, when the Demons went 20-9 and made it to the district finals.

The key returning players are Jamie Screen, Mackenzie Smith, Erin Brown, Katlyn Nagel, Alex Tinline, Caroline Hazapis and Rachel May.

“We have seven returning letter winners who are very talented and have some varsity experience,” Demons head coach Tom Shiban said. “We lost seven excellent seniors, so we have openings, both offensively and defensively, that need to be filled.

“As always, our success will depend on our pitching and defense. We have a few new pitchers who will share the pitching duties. Offensively, we return All-Ohio leadoff hitter Jamie Screen, who has established school records for batting average and hits.”

NORTH OLMSTED is building a strong program under second-year head coach John Wadas. The Eagles return two key players in third baseman Erica English and second baseman Kayla Runyon.

“Erica English brings extreme athleticism to the field,” Wadas said. “She has a Division I-strength arm. Last year, she hit for a high average, but mainly balls that dropped in front of outfielders. This year, she brings much more explosive hitting.

“Kayla had a tremendous defensive year last year,” he added. “She comes in this year really attacking the ball. She will be our run producer.”

The Eagles are welcoming back four-year player Danielle Jonas, who had an injury-plagued junior season.

“She is a very solid defensive player and has really worked on her offensive game,” Wadas said. “We will need her to set the table for Kayla and Erica.”

North Olmsted will feature two sophomore pitchers and two sophomore catchers this season in Kaitlyn Helderman and Sarah LaRue, and Rebekah Groden and Molly Moennich, respectively.

“We will be inexperienced with only four returning regulars on varsity,” Wadas said. “We have a great group of girls who enjoy playing together and hopefully that chemistry will transpire into some good winning streaks.”

OLMSTED FALLS features seven seniors on this year’s squad, including co-captains Jen Pierce and Mary Gorski.

“Jen led the team in almost all hitting categories last season,” Bulldogs head coach Jim Smith said. “She’s a very strong hitter and will be playing short stop.

“Mary is a four-year starter at catcher, a very solid player and an excellent base runner,” he added. “Kate Edgehouse has improved as our pitcher and had a very good offseason.”

The other returning players are Maddie Woods, Julia Newhouse, Amelia Caraballo, Emily McKenzie, Nicole Fletterick and Kristina Mancini. Key newcomers are Mallory Taylor and Sammie Fagan, both freshmen.

“Our main goal is to compete for the (Southwestern Conference) championship,” Smith said. “We want to play one game at a time and improve with each game. We play a competitive schedule, so that we are ready for the playoffs.”




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