Created:Thursday, March 20, 2014 7:28 p.m.CDT
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Prep softball preview capsules

Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com Crystal Lake Central's Megan Mahaffy pitches during Thursday's game against Johnsburg in Crystal Lake on May 16, 2013. Crystal Lake Central won, 8-0. (Sarah Nader)

Fox Valley Conference

Fox Division

Crystal Lake Central

Head coach: Brian Strombom (eighth season)

Last year’s record: 17-8 overall, 11-1 FVC Fox (first)

Top returning players: Megan Mahaffy, jr., P; Shannon Ellman, sr., P-3B; Maddie Helm, jr., SS-OF; Sarah Hryniewicz, sr., OF-C.

Top newcomers: Amy Walsh, so., OF-P; Savanah Frank, so., 1B-P; Rachel Kautz, jr., 2B-OF.

Worth noting: This is the youngest team the Tigers have had in years, but they possess great potential. Once junior Megan Mahaffy returns to the circle as she recovers from an ACL injury, opponents will be hard pressed to score. Mahaffy posted a 1.41 ERA in 17 starts last year and was just as dangerous in the batters’ box. She by far led the area with her .613 batting average and complemented that with eight home runs.

Hampshire

Head coach: Stacey Stepek (second season)

Last year’s record: 11-20 overall, 5-7 FVC Fox (fourth)

Top returning players: Sara Finn, sr., C-SS-OF; Rebecca Hurst, sr., 1B-P; Brittany Sujet, sr., OF; Ashley VanAcker, sr., OF; Haley Widmayer, jr., P-2B; Aly Snider, so., C-SS; Ellie Lapi, so., 3B.

Top newcomers: Peyton DeChant, fr., SS-C; Erin Doyle, fr., 2B-OF; Renee Maleckie, fr., 2B-OF.

Worth noting: The Whip-Purs return all-conference catcher/shortstop/outfielder Sara Finn, who should also provide leadership to a team featuring a mix of varsity experience and young newcomers. Stepek is excited about the progress her team has made during the offseason. “Their dedication and commitment to the program is outstanding,” Stepek said. “Our goal is to be able to contend for a conference and regional championship.”

Johnsburg

Head coach: Wally Warner (eighth season)

Last year’s record: 15-20 overall, 6-6 FVC Fox (third)

Top returning players : Kendall Huemann, sr., P; Maycee Ward, sr., OF-SS; Carly Wilson, jr., C-SS; Kasay Adams, sr., INF; Erin Pusateri, sr., INF-OF.

Top newcomers: Morgan Post, fr., P; Chelsea Benbenek, so., INF; Sydney Uyttebroeck, so., INF-OF; Madisyn Zimay, so., OF; Hannah Hilgart-Roy, fr., INF-OF-P; Meghan Cronin, fr., OF; Tess Grimes, fr., OF.

Worth noting: Johnsburg will be relying on the upperclassmen, especially all-conference players such as pitcher Kendall Huemann and outfielder/shortstop Maycee Ward, to lead by example. Warner believes his team will be very balanced. “One thing I can say about Johnsburg kids: they play hard and fight until the end so I expect us to battle for a conference title,” Warner said.

Grayslake Central

Head coach: Jason Schaal (first season)

Last year’s record: 14-18 overall, 5-7 FVC Fox (fourth)

Top returning players: Brittany Brown, P-3B; Jamie Brew, 1B.

Worth noting: Schaal takes over the Rams after coaching South Elgin for the past seven years, guiding them to a 130-110 overall record. While Brittany Brown and Jamie Brew are expected to be key pieces to Grayslake Central’s success, Schaal said there are a few players working hard and will be fighting for starting spots in the Rams’ lineup.

Grayslake North

Head coach: Molly Tomlinson (sixth season)

Last year’s record: 19-9 overall, 11-1 FVC Fox (first)

Top returning players: Nikki Livengood, sr., P-1B; Maddie Terlap, sr., OF-3B; Mariah Gentile, sr., OF; Kaitlyn Olsen, sr., C; Kelsey Delahunty, sr., 1B; Kayla Switalla, jr., 2B-SS; Sarah Littleton, jr., P-1B-3B.

Top newcomers: Jenny Moore, jr., C; Jessica Vaughn, so., P-SS; Danielle Runyon, so., P-IF.

Worth noting: Coming off a co-FVC Fox title that they shared with Crystal Lake Central, the Knights will be relying on new players to fill some key positions, particularly at third base and in the outfield. Tomlinson is very excited about her team’s senior leadership. The Knights will be playing six games in Florida at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando this season. “Our versatile offensive lineup will be a combination of short game, power hitting and quickness on the bases,” Tomlinson said.

Woodstock

Head coach: Steve Beard (fifth season)

Last year’s record: 5-22 overall, 1-11 FVC Fox (seventh)

Top returning players: Rachel Lohmeyer, sr., P; Samantha Baker, sr., C; Samantha Carzoli, sr., 3B; Becca Hardin, sr., OF; Jacinda Kaufmann, sr., OF; Sarah Kuespert, sr., OF.

Top newcomers: Hannah Marsili, jr., IF; Brenda Londrie, jr., IF; Amy Fischbach, jr., C-IF; Shelby VanSickle, jr., OF; McKenzie Smith, jr., IF.

Worth noting: With Woodstock’s battery mates returning in pitcher Rachel Lohmeyer and catcher Samantha Carzoli, the Blue Streaks should be tougher to score against. Beard expects the Blue Streaks to improve on their overall competitiveness this season. “Our goals are to reduce our team ERA and improve our team batting average,” Beard said.

Woodstock North

Head coach: Pete Riis (first season)

Last year’s record: 7-17 overall, 3-9 FVC Fox (sixth)

Top returning players: Rachel Vela, sr., LF; Sierra Meiners, sr., C; Maddie Bruchsaler, sr., CF; Kellie Smith, sr., 1B; Kristin Brenner, sr., SS; Madison Patenaude, so., 3B.

Top newcomers: Dakota Butler, jr., P; Caitlin Senn, so., OF; Paige Schnulle, so., 2B; Danielle Chamberlain, so., 1B-OF.

Worth noting: The Thunder need to replace 10 seniors who they lost to graduation. Still, Woodstock North returns some varsity-experienced players including seniors Rachel Vela, Sierra Meiners and Kellie Smith. Riis, who is in his first season coaching the Thunder, believes his team has new players who can have an immediate impact and blend well with the returning players.

Valley Division

Cary-Grove

Head coach: Tammy Olson (21st season)

Last year’s record: 19-6 overall, 9-3 FVC Valley (second)

Top returning players: Lauren Stanley, sr., P; Jamie Deering, sr., SS; Amy Clemment, sr., 2B; Sarah Kendeigh, sr., 1B-3B; Grace Pilz, jr., C; Lisa Semro, sr., OF.

Top newcomers: Brianne Prank, so., 1B-DP; Amanda DeGroote, jr., P-DP.

Worth noting: Cary-Grove lost two impact players to graduation but have a plethora of experience back on the field. Lauren Stanley takes over as the Trojans’ top pitcher and earned valuable experience last season. The Trojans return most of their infield led by seniors Amy Clemment and Sarah Kendeigh. C-G has the talent to contend for the division title.

Crystal Lake South

Head coach: Scott Busam (10th season)

Last year’s record: 14-11 overall, 4-8 FVC Valley (sixth)

Top returning players: Sam McLean, sr., SS; Erin Yazel, sr., OF; Hailee Massie, jr., P-OF; Kim Woods, jr., OF.

Top newcomers: Sam Schettl, fr., IF-OF; Amy Ciavarella, fr., IF-OF; Brookelynn Maddox, so., IF.

Worth noting: The Gators won’t be a walkover as they boast talent at key positions. Senior shortstop Sam McLean is one of the area’s best all-around players and is coming off a season in which she hit .342 with three home runs and 24 RBIs. South also returns junior pitcher Hailee Massie, who gives them important experience in the circle. “The FVC Valley is going to be a season-long battle, and with some experienced players, we’re hoping to compete for one of the top spots,” Busam said.

Dundee-Crown

Head coach: Tracy Beatty (seventh season)

Last year’s record: 3-20 overall, 0-12 FVC Valley (seventh)

Top returning players: Casey Weeks, jr., 1B; Lauren Mercado, sr., 3B; Lauren Girard, jr., P; Mandy Moore, sr., P-2B; Mallory Schilf, sr., OF.

Top newcomers: Megan Emmerson, fr., OF; Isabel Rodriquez, jr., SS.

Worth noting: The Chargers return a core group of seniors who have worked hard and play well together. Beatty wants her players to be very aggressive at the plate while defensively she hopes D-C plays with confidence. Junior pitcher Lauren Girad provides consistency in the circle. “We hope to play each game with confidence and come out to the field ready to play every game,” Beatty said.

Huntley

Head coach: Mark Petryniec (11th season)

Last year’s record: 22-12 overall, 5-7 FVC Valley (fourth)

Top returning players: Haley Spannraft, jr., P; Jessica Shields, so., IF-OF; Tamara Funke, jr., 1B; Mackenzie Brown, sr., OF; Megan Baczewski, so., 3B; Angela Tribuzio, sr., C-DP-1B; Brittany Koss, sr., 2B; Shannon Walsh, jr., OF; Jessica Knutsen, jr., C; Michelle Caputi, sr., UT; Katelyn Behrens, jr., UT.

Top newcomers: Megan Larson, jr., OF; Kateri Conklin, fr., P; Haley O’Mara, so., IF; Taylor Stone, sr., OF.

Worth noting: The Red Raiders have depth at every position and return nine players from a 22-win season. Petryniec said Huntley is focusing a lot of its attention on improving the defense and if the Red Raiders can cut down on their miscues, they can be more competitive in close ballgames. “Our goal for the season is to improve every day and each game,” Petryniec said. “If our pitching, hitting and fielding come together, we will be a very competitive team to play against this season.”

Jacobs

Head coach: Jeremy Bauer (11th season)

Last year’s record: 18-15 overall, 5-7 FVC Valley (fourth)

Top returning players: Alyssa Lach, sr., 3B; Sarah Murray, so., SS; Emily Borg, so., INF-P.

Top newcomers: Hailey Lonigro, jr., Kate Borchart, so.,

Worth noting: After an impressive run in the postseason last year en route to a regional title, including knocking off the top seed in their regional, the Golden Eagles are feeling confident heading into the season. Jacobs returns 10 players from last year’s team, seven of whom are seniors. Sophomore shortstop Sarah Murray emerged as one of the area’s top players last year after hitting .450 with five home runs. Alyssa Lach gives Jacobs a big bat in its lineup – she led all players with nine home runs a year ago – and steady defense at third.

McHenry

Head coach: John DiFrancesca (third season)

Last year’s record: 24-13 overall, 9-3 FVC Valley (second)

Top returning players: Kristin Koepke, jr., P; Alex Martens, so., SS; Carly Mattson, jr., C; Katelyn Sena, sr., RF; Rachel Ford, sr., 2B; Ashley Clingingsmith, sr., 1B; Megan O’Donnell, sr., INF-C.

Top newcomers: Hannah Crowley, jr., LF; Maggie Wiegman, jr., OF-INF; Haley Kornfeind, jr., OF-INF; Amanda Manssen, so., OF.

Worth noting: Coming off back-to-back regional titles, expectations are high given the players coming back. Led by pitcher Kristin Koepke, who struck out 167 batters last year, and shortstop Alex Martens (Kentucky commit), the Warriors have a strong base for success.

Prairie Ridge

Head coach: Mike Buck (16th season)

Last year’s record: 26-4 overall, 10-2 FVC Valley (first)

Top returning players: Kate Didier, sr., 1B; Alyssa Doomis, sr., C; Sammy Hempen, sr., SS; Emily Doomis, sr., OF; Rachel Crimaldi, sr., INF; Maddie Drain, sr., 1B; Emily Widger, sr., 2B; Claire Bowman, sr., 3B; Sarah Rohoff, jr., OF.

Top newcomers: Michelle O’Keefe, jr., OF; Hailey Baker, fr., P; Sammi Chapnick, jr., OF.

Worth noting: Prairie Ridge is looking to successfully defend its FVC Valley title, and the Wolves will be aided having nine players who started or played a lot on last year’s team. Buck expects the Wolves to be a very solid defensive team, and the key will be consistent hitting. “Pitching is inexperienced, but I feel confident with Hailey Baker and transfer Michelle O’Keefe who will be a big addition to our lineup,” Buck said.

Big Northern Conference

East Division

Marengo

Head coach: Dwain Nance (eighth season)

Last year’s record: 29-10 overall, 10-2 BNC East (second)

Top returning players: Taylor Carlson, sr., C; Abby Kissack, sr., 1B-P-C; Jessica Turner, jr., 2B; Gabbi Markison, sr., LF; Veronica Ruelius, jr., RF.

Top newcomers: Aubrey Wzeintek, so., CF; Allison Jasinski, so., 3B; Leah Secor, fr., SS.

Worth noting: After losing in the sectional championship by one run, the Indians have their sights set on getting back to state. They will have to fill some holes in order to do that, however. Marengo’s No. 1 pitcher is still undecided with the competition coming down to senior Abby Kissack and junior Veronica Ruelius. Regardless of who is pitching, the Indians will be anchored by catcher Taylor Carlson in her fourth season behind the plate. Nance believes his team has a lot of pieces to be successful and will be challenged by a tough schedule.

Richmond-Burton

Head coach: Stephanie Rasmusen (fourth season)

Last year’s record: 11-15 overall, 6-6 BNC East (fourth)

Top returning players: Stephanie Pedley, sr., 2B; Katie Kroll, sr., OF; Taylor Mell, sr., 1B; Grace Schwegel, jr., OF; Megan Sophr, jr., SS; Sam Dahlen, so., C-IF.

Top newcomers: Andrea Modlin, jr., P; Rachel Hayden, fr., P.

Worth noting: The Rockets have key returning seniors, including senior second baseman Stephanie Pedley and senior first baseman Grace Schwegel, to supplement an infield that returns plenty of experience and should provide steady defense. Rasmusen said R-B has a talented group of underclassmen who are ready to play.

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