Last season's records in parentheses
Players to watch: Jessica Pabey, Sr., SS; Sophie Kessler, So., C; Caitlin Wilcox, Sr., 1B/OF.
Outlook: The Crimson Wave have had a difficult schedule to start, featuring an excruciating 16-game road stint in Tucson, Ariz. They won't play their first home game until they host Grace College on Friday. Pabey, a two-time First Team All-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference honoree, will be counted on for big things again this season.
PRAIRIE STATE (28-22)
Players to watch: Jennifer Seely, So., 3B/C (.336 AVG, 26 RBI); Amanda Ahlert, So., P/OF (16-10, 3.36 ERA, 120 SO, .205 AVG, 8 RBI); Emmy Vowell, So., OF (.422 AVG, 40 RBI).
Outlook: The Panthers had a season to build on, as they set a school record with 28 wins and finished as the NJCAA Region IV runners-up. Vowell will bring her strong bat into the lineup yet again, looking to help the Panthers eclipse the strong .348 team batting average they posted last season. Winning the Region IV championship is definitely not out of the question.
PURDUE NORTH CENTRAL (24-29)
Players to watch: Jaci Williams, Sr., P (3.44 ERA, 136 IP, .275 AVG, 12 RBI); Lanay Parks, Jr., P (2.85 ERA, 169 IP); Samantha Jones, So., 1B/OF (.423 AVG, 13 HR, 50 RBI); Cassidy Hardesty, Jr., SS/2B (.292 AVG, 1 HR, 4 RBI)
Outlook: Defense and pitching will be the Panthers' strong points, as they return two strong pitchers in Williams and Parks. A lot of offense is gone from last season, but Samantha Jones, a First Team All-Conference and Freshman of the Year honoree, will help alleviate the growing pains. Hardesty will look to stay healthy this season, as multiple injuries limited her to just 11 games last year.
SOUTH SUBURBAN (7-42)
Players to watch: Meghan Bridgeman, So., IF (.301 AVG, 41 RBI); Jaren Lynch, Fr., SS; Kayla Pritchard, Fr., 2B; Mercedes McClendon, Fr., 3B; Kaitlyn Stone, Fr., P/1B; Ashley DeLuca, Fr., C.
Outlook: There were no problems with the Bulldogs offense last season. Despite the single digit in the win column, South Suburban averaged nine runs per game. Ineligibility hit the Bulldogs hard, however, as the team lost some pitchers due to poor grades. Bridgeman, an Andrean grad, leads the way with a solid bat, and a very talented influx of incoming freshman could help the Bulldogs reach their goal of 35-40 wins this season.
ST. JOSEPH'S COLLEGE (40-21)
Players to watch: Shawn Hoskins, Jr., 3B (.330 AVG, 4 HR, 40 RBI); Kristin Paris, Sr., OF (.295 AVG), 11 RBI); Kylie Weeks, Jr., OF (.282 AVG, 2 HR, 20 RBI); Tiffany Gibson, So., OF (.225 AVG, 1 HR, 9 RBI); Megan Ramey, Sr., P (18-10, 1.81 ERA, 154 SO); Sarah Franklin, Sr., P (18-9, 2.21 ERA, 99 SO).
Outlook: Expectations are high in Rensselaer, as the Pumas were ranked No. 7 team in NCAA Division II softball, marking the first time the softball team has been ranked in the preseason poll. The goal this season is simple: Win the College World Series. It will all start with pitching, as the Pumas have two All-American pitchers back in Ramey and Franklin. There is a lot of power and excellent hitting back in the lineup as well.
— compiled by Times reporter Matt Douthett