Duneland Athletic Conference
Players to watch: Taylor Harlow, Sr., P (16-5); Ryan Bozak, Sr., RF; Heather Overla, Sr., CF.
Outlook: The DAC runner-up Trojans (19-7) return seven starters to the lineup. Graduation losses took three starters, but coach LouAnn Hopson believes she has the players to fill in the gaps.
Quote: "There will be a learning curve, but have a feeling it won't be very long. There's a real sense of focus with this team." -- Hopson
Players to watch: Jessica Palm, Sr., SS (.388, 25 RBIs); RaeAnna Jenks, Jr., 2B (.389, 40 RBIs); Tori Connelly, Sr., OF (.404, 32 R, 24 SB); Allison Amodeo, Sr., OF (.402, 22 R).
Outlook: Last year's DAC powerhouse Bulldogs are forced to absorb the losses of Katrina Klingberg, Jackie Beilfuss and Taylor Perry to graduation. The Bulldogs have good experience at every defensive position and return a solid core on offense. The battery positions are young, but the Bulldogs should remain a solid squad.
Quote: "By the end of May, we would like our pitching staff to develop some craft to go along with their native ability." -- coach Brett Crutchfield
Players to watch: Sam Terry, Sr., C (.420, 36 RBIs); Nikki Adams, Jr., 1B (.391, 28 RBIs); Kaitlyn Ranieri, Jr., OF (.459, 33 RBIs); Marissa Maluchnik, So., IF (.404); Jess Haskins, Sr., IF (.314); Julia Druzbicki, Jr., OF (.375); Bridget Boyle, Jr., P (11-4, 2.76 ERA).
Outlook: Playing in one of the state's toughest conferences paid off for the Indians last season. Though they went 8-6 in the DAC, L.C. qualified for semistate before dropping a 5-3 decision to Class 4A state champion Hamilton Southeastern. Offensively, the Indians should be able to hang with anyone this season.
Quote: "Right now our team is working hard to live up to our own expectations. We know what we are capable of, and we want to work hard to get to that point by May." -- coach Jeff Sherman
Players to watch: Jessica Craft, Sr., SS (.460, 6 HR, 10 2B, 16 RBIs, 35 R, 10 SB); Nicole Ott, Sr., 2B (.320, 17 R, 6 2B); Sam Becker, Jr., 3B (.300, 15 RBIs, 14 R); Meghan Bunch, Jr., P (13-3, 1.57 ERA, .350, 16 RBIs); Hannah Fuller, Jr., P (8-7, 2.63 ERA, .310).
Outlook: Ball State recruit Craft leads a group of six returning starters from a 21-11 squad which shocked Crown Point in the sectional championship. Bunch and Fuller could be one of the better 1-2 pitching combinations in the league, while sophomore starting outfielder Alexis Botsford provides the team with both youth and experience.
Quote: "We have a junior-dominated squad this year, and we hope to have a successful season. -- coach Bob Severs
Players to watch: Mercedes McClendon, Jr., 3B (.425); Gabby Ponce, Sr., SS (.305); Jessica Martin, Sr., 2B (.325).
Outlook: After going 1-21 last season, there's nowhere to go but up for the Pirates. Merrillville lost a lot of close games this season and has worked extensively to become a better offensive team. McClendon, a first team All-DAC selection, will be counted on to provide pop with her bat.
Quote: "The culture of this place is starting to change. We have girls that work hard and want to win." -- coach Jake Stafford
Players to watch: Jameka Collins, So., SS (.429, .750 Slg); Peyton Webb, Jr., P (.355, 21 RBIs, 13-5, 1.85 ERA); Breanna Miller, Sr., P/IF (.346); Stephanie West, Sr., 1B (.974 Fld).
Outlook: Miller can play up to four different positions, and Collins is coming off an impressive rookie season. The Wolves could spring some upsets.
Quote: "We have received great leadership from our seniors, and that should help guide us in the right direction." -- coach Candy Feare
Players to watch: Kristen Ashby, Sr., SS/OF (.312, 18 R, 15 SB, .450 OBP); Haley Hodges, So., C (.325, 2 HR, 6 2B, 11 RBIs); Natalie Korpak, Sr. P/OF (.378, .402 OBP, 6 2B; 1.87 ERA); Kylie Someson, Sr., P (.289; 78 SO, 1.86 ERA); Danni Lynch, Sr., 1B (.279, HR, 2 3B, 6 2B).
Outlook: Korpak and Someson provide depth on the mound. Hodges looks to improve on her rookie numbers. A key could be the addition of sophomore transfer and center fielder Jalise McKnight, which allows Ashby to move to the infield.
Quote: "I've been pleasantly surprised so far. We've got a great group of freshmen coming in." -- coach Gil Arzola
Players to watch: Molly Grant, So., 1B (.298); Katherine Dalzatto, Sr. C (.274); Susan Friedlander, So., P; Olivia Allen, Jr., P; Alyssa Henke, Fr., 2B; Megan Krantz, Fr., P.
Outlook: Former assistant Tracy Corneil takes over the Vikings (2-21). Baylee Williams moved to Tennessee, so Corneil hopes a few fresh faces will help turn things around.
Quote: "It's a little intimidating (in the DAC), but we're hoping to go out with a competitive attitude. We will be inexperienced in a few positions, but I'm still optimistic about what we can accomplish." -- Corneil
Greater South Shore Conference
Players to watch: Vanessa Hartzell, Jr., P; Rose Mullaney, Sr., C
Outlook: Hartzell and Mullaney will form the main battery for the Warriors. A solid pitcher last year, Hartzell will be relied on for even greater success this season. A new core of incoming freshmen are expected to make immediate contributions.
Quote: "I think (Vanessa) is ready to take over this area." -- coach Ralph Laramie
Players to watch: Kaitlyn Mageri, P (17-12, 2.18 ERA); Misty Alvarado, 1B (.540, 39 RBIs, 1 HR); Amanda Stenger, 2B (20 RBIs); Amber Redd, C (.320, 28 SB).
Outlook: Calumet coach Ryan Vondrak believes his team is well ahead of where it was at this point a year ago. The Warriors have a solid core back from last season. A rigorous offseason conditioning program has Calumet players in game shape, with aspirations of being a dangerous team come sectional time.
Quote: "By the end of May, the coaching staff's goal is that we have provided our team with enough pressure-filled opportunities, and played in enough big, meaningful games that we are a very seasoned group and we have gotten rid of all nervousness associated with playing in ultra competitive environments." -- Vondrak
Outlook: The Eagles look to rebound from a disappointing end to last season, when they were defeated 12-0 by Wheeler in the Bishop Noll Sectional.
Players to watch: Allyson Leach, So., P; Morgan Lang, So., SS; Alyssia Powers, Jr., CF; Kyra Zylo, Sr., 2B.
Outlook: The Spartans made a great deal of improvement last season, going 15-11. Coach Amanda Wendlinger expects even greater things this year in the tough GSSC.
Quote: "I expect them to win at least one postseason game this year. Defensively, we're very strong." -- Wendlinger
Outlook: River Forest was ousted 9-2 last season by Bishop Noll in the host Warriors' sectional. The Ingots will look to compete better in the tough GSSC.
Players to watch: Emily Bisch, Sr., P/1B (.361, 21 RBIs; 7-0); Meghan Zappia, Sr., OF (.354, 23 R, 12 RBIs); Caitlin Herzog, Sr., Util. (.337, 16 R, 16 RBIs).
Outlook: Five starters return from last year's Class 2A state championship lineup, while freshmen Nickole Finch (P), Kelly O'Shea (SS) and Karessa Sweeney (OF) should help plug some holes.
Quote: "Our team this year has the chance to be very competitive once again. If we can make plays behind our pitchers, we should be good. We are faster than we've ever been, and I believe we can hit." -- coach Marc Bruner
Players to watch: Amanda Blackwell, Sr., C (.431, 36 R, 4 HR, 33 RBIs); Ashley Pokraka, Sr., P, (14-5, 1.52 ERA, 218 K; .392, 25 R, 4 HR, 37 RBIs); Emelie Lovasko, Sr., LF (.356, 22 R, 13 RBIs); Beth Murzyn, Sr., 3B (.258).
Outlook: Whiting returns a ton of offense and will not be in trouble as far as scoring runs is concerned. The Oilers finished 25-7, advancing to the semistate last season before dropping a 4-0 decision to Lakewood Park Christian. If the defense can come around, Whiting will be a force and should make a deep tournament run again.
Quote: "We have a lot of seniors, so we should be strong in the leadership side of the game. We have set some high goals for this team, and they are possible with the roster that we have." -- coach Paul Laub
GREAT LAKES ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Players to watch: Courtney Mansfield, Jr., SS (.410); Barb Maciel, Jr., 1B (.382); Tina Palma, Sr., C (.366); Andrea Zamora, So., P/OF (.365).
Outlook: Everyone is back from last season's squad, which bodes well for the gradually-improving Pioneers. With goals of winning both the GLAC and sectional titles, Clark will play a more competitive schedule this season.
Quote: "We had such a tremendous turnout during conditioning and I am impressed on how hard this great group of girls have been working in the offseason." -- coach Christina Delgado
Players to watch: Mariah Barber, Jr., 3B; Erika Ramirez, So., C; Elisia Alamillo, So., P/1B; Brianna Mangerson, Fr., IF.
Outlook: Gavit had no seniors last season and will still trot a very young team out onto the field. Mariah Barber has two years as a varsity starter under her belt and will likely be looked upon for leadership this season.
Quote: "I am very excited to see where this young talent will take us," coach Lisa Mendoza
Players to watch: Jazzlyn Baines, So., 1B/P (.347); Andrea Davila, So., 3B/C (.383); Deanna Downing, Jr., 2B/SS (.323).
Outlook: Hammond's lineup is heavy with freshmen and sophomores who have a lot of athletic ability. Consistent pitching will be the key for continued growth, as the Wildcats finished 0-6 in GLAC play last season.
Quote: "Our core group from last year is returning so I look for us to continue to improve." -- coach Jackie Brasseur
Players to watch: Trisha Miles, CF (.384); Jessica Chorak, SS (.484); Cierra Charbonneau, C (.500); Megan Rossi, P (5.60 ERA, 76 K; .419).
Outlook: Morton is cleaning the rust off as a team, but has the ability to come out and surprise opponents this season. The Governors will work to become a better hitting team this season, and shades of that have been seen in practice.
Quote: "This is the second year that this team has been playing together, which is a strength, but we are still a young team so there are still some things we need to work out." -- coach Matt Barno
NORTHWEST CROSSROADS CONFERENCE
Players to watch: Kelly Ryan, Sr., C (.400); Nicole Steinbach, Jr., P/1B (.328); Meghan Bridgeman, Sr., 1B; Ali Haugh, Sr., OF; Savannah Kinsella, So., IF; Katie Crandol, So., P/SS/3B; Johnee Rodish, Jr., OF; Kaitlin Barajas, Jr., 3B/C/DP.
Outlook: The 59ers hope to compete hard in conference and sectionals with a run at a state championship possible. Andrean has one of the best offensive and defensive catchers in the state in Ryan. Losing Audrey Bickel (Ball State) and Alyssa Moseley (Lewis University) will hurt, but the 59ers should be able to overcome the losses.
Quote: "The team should be a good mix of power and line-drive hitting, and we will play with the mentality of 'get them on, get them over, hit them in.'" -- coach Henry Ryan
Players to watch: Alex Latronica, Sr., P (9-14, .261 ERA, 182 K); Stephanie Brandner, Jr., 3B (.260); Sara Galambos, So., C (.375).
Outlook: The Panthers will need to find a way to cope with the losses of Alyssa Van Horssen, Kalynn Ruiz and Stephanie Shively to graduation. Newcomers Rhiannon Cox and Erica Yost should provide an immediate boost to Griffith, which finished 10-15 last season.
Players to watch: Kylee Hirchak, Jr., SS; Brittany Reninger, Sr., 3B; Brooke Fowler, Sr., OF
Outlook: New coach Erin Zeller takes the reins from Natalie Shadowen. The Trojans are young, but return some good offensive firepower with Hirchak, Reninger and Fowler. Highland hasn't won a sectional championship since 1987, so that's a goal the Trojans are looking to achieve.
Quote: "I'd like to continue to see them grow and progress as a team. This is a foundation year for us." -- Zeller
Players to watch: Abby Adams, Sr., SS (.373); Jaclyn Sandilla, Jr., P; Kaleigh Spencer, Jr., C.
Outlook: The Brickies have a mix of seniors and underclassmen who bring various levels of varsity experience to the team. Newcomers Hannah Spence, Aimee Pope, Paige Talian and Dana Claussen could make an immediate impact for Hobart.
Quote: "I am relying on Abby, Jaclyn, and Kaleigh's experience, competitiveness and love of the game to lead this year's young team to a successful season." -- coach Katrina Lucas
Players to watch: Hillary Hoffman, Sr., SS (.379, 16 R, 23 RBIs); Taylor Patrick, Sr., C/1B (.375); Ashley Dobson, Jr., P (8-7, 1.66 ERA; .365); Alyssa Matson, So., 3B (.382).
Outlook: The Kougars hope to be competitive in the conference with a mix of senior leadership and young, underclassman talent.
Quote: "We have a decent core coming back, so we hope to be very competitive." -- coach Brian Flynn
Players to watch: Morgan O'Hanlon, So., RF; Mackenzie Kreutz, So., SS.
Outlook: Legendary coach Pete Iussig stepped down, giving the reins to former Lowell player Ginger Britton. The new coach inherits an inexperienced and young team, as O'Hanlon and Kreutz provide the bulk of previous varsity playing time. It will likely be a rebuilding year for the Red Devils.
Quote: "We have many new players who haven't played at the varsity level. Our hitting will be good." -- Britton
Players to watch: Angelique Zadrozny, Sr., CF (.495, 7 HR, 41 RBIs); Kori Kirby, Sr., 3B (.378, 16 RBIs); Briana Zunica, So., 2B (.355, 25 R); Kari Dillner, Jr., 1B (.339, 16 RBIs); Sarah Simchak, Jr., C; Carly Murphy, So., P
Outlook: Munster coach Beth Thornburg expects her team to be able to score runs without much trouble this season. However, she also couldn't recall the last time no pitching experience has returned on the varsity team. The development of sophomore pitcher Carly Murphy will help determine the success of the Mustangs this season.
Quote: "I'm counting on a lot of offense and leadership out of them. Angelique just had a record-setting season last year." -- Thornburg
PORTER COUNTY CONFERENCE
Players to watch: Samantha Pratt, Sr., LF; Olivia Saunders, Sr., 3B; Lauren Ferber, Sr. RF; Kaitlyn Stone, Jr., P; Kayla Yadron, So., SS/P.
Outlook: New coach Ron Saunders takes over a team that lost seven seniors to graduation. Promising infielder Kyle Doelling also transferred to Hebron. Crown Point transfer Yadron should provide some pitching depth.
Quote: "I think we have a lot more speed than last year, and I think we will surprise some people. I don't think this will be a rebuilding year." -- Saunders
Players to watch: Tiffany Gibson, Sr., OF/SS; Gabby Roggero, Sr., 1B; Katie Klopp, Jr., C; Ashley Loy, Sr., 3B.
Outlook: The Wildcats will look to freshman pitcher Ashley Yoways to provide solid work off the mound. Yoways is just one of several newcomers who will be expected to contribute right away. There will be some growing pains due to just four varsity players returning, but that quartet, led by Gibson, should be solid.
Quote: "Our goals are to win conference and get better as the season goes on." -- coach Larry McMillen
Players to watch: Mollie Lindeman, Jr., P/1B (.404, .984 Fld; 2.19 ERA); Emily O'Leary, Jr., C (.407, 29 RBIs); Carrie Combs, Sr., P/DH (.328; 1.79 ERA); Alyssa Spore, Sr., SS (.319); Rachel Pauer, Fr., 2B; Maggie Lindeman, Fr., P/IF/OF.
Outlook: Even though transfer rules limit Kyle Doelling to only junior varsity games this season, the Hawks will still be one of the top teams in the league. All-PCC performers Mollie Lindeman, O'Leary and Combs return to a lineup which pushed Wheeler to the limit in last year's Class 2A regional. Freshmen Maggie Lindeman and Pauer give the team an added punch for first-year coach Mike McClindon.
Quote: "I'm excited. The players have a taste of success, and they want more of it. We have a lot of experience returning to the squad, so nerves shouldn't be a problem in big-game situations." -- McClindon
Players to watch: Easten McNeill, Sr., P/1B; Kelsey Blood, Sr., CF; Katie Parks, Jr., P/1B/3B.
Outlook: The Fillies return eight starters from last year's lineup.
Quote: "We have a lot of experience coming back. We're still trying to get over the hump, and we've already worked a few years to climb that mountain." -- coach Tim McNeill
Outlook: Veteran pitcher Amy Hucker is now at Grace College, so the Tigers might have to rebuild this season.
Players to watch: Amy Koziorowski, Sr., CF; Logan Rassel, Sr. P; Sarah Watts, Sr., SS; Kaley Lauder, So., P/2B.
Outlook: Five seniors return to the lineup for the Cherokees, who hope to improve on last season's 3-21 mark.
Quote: "It should be a challenging year for us, but I feel we could have a good season." -- coach Larry Babcock.
Players to watch: Jessica Sturdy, Sr., P; Hayley Bauer, Jr., P; Alex Snyder, Jr., 3B/P; Cali Young, So., C; Kayla Pritchard, Sr., IF; Katie Bekavac, Sr., RF.
Outlook: The defending round-robin champions return almost everyone from last season. The Satellites (15-5) have added to their depth with freshmen Katelyn Tucker (C) and Madisyn Welter (P).
Quote: "I think we should be looking pretty good. We're bringing two young players along, and our chemistry is really good right now." -- coach Rich Patterson.
Players to watch: Liz Lustgarten, Jr., P; Elaine Lustgarten, Jr., SS/C; Kacie Corley, So., 3B/2B; Ali Cobb, So., LF/C.
Outlook: The Lustgarten twins lead a young group of players, which includes eight freshmen, for first-year coach Jack Corley.
Quote: "We just have to deal with the fact that we'll be young this season. We might not have the power of other teams, because our program is just starting to get off the ground." -- Corley
Players to watch: Ashley Barton, Sr., 3B/C; Amanda Barton, Sr., SS; Ashley Kleinkort, Jr., P; Chelsea Hughes, So., CF; Kate Shafer, Jr., C
Outlook: There are several new faces amongst the ranks of the Bombers this season, including a new coach in Kim Denton.
Quote: "They come into practice smiling every day. They're full of spirit and always supporting each other." -- Denton
Players to watch: Ashley Henrich, Sr., P; Caitlin Fennell, Sr., 1B/C; Rachel Morgan, Sr., 2B/C; Shawnna Ramer, Sr., CF; Shelly Cunningham, Jr., 3B.
Outlook: After winning the school's first sectional title last season, these Blackhawks won't be satisifed with just another regional berth. Henrich leads an experienced group of talent which would love to advance to state this season.
Quote: "We want that regional trophy to go with the sectional one from last year. Our goal is state. We're definitely fired up, because we now have the taste of winning." -- coach Gary Dick
!~ compiled by Times reporters Steve Hanlon, Jim Hunsley and Matt Douthett.