Players to watch: Savannah Soppet, Jr., 3B/P; Briana Bowler, Jr., 2B; Sarah Crews, So., SP; Chelsea Gliva, Sr., OF.
Outlook: The Ladycats lost six returning starters from last year's River Valley Conference championship team, but still are considered the team to beat in the River Valley Conference. Soppet (.424 in 2011) and Bowler are three-year starters, and should provide the offensive cornerstone for a squad that will rely more on small ball than last year's team. Crews went 6-0 as a pitcher last year, and will provide a nice one-two punch with Soppet on the mound.
Quote: "Our pitching and our defense should be our strong points. We'll be doing a lot of bunting and running, but we might surprise some teams with our power." — coach Kevin Hayhurst
BLOOM TWP. (16-14)
Players to watch: Geena Locicero, Jr., 1B; Toni Formentini, Sr., SS/OF; Monica Harte, Sr.,SP; Jenna Amazzalorso, Jr., C.
Outlook: The Blazing Trojans should contend for the Southland Conference crown this season. The squad returns seven starters from last year's team which finished second to Kankakee. Fifth-year coach Carrie Twietmeyer aid the top of her lineup, led by Formentini and Locicero, should provide consistent offensive numbers this season.
Quote: "The key for us this year will be our defense. We are very strong at all our positions." — Twietmeyer.
Players to watch: Melanie Lambert, Jr., 1B/3B; Liz Frassinone, Jr., SP/3B; Sarah Rizzo, So., SP/2B; Alexis Labauex, Jr., OF.
Outlook: Warriors coach Sue Giannantonio enters her 27th year at the helm with high expectations for this year's team. The Warriors return seven starters from last year's squad, yet still are relatively young. The offense will be led by a pair of two-time Southland Conference players, Lambert (.429, 45 RBIs) and Frassinone (.377, 35 RBIs). Giannantonio plans to rotate three pitchers on a team featuring seven left-handed hitters.
Quote: "We've got to be able to score runners this year. But we've got some travel players on the team, and that is starting to show." — Giannantonio
Players to watch: Kaitlyn Shereyk, Jr., SS; Sarah Burke, Sr., SP; Jessica Taylor, Sr., 1B; Sydney Battle, Sr., 3B.
Outlook: Second-year coach Katie Rice-Hoger will be looking to build upon last year's team, which captured a regional title for the program for the first time since 2004. The lineup is loaded. Shereyk is a three-year starter who hit .491 last year, Battle is a steady glove at third, Burke struck out 177 batters in '11, and Kassidy Kleinow is a clutch hitter who will occasionally move from the outfield to pitch.
Quote: "We have a younger team but have great talent. With Sarah returning on the mound and the big bats to back her up, we will be competitive." — Rice-Hoger.
ILLIANA CHRISTIAN (4-21)
Players to watch: Kate Van Schouwen, Sr., SS; Claire Ipema, Sr., OF; Holly Zuidema, Sr., SP;
Outlook: The Vikings are eager to erase the memory of last year, which was plagued by injury, illness, and a rainy season that hindered the team's practice schedule. Van Schouwen and third basemen Samantha Oppenhuis should provide the offensive spark this season. Freshman Tatum Oppenhuis should provide a steady anchor for the Vikings behind the plate.
Quote: "We had a lot of errors at the beginning of the season last year, due to the weather and a lack of practice, so we are looking to improve there." — coach Mike Oppenhuis
ILLINOIS LUTHERAN (4-13)
Players to watch: Tori Schrementi, Sr., SS/P; Niya Marino, Sr., 3B/P; Madisen Litton, So., P; Angela Schrementi, So., 2B/P.
Outlook: With four starters returning from last year's team, Coach Jeff Uhlenbrauck expects an improvement from last year's four-win campaign. Tori Schrementi is back fully from a wrist injury that hampered her hitting last season, and along with Marino should lead the offensive charge. The overall health of the team should play an important role, as only 10 players were on the preseason roster.
Quote: "I definitely see us having a better season this year. The returners are solid, and among the freshmen are some talented girls." — Uhlenbrauck
MARIAN CATHOLIC (29-6)
Players to watch: Becca Stanton, Jr., C; Alex Nickel, Jr., SS; Kelly Foley, Sr., 3B/CF; Jenny LaVella, Sr., 3B/OF.
Outlook: The Spartans will need to rebuild from a senior-laden squad that won conference last year. Stanton tied a school record last year with 12 home runs, while Foley returns for her fourth season on the varsity, where she has twice been named the Spartans defensive player of the year. Coach Kerri Evans will rely on a pair of young hurlers as the cornerstone of the rebuilding — freshman Allison Spence and sophomore Haley Earl. The goal is to get further in the state playoffs than last year's team, which was eliminated in the regional final.
Quote: "We might have a few bumps along the way, but we feel we can get our team ready to compete in the postseason." — coach Kerri Evans.
SETON ACADEMY (11-6)
Players to watch: Tiffany Ellis, Jr., SS/Utility; Awrian Rogers, Jr., 3B/Utility; Alwanda Thomas, Fr., P.
Outlook: Second-year coach Keith Holmes' team is in a rebuilding year, with only Ellis back from last year. Holmes has spent much of the preseason drilling his players on fundamentals and situational offense and defense. The Sting have an abundance of speed, and should cause opposing teams problems once they reach base.
Quote: "It's been a lot of work, but I am excited and looking forward to the challenge this year. We will definitely want to run a lot, to utilize our speed." — Holmes
ST. FRANCIS DE SALES (8-13)
Players to watch: Kylee Carrasco, So., 1B; Tasia Harris, So., P/SS; Melissa Carrillo, Sr., C; Ashley Perez, Jr., P/Utility.
Outlook: The Pioneers return seven starters for coach Juan Carrasco, who said the team's balance and the influx of new talent should make for a strong season. Kylee Carrasco and Tasia Harris will lead the offensive attack, while newcomers Ashley Perez and Amber Wilson should make an immediate difference. Carrasco said this year's team features a good mix of speed and power, with a tough defensive infield making it a challenge for opponents to get easy hits.
Quote: "I'm looking forward to this team. We have four pitchers this year, which is good, and I feel pretty good about the offense and defense we have." — Carrasco
T.F. NORTH (11-13)
Players to watch: Alexis Brown, Sr., 1B; Monique Fleming, Sr., 3B; Veronica Lozano, Sr., CF; Sara Daw, Jr., SP.
Outlook: First-year coach Martin Quinones likes the look of the squad he takes over this season. Brown and Fleming look to key the offensive production of the Meteors this season, while Quinonis said Daw's pitching has improved dramatically from work she has done in the offseason. Quinones also believes the defense up the middle will help keep the Meteors in ballgames.
Quote: "We look promising. Our junior varsity team is very loaded, and (Daw) really did the school a favor by working with a pitching coach over the winter." — Quinones.
T.F. SOUTH (15-13)
Players to watch: Kaitlyn Togtman, Jr., CF/SS; Ashtyn Kapovich, So., P/SS; Cori Reynolds, So., C.
Outlook: Though still very young, the Rebels return everybody from their starting lineup except last year's battery, which included catching standout Sophie Kessler. Reynolds moves from shortstop to take over the catching duties. First-year coach Jamie Arundel looks to Togtman and Kapovich to be key run producers. Expect high-scoring games this season.
Quote: "Defensively and with our hitting, we are strong. We have some fast girls at the top of the lineup, and with our middles hitters, we'll put the ball in play." — Jamie Arundel
Players to watch: Elaine Russell, Sr., P; Amber Brown, Sr., C.
Outlook: The sophomore-laden Falcons look to improve upon last year's mark, despite having only the returning battery of Russell and Brown back from last year's lineup. Coach Sherry Jackson said defense, especially in the infield, should be a strong point to this year's team. Jackson hopes the team will find an offensive rhythm as the season progresses.
Quote: "You always want your athletes to play better than the year before. The kids this year will play without a lot of heart and give 199 percent everytime on the field." — Jackson
NOTE: Thornton, Thornwood and Washington did not provide information for the preview.
— Compiled by Vince Vosti