Much like the changing of the seasons, Morrison's presence atop the Three Rivers Conference softball standings is something one can count on.|
Likewise, you can count on several TRAC-9 challengers looking to unseat the Fillies from their perennial place atop the league.
One of those -- and perhaps the most surprising, given its 3-11 league finish in 2012 -- is Erie-Prophetstown, where Bob Phelps takes over as head coach after guiding Sherrard to the Class 2A State Tournament and a fourth-place finish last spring.
Graduated catcher Kimberly Teats and her .513 batting average will be a tough one to replace, but Phelps has a pair of freshman pitchers coming in to go with a nucleus of seven returning letterwinners from last year's 12-17 -- five of whom are underclassmen.
"As the time goes on, it's becoming apparent that these girls are determined to get the job done, and become a team,'' said Phelps. "We will be very young, but there are a lot of good athletes on this team. Our hitting and speed should be above average, and we will have some good pitching.''
When it comes to the Panthers' goals for 2013, Phelps gets right to the point: "Win conference and regionals.''
Riverdale's title aspirations come as less of a surprise. Perennial contenders and the 2010 Three Rivers co-champions with Morrison, the Rams (17-10) have had to weather the loss of 12 seniors over the last two years, but still have enough firepower to take aim at the Filles' dynasty.
Senior pitcher Sadie Mosher (9-7, 2.73 ERA, 111 strikeouts; .442 BA) will shoulder a good share of those aspirations after the loss of ace Rachel Wirt, now playing Division I softball at Butler University. Taylor Mericle's .500 average also be tough to replace.
"Sadie's improved a lot from last year, and we also have a solid catcher with a great arm,'' said Riverdale coach Teri Peterson, referring to freshman backstop Chloe Sullivan. "Having that makes a difference for a team. Sadie has been a good leader in the open gyms and our practices, and I'm hoping the girls feed off of that, especially us being so young.
"We're going to improve as the year goes along, and I like to think we'll be able to compete with people, especially if Sadie has a strong year. Morrison is the team to beat, but I think we can compete with them.''
As for the Fillies, the trio of senior shortstop Kaitlyn Finneran (.485, 11 doubles, 32 RBIs), junior outfielder Shannon Finneran .408, 12 doubles, 38 runs) and junior pitcher/second baseman Allie Wiersema (.378, 37 RBIs; 5-5, 2.55 ERA, 5 saves) should keep them rolling along, especially after losing just two seniors from last year's 24-10 squad.
One of those seniors, pitcher Morgan Ammon, will be missed after winning 19 games. However, with seven returners who were a part of Morrison's 2011 Class 2A state-championship team, coach Tammy Deter's club remains the team to beat until someone ends their TRAC-9 reign.
"I think (freshman) Lauren Pannier will be a real nice addition to our staff; she and Allie complement each other well,'' said Deter, who has guided the Fillies for nearly two decades. "All of the girls have progressed in a lot of ways, and they're trying to pick up where they left off and keep getting better.''
Adding extra motivation for Morrison is last year's loss to Rock Falls in the 2A regional finals, ending its title defense much earlier than anticipated, even though last year's team had to retool a bit after losing a significant number of seniors.
"That's on our mind,'' Deter said of last May's finish. "That's kept (her players) working hard.''
Among the rest of the league, both Fulton and Kewanee are looking to move upward after combining for just 12 wins in 49 games, with the Steamers' 8-20 record including five league wins.
Junior shortstop Jenna Jones is the spark behind a potential Fulton resurgence after hitting .541 with 9 doubles, 7 triples, 21 RBIs and 11 stolen bases to earn Class 1A All-State honors.
"I feel the upcoming season might be filled with a lot of surprises,'' said Fulton coach Jen Pepper. "The sophomore team is coming off a conference championship in 2012, and I feel teams will be shocked at the strength and winning attitude that will be displayed.''
Kewanee returns six seniors among its nine letterwinners as Boiler Girls' coach Pete Tanzillo hopes junior pitcher Paige Reeser can build on the potential she showed in '12.
"She's really picked it up since last year, with more speed and control,'' he said. "We've got a good hitting team that can score some runs, so pitching and defense is the key for us.''
2013 THREE RIVERS CONFERENCE SOFTBALL CAPSULES
Coach: Bob Phelps (1st year).
2012: 12-17 (3-11 TRAC-9), lost 4-3 to Bureau Valley in the first round of the Class 2A Rock Falls Regional.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Amanda Bertolozzi (1B), Stephanie Emery (OF), Jenna Forward (2B). Jr.: Kali Schroeder (3B/P). Soph.: Addie Morse (OF), Clare Kramer (SS), Savannah Mettler (P).
Newcomers -- Jrs.: Laykin Miner (OF), Kaeli Kovarik (C), Colleen Jacobs (OF). Fr.: Emily Cox (C/3B), Kylie Ackerman (P/1B), Addie Glassburn (P/3B), Stephany Thulen (OF).
Coach: Jen Pepper (6th year).
2012: 8-20 (5-9 TRAC-9), lost 2-0 to Sterling Newman in the first round of the Class 1A Eastland Regional.
Returning letterwinners -- Sr.: Katherine Wayne (P/IF), Emma Wiemken (C/OF), Rachel McDonnell (OF), Kylie Kennedy (3B), Morgan Wierema (1B). Jr.: Jenna Jones (SS), Olivia Edfors (OF).
Newcomers -- Jr.: Heidi Holcomb (C/OF), Velaye Weinert (2B/OF), Ann Renkes (1B/OF), Morgan Pannell (OF). Soph.: Chelsea Lesniewski (P/IF).
Kewanee Boiler Girls
Coach: Pete Tanzillo (6th year).
2012: 4-17 (0-12 TRAC-9), lost 11-6 to Princeton in the first round of the Class 2A Hall Regional.
Returning letterwinners -- Sr.: Jen Ensley (SS), Megan Plum (1B), Kylie Smith (C), Sidney Uitermarkt (2B), Jess Ireland (IF), Carissa Conley (OF). Jr.: Gabby Kubiak (OF), Paige Reeser (P), Ashley Folger (2B/3B).
Newcomers -- Jr.: Liz Bral (OF), Jenny Kubinski (IF/OF), Zoey Vogt (OF), Katie Bloom (1B). Fr.: Mackenzie DeVilder (P).
Coach: Tammy Deter (19th year).
2012: 24-10 (13-1 TRAC-9, 1st place), lost 8-2 to Rock Falls in the Class 2A Rock Falls Regional finals.
Returning letterwinners -- Sr.: Kaitlyn Finneran (SS), Alyssa Workman (3B), Allie Renkes (1B/2B), Jessica Wieneke (OF). Jr.: Allie Wiersema (P/2B), Chelsea Eads (C), Shannon Finneran (OF).
Newcomers -- Jr.: Hannah Rillie (C/IF). Soph.: Rachel Davis (OF). Fr.: Lauren Pannier (P/1B).
Coach: Teri Peterson (10th year).
2012: 17-10 (9-3 TRAC-9), lost 3-1 to Morrison in the Class 2A Rock Falls Regional semifinals.
Returning letterwinners -- Sr.: Sadie Mosher (P/SS). Jr.: Taylor Young (OF), Alicia Mabeus (2B/OF), Sydney Mericle (SS). Soph.: Kara Keppy (3B/P), Kaylee Donna (1B/OF).
Newcomers -- Jr.: Savanna Gonyier (1B/OF). Soph.: Megan Groves (OF). Fr.: Chloe Sullivan (C), Spencer Hughes (2B/OF).