By Michael Rich
The Olentangy Liberty softball team, winners of four consecutive OCC titles and back-to-back district titles, is in a youth movement.
“We have a long way to come,” senior Miranda Noday said. “We have a lot of potential and a lot of talent on our team.”
Ten of the team’s 15 players are freshmen or sophomores, including all six pitchers and catchers.
Head coach Bob Lee looks to replace the departed battery of Kristen Adkins (pitcher) and Bailey Ankrim (catcher) with two freshmen pitchers, a sophomore pitcher and three freshmen catchers.
“Obviously, we’re going to miss our senior battery,” Bob Lee said. “We have some talented players — they’re just inexperienced and learning our system. That’s been a challenge.”
Lee will look to Katelyn Wilhelm, Marissa McPhail and Samantha Leonhardt to solidify the circle with McPhail, a sophomore, the elder statesman of the trio.
Sydney Lane, Arica Flaugher and Lindsey Aninao will all see time behind the plate.
“I think if we have good team chemistry, that can carry us,” senior Kaylin Lee said. “Obviously, we lost a lot of people, but I feel like if our team flows and we get hot, we can definitely do it again.”
As the Patriots attempt to achieve their theme, “strive for five,” Noday (second base), Kaylin Lee (first base) and fellow seniors, Kylie Reed (third base and outfield) and Rylee Kashmiry (center field), provide the team with some stability as it retools.
Sophomore Kennedy Kashmiry started at second base as a freshman, but will switch spots with Noday and play shortstop this season.
“One of our goals is to be a lot better at the end of the season than we were at the beginning from playing together and learning the system,” Bob Lee said.
“We have to work on our mental game a lot,” Noday said. “But I think it’s definitely possible (to repeat) with our freshmen and our returning players. We have multiple players that can play multiple positions, which is going to help us a lot.”
Unlike Liberty, Delaware Hayes has its battery back, making the Pacers a favorite to vie for the OCC-Capital crown this season.
All-stater Maddie Huck returns to the circle for her final go around, and will be joined by returning catcher Amaia Daniel.
“We’re going to go as far as Maddie can take us,” Pacers coach Mark Thomas said. “It’s not a secret that Maddie is our rock … our general. She’s a tough competitor and she’s going to have to pitch a lot of games.
“(Daniel) has nice, solid foundation. She’s probably the second best defensive catcher that I’ve coached in 17 years. She knows the game inside and out. Coming in as a freshman, she communicated very well — basically, if Maddie was the general, she was our colonel.”
The Pacers have been to the district title game four out of the last six years, including back-to-back loses to Liberty in each of the last two, but haven’t won it since 2005 … something Thomas says the team uses as motivation.
“It burns that we haven’t gotten over that hump,” he said. “It not only weighs heavy on myself, but the seniors, too. They want to be the senior group that finally takes the Lady Pacer softball group to a district championship and then get to the regionals.”
Seniors Kaily Schutte (center field), a four year starter, and three-year starters Caylin Morstadt (third base) and Mackenzie Stonebraker (first base) are back in a starting lineup that returns eight out of 10.
Like Liberty, Orange will have to replace its battery of Jenn Kurelic and Kyle Davidson. But there’s plenty of talent on the roster for the Pioneers to make some noise.
“I think we’re going to compete in most games,” Orange coach Bruce Leary said. “We’ve got some young players in some key positions. We’re a little untested.”
Sophomore Alyssa Laisure will handle most of the catching duties and freshman Brenna Oliver, along with junior Alex Nagy, will be in the circle for the Pioneers.
Orange will be captained by seniors Alayna Kaschak (first base), Maicy Kirk (shortstop) and Nina Sensibaugh (right field).
The Golden Eagles took it on the chin some last season, but Big Walnut head coach Jeff Hatfield hopes that having Kate Petty back in the circle and healthy for her senior season will help the other pieces fall into place.
Petty, along with Jessica Coletta (catcher) and Taryn Hammond (third base), both juniors, hope to lead an Eagle team looking to turn heads in the OCC-Capital.
Buckeye Valley has plenty of experience coming back. Senior Kacey Morris (pitcher), who took home honorable mention all-state honors last season, highlights a team that features 10 juniors and seniors on a roster of 12.
Allison Farthbruckner makes the move to shortstop and Logan Hatcher will play third. Each won all-league honors last season.
Olentangy returns six letterwinners from a squad that finished 14-11 last season.
Coach Alan Tharpe, who is entering his fourth season with the school, said that leadership will come from his four seniors — Logan Sutton (pitcher/infielder), Ashley Post (first base), Kendra Madaris (second base) and Alyssa Boyd (pitcher).
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.