Scouting DuPage County softball

  • Senior Hannah Meeks set Neuqua Valley's strikeout record last year while winning the DuPage Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year.

    Senior Hannah Meeks set Neuqua Valley's strikeout record last year while winning the DuPage Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year. Shea Lazansky/Shaw Media

 
By Stan Goff
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 3/26/2022 5:15 PM

Top teams:

Benet, Downers Grove South, Glenbard South, IC Catholic Prep, Lake Park, Montini, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Wheaton North, York.

 

Season outlook:

After a historic run to the sectional semifinals, Neuqua Valley looks to continue its success this spring as 11 players return from a Wildcats squad that went 26-4 in 2021 while winning the DuPage Valley Conference crown.

Neuqua won 15 straight games before falling to Yorkville after its deepest playoff run ever, and returns nine seniors including Maia Clifford, the DVC Player of the Year. The shortstop batted .330 with 6 HR and 23 RBI in 2021.

Neuqua also returns the conference pitcher of the year in Hannah Meeks, a senior who set the school's strikeout record last spring with 166. Fellow seniors Stephanie Hause (2B/OF) and Kayla Shymkewich (C/3B) also picked up All-DVC honors last year as did Izzy Ernest (3B/P), who paced the Wildcats with a .435 average.

"We had a lot of fun and success last year," Neuqua Valley coach Danielle Asquini said. "We're looking forward to another great season this year!"

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Repeating as DVC champs won't be a given for the Wildcats as Naperville North returns plenty of talent, and Naperville Central brings back experience on the mound and at the plate.

The Huskies won 12 of their final 14 games last spring to close out 16-14 overall and 8-6 while taking third in the DVC. Rhyan Hampton, 2B/P, (.316, 9 2B, 18 RBI) and 1B Kendall Kedziora are 4-year starters on the right side of the infield. Kedziora was unanimous all-DVC after batting .364 with 2 HR, 18 RBI and 22 runs.

Senior OF Molly Burke and juniors Laurel Anstine (C/3B), Charlotte Chelich (P/1B/OF), OF Kristina Donaldson (.368, 4 HR), Shayna Woolwine (P/INF). Chelich batted .466 with 6 HR and 34 RBI at the plate and was 5-7 with 3 saves, a 3.75 ERA and 104 K on the mound, while Woolwine was 10-6 with a 1.45 ERA and 175 Ks on the hill and the Winona State commit also hit .352 last spring.

Naperville North also has high hopes for newcomers Olivia Hebron (soph., OF), Maddi Larsen (fresh., SS/P), Eliza Patterson (fresh., C/3B) and Lily Kelly (fresh., INF).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Senior pitcher Tela Meech, a 4-year varsity player for Naperville Central, returns after going 9-6 last spring with a 4.13 ERA and 64 Ks in 100 innings. She's a co-captain in 2022 along with outfielder Julia Nicholus, a junior who hit .366 with 2 HR and 21 RBI for the Redhawks, who went 19-15.

Coach Andy Nussbaum, in his 38th year, won his 700th game in 2021. Senior catcher Annie Saran (.312 and team-leading 22 RBI), junior infielder Abby Hurst (.316) and junior outfielder Kendall Lenz (17 runs scored) will also be keys this season for the Redhawks.

Metea Valley was 6-17 in 2021 but the Mustangs return lots of experience including college commits OF Nia Lewis (Morgan State University) and OF/P Laura Guadarrama (Aquinas College). Other key players this spring include senior Neveah Cruz (P/SS), sophomores Genevieve Gonzales (P/3B/1B), Riley O'Neill (OF/SS) and Reese Valha (SS/3B), and junior Michelle Hess (2B/3B).

Fellow DVC rival Waubonsie Valley finished 9-16 after falling to Wheaton Warrenville South in the second round of the regionals. Sophomore pitcher Hannah Laub returns after hitting .435 with 5 HR and recording a 3.40 ERA with 119 Ks in 113 innings. Senior OF Megan Kennedy hit .419 with 10 HR and 10 doubles and has committed to Northern Kentucky. Sophomore 1B/P Gia Cobert (.407) and newcomer OFs Julia Kahl and Ellie Krueger will help solidify the Warriors' lineup.

Last year York went 20-3, won the West Suburban Silver title at conference 11-1, and finished as 4A sectional runners-up after falling to eventual state champion Marist.

Starters back for the Dukes are seniors 2B Emily Fujiwara, York High School's top Female Junior Athlete, who hit .400 with 7 HR and 28 RBI; 3B Lindsey Bingham (.382); and leadoff hitter Haley Sandoval, who hit .340 and was 15-for-15 in stolen base attempts.

Senior P/1B Kara Jensen and junior OF Molly Heiss will take on bigger roles in 2022.

"We will need to fill some gaps at catcher and pitcher but we think that we have a strong young core in those positions that we can build into a very strong battery," York coach Brendan Holba said. "After a total lost year and a season limited to just conference games, there is great excitement to get back to a full 35 game schedule."

Downers Grove North and South again will field solid teams in the WSC, with the Mustangs coming off an 18-5 campaign that included a10-0 run through conference. DGS lost 4-0 to York in the sectional finals and this spring will lean on Gracie and Bella Lapacek, Ella Cushing, Alyssa Deschamp and Anna Luczak.

For the Trojans, seven sophomores will be counted on heavily, but the team has all of its starters back from the 2021 abbreviated season, including senior infielder Payton Janicki (.371), senior OF Maggie Ward (.422) and sophomore standouts Ava Gusel and Maya Rodriguez. Gusel will be the No. 1 pitcher this spring and IF/C Rodriguez could be one of the top players in the conference.

Benet Academy looks primed to take a big step toward returning to elite status after going 17-15 and claiming a 3A regional title after defeating Nazareth 8-6. Eight seniors return for coach Jerry Schilf including 4-year starters Samantha Schilf (P/1B), Samantha Mikitka (OF/P), Elayna Brdecka (IF/OF) and Grace Farjardo (SS/CF). Other starters back for the Redwings are senior catcher Anna Bastuga, sophomore 3B Bridget Chapman, sophomore OF Nina Pesare and sophomore 2B Gianna Horejs. Junior Taylor Sconza, a transfer from Plainfield East, will add additional speed to the outfield.

Perennial power Glenbard South looks solid again this spring after finishing 17-11 (14-4 in the Upstate Eight) before falling 3-2 in the 3A sectional semis to Ridgewood. Junior pitcher Hannah Rafferty-Flatter (12-9, 156 K, 3.86 ERA, and a .311 avg. with 21 RBI) returns, but the program will miss junior SS Mia Lake, who tore her ACL in basketball. Seniors Lauren Atkinson (CF), Julia Gavin (2B/SS/OF) and Kaylee Full (2B/SS/OF), along with newcomers Grace Zeman (3B/P/1B), Mackenzie Brach (SS/2B), and Maddy Blazek (C/1B/OF) are expected to make major contributions for Glenbard South.

After dropping a tough 2-1 game to Ridgewood in a 3A sectional title a year ago, Montini brings back four stalwarts -- 8 starters all told -- from a team that went 20-5 and took first in the GCAC at 16-2. Senior P/3B Kora Navarro, the GCAC Player of the Year, returns after all-conference and second team all-state honors, along with senior OF Ava Franklin, junior 2B/P Amanda Wozniak, and sophomore 1B Brooke Kuczynski.

"Having advanced to the sectional final and winning conference, with 8 returning starters we are looking to carry over that success into this season with Kora Navarro (University of Findlay) continuing to lead the charge in the circle," Broncos coach Erin Bradarich said.

Fenton had a great spring in 2021 but will need to regroup somewhat this year after graduating nine seniors. The Bison went 23-14 overall and 13-5 in the Upstate 8, and handed UEC champion South Elgin its only conference loss, before falling 6-4 in the regional finals to Glenbard South. Juniors Kaitlyn Hoffing (SS, 3rd Team All-State) and Dani Trentadue (P, 3rd Team All State) and senior catcher Ximena Banuelos are back for Fenton.

Glenbard East returns six starters from a 9-12 squad led by seniors SS Gianna Raitano, who hit .464 with 5 HR and 23 RBI, and 3B Ella Brooks (.348, 17 RBI). Talented sophomores C Ally Block (.400, 6 HR, 31 RBI) and OF Sophia Opila, and freshman OF/P Melissa Saldana will give the Rams a boost this year.

Glenbard North will lean on seniors Bella Eggert, Lucy Rogers and Emily Guenther, along with a strong core of underclassmen, including junior pitcher Ellie Matzke, catcher Liz Welch, 3B/P Hailey Noll and freshman SS Tru Medina.

Graduation hit Glenbard West pretty hard, yet coach Mary McGrane likes her team's look. "Not sure how many coaches would be this excited about starting over after graduating 8 starters last season, but my staff and I are excited about our potential," she said. "We have a talented group that offers a lot of different defensive looks and the players are versatile and it'll be fun working with the younger players we have."

The Hilltoppers went 16-7, 6-6 in the WSC, before closing with a loss to St. Charles East in the regional finals. Grace Walker was the starting left fielder before she got hurt and then freshman Kayla Heard replaced her. Other returners include senior C Julia Norton, senior 1B Olivia Terek, senior 1B/OF Norah Seilder, senior OF Anne Dillman, and sophomore C/3B Ava Heard. Mallory Brannegan and Ellie Adduci will handle pitching duties, while senior 1B Alyssa Demanuale also will be counted on.

Addison Trail, 9-12 last spring, will be led by senior OF Gia Napoli, who has signed to play at Stetson University, pitcher Taylor Gloms (Elmhurst University) and junior SS/OF Brianna Matthews. Coach Mark Olson expects his lineup to include several strong freshmen players.

After a tough spring in 2021, the Red Devils of Hinsdale Central expect to improve on last year's 6-15 overall and 4-8 conference records. Returning starters senior INF Brooke Bauer, senior P Kaila Kuo and juniors Sarah Brosius (P), Allie Diaz (utility) and Amelia McLaughlin (utility) bring back plenty of experience.

For Hinsdale South, eight varsity players are back from a 9-11 squad that went 6-4 while finishing second in the WSC Gold. Senior CF Nikki Berger was all-conference after batting .500 with 5 HR and 20 RBI, as was senior 3B/C Stephanie Rochowicz, who has committed to play at Heartland Community College after hitting .407.

Other key players for the Hornets include senior 2B/SS Kaylin Drake, juniors Nicole Kaleta (SS/OF), Amber Fedinec, (1B), Ashley Leban, (P/1B), Caitlin Bishop (OF) and sophomore Annika Nicol (C/utility).

IC Catholic Prep went 20-10 a year ago with the Knights' season coming to an end after a loss to Manteno in the 2A sectional semifinals. Five starters are back led by a trio of sophomores: SS Analisa Raffaelli (.478, 35 RBI, 37 runs, 37 SB), P/1B Anjelina Dwyer (.562, 43 RBI, 12 2B) and P/2B Kayla Carrillo (.354). Junior catcher Natasha DeRose (.341) is back behind the plate for ICCP, senior Caterina Calabria returns to the OF, and newcomers Riley Venn, Isabella Jelic, and Lily Fisher are expected to make big contributions this spring.

Lake Park coach Tom Mazzie is 25 wins shy of the 200-win career mark after guiding the Lancers to a 19-14 record. Junior all-state shortstop and Penn State commit Michela Barbanente leads a cast of top returners.

"We have lots of experienced talent mixed with some great up and coming young players. We think that we will be very competitive in a brutal DuKane Conference," Mazzie said.

Seniors Bre Caper (CF), Madelyn Fricano (C/1B), Donna D'Addabbo (P/1B), Madi Kuban (P/1B/DH), Rachel Kerulis (P/2B) and Brynn Sheedy (RF/1B), along with junior Cailynn Gdowski (OF/3B/C) all return with varsity experience.

Look for Wheaton North to have a strong campaign as eight starters return from a team that went 20-7 (11-3 in the DuKane) and advanced to a regional final.

Syracuse-bound third baseman Lauren Vaughn is expected back from injury in April after batting .457 with 8 HR and 32 RBI last year, and the Falcons also have their all-conference battery of catcher Bailley Harveth and pitcher Erin Metz. Other returning starters are Macy Pomatto, Gabs Langlois, all-conference OF Emily Sipowich, Annie Sullivan, and Monica Kading.

Coach Allie Ravanesi has high hopes for several newcomers including freshmen pitchers Makayla Grantz and Reagan Crosthwaite.

"This program is definitely moving in the right direction," Ravanesi said. "We had a good season last year, but they do not hang banners for good seasons, so we cannot be complacent. We need to be hungry and show up and play ball. We have a tough conference and schedule ahead of us that will definitely be challenging and keep us honest."

Wheaton Warrenville South went 16-10, 8-5 last spring, beating Waubonsie Valley in the reginal semis before falling to Oswego East.

The Tigers have six starters back including 3B Katie Jensen (.318) and RF Parker Leonard (.486), a pair of all-conference selections. Also back to start in the veteran infield are SS Leah Adamek, 2B Emma Schusler, and 1B Josie Siebert, with OF/P Marissa Lutes rounding out the list of returning starters. A young pitching rotation will include Marissa Lutes, sophomore Maddie Pool and freshman Presley Wright.

Lisle will field one team this year and the young squad has four returners after a 4-12 season. Senior Amanda Hudgens (C/SS/1B), junior Audrey Catuara (SS/P/C), sophomore Mia Mazzolini (P/OF) and senior Meg deBuhr (1B/C) will pace the Lions.

St. Francis (13-12) will be young this spring, but led by seniors Brooke Hartzell (SS), Grace Wanshek (C), Sadie Racky (OF), Taylor Austin (2B) and Ella Malchowski (OF).

For Timothy Christian, Emily Slovey (1B/P), Lindsey Andersen (C), and Kaleigh Younglove (P/Inf.) return and will get a lift from top freshmen newcomers Sophia Mook (3B/SS), Maci Woerner (P/SS/3B), and Chloe Wetterquist (2B).

Six starters back for Willowbrook will receive a boost from a strong group of newcomers, including freshman pitcher/SS Hannah Kenny and seniors 1B Anna Bjorklund and OF Josie Chiano. The Warriors, who went 11-10 last year, bring back senior P/CF Caitlyn Kulczyski (Stetson University), senior 3B Grace Hayes (Elmhurst University) -- both all-conference -- along with OF Katelyn Cox, Inf/OF Kayleigh Dennison, C Isabella Dugo, and 1B/C/OF Lindsey Rugg.

Two-time all-conference OF Bri Pechman, a Northern Illinois University commit, is back to lead a West Chicago team that went 13-20 in 2021. Also returning for the Wildcats are sophomore all-conference pitcher Scout Gallagher and Alyssa Elizondo, a 3-year varsity returner.

Coach Autumn Ratliff is hoping to rebuild the Wheaton Academy program and expects key contributions from juniors Audrey Lopatka and Emma Tate, and freshmen Kiley Shahady and Moriah Husted.

The Westmont Sentinels, 5-16 a year ago, have seven returning starters, including pitcher Makenzie Blaine, who batted .321 and also recorded 5 wins. Senior Jordan Karesh will handle the catching duties and sophomore CF/SS Hayden Bos (.292) will also have an impact.

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