The Groveport Madison High School softball team reached a Division I district semifinal each of the past five seasons.
But with the return of six starters, including junior pitcher Emilee Downing, 24th-year coach Steve Cunningham is hoping the Cruisers can take another step.
Downing was named first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division last season after hitting .440 and going 16-8 with a 2.82 ERA, as Groveport finished 16-10 overall and went 9-5 in the league to tie Pickerington Central for third, behind Grove City (13-1) and Gahanna (11-3).
The Cruisers lost to Grove City 16-7 in a district semifinal last year.
"Downing will be our go-to pitcher," said Cunningham, whose team opened April 1 at home against Westerville South. "She has two years of experience and we hope pitching will be the strength of this team. We should be strong defensively up the middle with junior (catcher) Brittany Kern and senior (center fielder) Tisha Lane being solid, experienced defenders."
Kern and Lane are returning starters, as are seniors Destiny Bishop (LF) and Kaysea Smith (3B/C) and junior Shianne Curry (1B).
Lane batted .323 last season and Bishop, Kern and Smith all hit around .300, according to Cunningham.
Another key returnee is junior Amanda Madsen (RF).
"Kern, Downing and Bishop were leaders at the plate for us last year, and Lane and Madsen should provide added hitting," Cunningham said. "Makayla Bartzis should blend in some needed speed on the bases that we lacked last year."
Bartzis, a junior, is battling Smith for the starting position at third base. Freshman Jessica Rock is expected to start at shortstop with junior Sarah Fulton playing second base.
"We need to get experience and confidence at shortstop and third base," Cunningham said. "Jessica Rock has really shown promise at (shortstop) and is getting better with every practice. We have had some injuries at third base and have been rotating players in and out. Both Bartzis and Smith shown flashes but need to become consistent."
Also on the roster are seniors Nicole Lash (RHP/2B) and Samantha Simms (OF) and freshman Sue Russell (OF).
Groveport lost six players from last season to graduation, including Amy Castle (3B) and Katie Fellure (1B). Castle batted clean-up and hit .430 and was second-team all-league, and Fellure batted .465 and was special mention all-league.
Baseball team looks to improve on 2013
The baseball team is under new leadership as it looks to improve on last season, when it finished 9-17 overall and 0-14 in the OCC-Ohio.
David Eft has taken over the coaching duties from Dick Noble.
Groveport, which opened April 1 against Tree of Life and plays Thursday, April 3, at Bexley, returns three key starters in seniors Isaac England (1B) and Cody Snyder (2B) and junior Jordan Spurling (SS).
The Cruisers also return two starting pitchers in senior Jake Seipel and sophomore Colin Bobo.
Last season, England had .372 batting average, Seipel batted .360 and Spurling hit .333. On the mound, Seipel went 2-7 with a 1.74 ERA.
England and Spurling both were named honorable mention all-league.
"I have some great kids on this year's team," Eft said. "Isaac England is the captain of the team and an extremely impressive young man. Seipel will lead us on the mound and is a three-time letterwinner. Young guys like Colin Bobo and Derek Downard, another sophomore, will also be a big part of the rotation."
When not on the mound, Downard is expected to start at third base. Also expected to be starters are seniors Logan Goodman (RF), Kenny Kerr (LF) and Trent Kopala (C) and juniors Brad Kitchen (DH) and Blake Snyder (CF).
Rounding out the roster is senior Hiroki Barker (P/INF).
"Hitting will need to be a team effort with Cody Snyder, Logan Goodman, Bradley Kitchen and Jordan Spurling leading the way," Eft said. "We are going to be a team of hard workers who grind out runs on offense and outs on defense."
The Cruisers lost five players from last season to graduation, including three starters in Logan Mavromatis (CF), Tommy O'Diam (3B) and Lucas Trout (RF).
Mavromatis led the team in hitting (.402) and RBI (29) and was second-team all-league. O'Diam hit .388 with 17 runs.
Groveport opens OCC-Ohio play Monday, April 7, at home against Gahanna. The Cruisers have lost 30 consecutive league games. Their last league win came against Lancaster, 11-10, during the 2011 season.
"Attitude and effort are where we need the most work," Eft said. "We have to believe in ourselves and compete for seven innings."
Boys tennis team set to open season
The boys tennis team returns four players who competed in the postseason last season in seniors Cory Johnson and Nate Parsons and J. Simms and junior Nick Shannon.
"We are very young, but they are willing to support each other," said coach Doug Ewart, who is in his 35th and final season leading the program. "The team chemistry is great. There's just not a lot of experience."
Last season in a Division I sectional tournament at Pickerington Central, the doubles team of Johnson and Parsons and Johnson and the doubles team of Simms and Shannon both lost in the opening round.
Completing the roster are junior Jacob Bogner and freshmen Ryan Harder, Jeremie McDonald, Chris Royster, Austin Sourinha, Jonathon Thomas and Caleb West.
"These players are playing for the love of the game and because they want to play and improve," Ewart said. "We are not funded by the school, but these kids just want to play."
Groveport, which finished 6-9 overall and 1-6 in the OCC-Ohio last season, opens Thursday, April 3, at home against Pickerington North in a league match.
The Cruisers had one district qualifier last season in 2013 graduate Forrest Baldwin, who was runner-up at sectional and lost in the second round at district.
Baldwin went 22-9 last year to set the program record for wins in a season and finished with 50 career wins, tying 2008 graduate Bryan Rosales for most wins in program history.