The Delaware Hayes High School softball team appears primed to make a run for a Division I district championship and another OCC-Capital Division title.
The Pacers, who open Tuesday, April 2, at home against Reynoldsburg, lost only two players to graduation after finishing 21-5 overall and winning their second consecutive league title last season.
"We want to win the OCC-Capital for the third year in a row and win a district championship to make it to regional," fifth-year coach Mark Thomas said. "I think our strength will be our offense. I think we're going to score some runs. We have a lot of speed on offense and defense."
Among the top returnees is junior Mikayla Cooper, who led central Ohio in batting average (.642), runs (45), RBI (38) and home runs (11) last season. She also had 11 doubles and seven triples and was 21-for-21 on stolen-base attempts and was named second-team all-state, first-team all-district and league Player of the Year.
Cooper was the Pacers' No. 1 pitcher last season but primarily will play shortstop this spring. Freshman Madi Huck is expected to be the top pitcher, with Cooper and senior Phoebe Lewis also expected to see time in the circle.
"Cooper plays only shortstop for her summer travel team and is a natural at shortstop," Thomas said. "Having Huck is a blessing because she has five or six pitches and throws all of them well. Plus, she hits her spots. With Cooper at shortstop, that allows (senior Alaina) Manor to return to her natural position at third base, so Huck gives us flexibility and puts these girls in more comfortable positions.
"I'm thinking we may use all three pitchers in a rotation during games."
Junior catcher Kaitlyn Woerner was first-team all-league and second-team all-district after hitting .482 with 18 runs and 19 RBI. Other key returnees include seniors Abbey Frey (CF) and junior Chandler Fields (designated player).
Frey (.482, 23 runs, 27 RBI, 11 doubles) and Manor (.493, 22 runs, 18 RBI, 6 doubles, 12-for-12 on stolen bases) were second-team all-league and Fields (.414, 21 RBI) was honorable mention all-league.
Frey and Lewis, who plays right field when not pitching, have committed to the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima and Manor has committed to Walsh University in North Canton.
Also back are senior Hannah Tucky (1B), junior Lindsey Blair (2B/SS) and sophomore Jordan Osborne (LF).
"We should be explosive on offense," Thomas said. "We've got a lot of firepower. Huck is a great hitter in addition to all the production we already had coming back. We'll have great speed in the outfield. I think our goal of reaching the regional is very realistic if we stay focused and team-oriented and we stay injury-free."
Last season, Delaware shared the OCC-Capital title with Olentangy Orange at 12-2, finishing ahead of Mount Vernon (9-5), Big Walnut (7-7), Hilliard Bradley (7-7), New Albany (7-7), Franklin Heights (2-12) and Watkins Memorial (0-14). As part of OCC realignment last summer, Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal and Olentangy joined the OCC-Capital.
The Pacers open league play April 8 at Watkins Memorial.
Seeded eighth in the district tournament last year, Delaware lost to Teays Valley 7-5 in the second round after beating Watkins Memorial 12-0 in five innings in the first round.
Baseball team starts new era
The baseball team begins a new era this season, as Nick Melton will be guiding the Pacers after replacing Mike Yinger as coach.
"I am extremely excited to be a head coach at a big school in a great conference," said Melton, who was an assistant coach at Mount Vernon the past two seasons after serving as an assistant at Fredericktown from 2008-10. "One of the first goals is to change the culture in Delaware so that we're competing on every pitch, every inning. We would love to get to the final week of the season and be in the hunt for a league title."
Delaware, which opened March 30 against Chillicothe Unioto and Olentangy Liberty, won seven of its first nine games last season but finished 13-13 overall, losing to Marysville 12-2 in the second round of the Division I district tournament after having a first-round bye.
The Pacers went 6-8 in the OCC-Capital last year to place fifth, behind Big Walnut (12-2), Orange (11-3), New Albany (10-4) and Watkins Memorial (8-5) and ahead of Mount Vernon (5-9), Bradley (3-10) and Franklin Heights (0-14).
Delaware opens league play April 8 at Watkins Memorial.
The Pacers lost eight players from a year ago to graduation, including shortstop Jacob Bosiokovic, who was named state Player of the Year the past two seasons and is playing at Ohio State.
Among the key returnees are seniors Alex Rafeld (C) and Alex Hohe (OF), who are serving as team captains. Last year, Rafeld batted .253 with 15 RBI and was honorable mention all-league and Hohe hit .316.
The only other senior is Tristan Adkins.
"Rafeld still has pins in his wrist from (breaking it during) football (season), but although this is a small group, they're vocal and good leaders," Melton said. "We have a lot of juniors without experience and it's tough to gauge personnel (practicing) indoors. This weather isn't helping any first-year coaches, that's for sure."
Other key returnees include juniors Colin Reed (P/3B/2B), Jake South (2B/SS), Greg Suber (P/1B) and Connor Ulmer (CF) and sophomore Noble Moore (P/SS).
Last season, Suber was 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA in 21 1/3 innings and Moore was 3-0 with a 2.23 ERA in 22 innings. Ulmer batted .338 with 18 runs and four doubles.
Tennis team returns four letterwinners
The boys tennis team returns four letterwinners in juniors Nathan Bonofiglio, John Homan, Nate Miklas and Jason Watkins.
Homan played second singles but missed most of last season with an arm injury.
"We have an unusually athletic bunch on the roster," 37th-year coach Dan Morrison said. "But we don't have any (players) who have much experience at first or second singles. I do expect John Homan to really blossom this year, though."
Bonofiglio and Watkins were runners-up at second doubles in the OCC-Capital tournament last season and went 1-1 in the Division I sectional tournament at Hilliard Davidson.
Both are competing for singles positions this year along with Homan, Miklas, senior Thomas Lenhart and junior Paul Claymier.
Last season, Delaware went 10-7 overall and 4-3 in OCC-Capital duals and finished fourth in the overall league standings with 38 points, behind New Albany (77, 7-0), Orange (45, 5-2) and Big Walnut (44, 6-1) and ahead of Bradley (25, 2-5), Watkins Memorial (23, 3-4), Mount Vernon (14, 1-6) and Franklin Heights (2, 0-7).
Last season marked the first in which the Pacers had a district qualifier since 2003, when Will Morrison and Ben Burkam lost a state-qualifying match at doubles.
Colton Richard and 2012 graduate Josh Byerly placed fourth at sectional to advance to district, where they lost in the first round. Richard did not return for his junior season.
Also on the roster are senior Noah Friz, junior Jim Brennan and freshman Brandon Becker.
"We have excellent depth," Morrison said. "A number of players played over the winter and we have a healthy number of athletic students on our team."