Even though the Delaware Hayes High School softball team had one of its top seasons in program history last year, it felt like it had little to show for it.
The Pacers finished 24-4 overall last season but fell short of winning their second Division I district championship and had to settle for a second-place tie in the OCC-Capital Division.
Having returned seven starters, Delaware is hoping to get past those hurdles this season to earn league and district championships.
"I'm telling you right now that we have to get those things done next year," senior catcher Kaitlyn Woerner said last season after the Pacers lost to Pickerington Central 8-6 in a district final. "We will do whatever it takes."
According to sixth-year coach Mark Thomas, the Pacers displayed that commitment during the offseason.
"The girls have been in our (practice) facility three or four days a week since October," Thomas said. "We've got four seniors on this team and they all were playing varsity as freshmen. We've got great senior leadership."
The Pacers, who opened in Florida, are off to a strong start, having won all five games played March 31 and April 1 in Cocoa Beach. They begin league play Monday, April 7, at home against Worthington Kilbourne.
Delaware went 11-3 in the OCC-Capital last season to tie Olentangy Orange for second behind Olentangy (13-1). Kilbourne was in the OCC-Cardinal last season but moved to the OCC-Capital to replace Watkins Memorial, which left to join the Licking County League.
Leading the way for the Pacers is senior shortstop and pitcher Mikayla Cooper, an Ohio University signee who led the team in batting average (.522), runs (42), RBI (49) and home runs (11) and went 8-2 in the circle with four saves, a 2.11 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 73 innings last season. She was named OCC-Capital Player of the Year for the second season in a row and was first-team all-state and all-district.
Woerner, who has committed to Cedarville University, hit .412 with 31 RBI and four home runs and was first-team all-district and all-league.
Lindsey Blair (2B/SS) and Chandler Fields (OF/P) round out the senior class. Blair hit .357 with 23 runs and was special mention all-league and Fields batted .351.
Madi Huck returns as the team's top pitcher. The sophomore, who also plays first base, went 15-2 with one save, a 1.70 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 103 innings and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last year. She also batted .393 with 27 RBI, four home runs and 11 doubles.
Also having returned are junior outfielder Jordan Osborne (.321, 26 runs) and sophomore outfielder Kaitlynn Schuette. Osborne has replaced 2013 graduate Abbey Frey in center field.
New to the starting lineup are sophomores Caylin Morstadt (3B) and Mackenzie Stonebraker (1B).
"I think we're much strong offensively and we have so much experience, not only from our seniors, but overall," Thomas said. "We're anticipating a great season."
Baseball team has depth, experience
First-year baseball coach Ryan Montgomery is impressed with his team's depth and experience.
"We've got a ton of seniors on the team and we've got seven guys who were starters last year," said Montgomery, a 2005 Olentangy Liberty graduate who spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Liberty. "I think we've got a lot of depth and quite a few strong leaders."
Montgomery is Delaware's third coach in as many years. He replaced Nick Melton, who coached the Pacers last season after Mike Yinger stepped down following the 2012 season.
Delaware is trying to rebound from last season, in which it finished 7-18 overall and 4-10 in the OCC-Capital. It was scheduled to open April 5 with a doubleheader at Marion Pleasant after its first two games were canceled because of bad weather.
Montgomery said he expected the starting lineup in the early-part of the season to include seniors Connor Holl-ingsworth (OF), Collin Reed (3B), Jake South (2B), Greg Suber (C) and Connor Ulmer (OF) and juniors Josh Daughenbaugh (OF), Noble Moore (SS) and Jake Brown (1B).
Senior Michael Sweeney will split time between third base and designated hitter and junior Braden Schmidt will see time in the outfield, Montgomery said.
Last season, Ulmer batted .361 with 13 RBI, 17 runs and nine stolen bases as the leadoff batter. Suber hit .361 with 13 RBI, Sweeney batted .304 with five doubles and Daughenbaugh had three triples and scored 14 runs.
Sophomore Cory Beam also is expected to see time at third base when not pitching.
"We have a lot of arms we can use on the mound," Montgomery said. "I think we have a solid four-man rotation with any one of the guys assuming the role as a No. 1 on any given night."
Seniors Jackson Boger and Chance Smith join Beam and Moore in the starting rotation. Brown, Schmidt, Reed and senior Daniel Shafer are expected to be relievers.
Montgomery said he thinks the Pacers will be better offensively this season, even though defense appears to be their strength.
"Moore and Daughenbaugh have looked solid all offseason in the cages and throughout our scrimmages, and Suber and Ulmer have continued to swing the bat well and give our lineup great stability," he said. "Defensively, we are very solid around the infield with South and Moore making a great middle combination. In the outfield, we have a lot of speed and great athleticism at all three spots with Hollingsworth and Daughenbaugh in the corners and Ulmer taking charge in center.
"We have a very hard-working group of seniors who want to win and are hungry for success. They have put in tremendous effort in the offseason to get better, and I believe the results will show."
Also on the roster are seniors Adam Crosbie (OF), Troy Siegle (OF), Gaige Linville (1B/DH) and Andrew Sierawski (3B/OF/C) and sophomore Noah Watts (INF).
Delaware opens league play Monday, April 7, at home against Kilbourne.
Boys tennis team returns six players
First-year boys tennis coach Richard Hunt welcomed back six letterwinners from last season, when the Pacers finished 7-9 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Capital.
The returnees are seniors Nathan Bonofiglio, Paul Claymier, John Homan, Nate Miklas and Jason Watkins and sophomore Brandon Becker.
Homan returns at first singles. Bonofiglio played second singles last season and is expected to play second or third singles this year, with Miklas playing in the other singles spot.
"Homan has a great serve, impressive groundstrokes and a nice net game," Hunt said. "He plays smart on the court and will do well for us again this year.
"Bonofiglio has a tremendous first serve and forehand. Miklas and Watkins are both consistent players who get to every ball and have solid groundstrokes and overall games. Claymier also has a nice forehand and net game."
Senior Paul Winters is vying for playing time at doubles with Becker, Claymier, Watkins and junior Krisna Patel.
Delaware did not have any Division I district qualifiers last season. Homan fell one win shy of advancing out of the Hilliard Davidson sectional in singles.
Hunt took over the Pacers from Dan Morrison, who stepped down after leading the program for 37 years.