Jim Muessig heard rumors that the Dublin Jerome High School softball team had chemistry issues last spring while he was coaching the junior varsity.

Jim Muessig heard rumors that the Dublin Jerome High School softball team had chemistry issues last spring while he was coaching the junior varsity.

In an effort to bring the squad closer together after he was hired as coach over the summer, Muessig asked his players to volunteer some of their free time visiting residents at the Convalarium, an assisted living community in Dublin.

Beginning in September, many of the players began visiting the facility together on a weekly basis. Muessig said the experience has led to them growing both individually and as a team.

"A lot of the residents in the Convalarium don't have relatives who live close by or don't have any relatives at all, so it means a lot to them when the girls stop by," Muessig said. "The girls have gone together to play games with them and they've brought them pizza and small gifts, and it's been a special experience to see the looks on their faces. It's not only good for the residents but it's also been good for the kids, because it's taught them some valuable life lessons and brought them closer together. I heard there were some splinters in our team last year, but we haven't had any of that at all this season, and I think that's going to pay dividends on the field as well."

The Celtics, who finished 2-17 overall last season after losing to Teays Valley 10-0 in the first round of the Division I district tournament, open March 29 at Olentangy Orange. They open OCC-Cardinal Division play April 2 by playing host to Westerville North.

Eleven players who played key roles last season have returned in seniors Kelley Cheesman (SS), Kelsey Ciminillo (P/OF), Megan Dobkins (2B), Madison Mercker (1B) and Kelsey Wilson (OF), juniors Kaitlin Beebe (LF), Caitlin Clancy (CF), Madison Colvin (1B/2B) and Stephanie Hirth (C/OF) and sophomores Abby Haab (P) and Katie Kendall (C).

Rounding out the roster are senior Shelby Rode (P/OF), junior Erin Hammett (3B) and sophomore Kylie Huesman (3B/SS).

"We've got both of our pitchers back and we're heavy on experience across the field," Muessig said. "The biggest thing we're working on is getting the girls to have confidence in themselves that they can win more games."

Last season, Jerome finished last in the OCC-Cardinal at 1-13, behind co-champions North and Marysville (11-3), Westerville Central (9-5), Olentangy (9-5), Westerville South (6-8), Olentangy Liberty (6-8) and Dublin Scioto (2-12).

"We're just trying to get over the hump so we can turn the corner as a program," Muessig said. "I'd love to finish above .500 in our league, but we're in a very competitive league, so we'll have to earn everything we get."

•Coffman opens Tuesday, March 27, by playing host to Watterson and begins OCC-Central play April 2 at Central Crossing.

The Shamrocks finished 8-19 overall last year, losing to Olentangy Liberty 2-1 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.

Coffman has three returning starters in seniors Courtney Colles (CF) and Kayla Whitehouse (RF) and junior Meredith Mockler (C).

Last year, Whitehouse batted a team-high .451 and Colles batted .372.

Senior Alex Meisner-Rathbun, juniors Emily Barber, Olivia Kennedy and Lauren McFadden and sophomore Haley Marshall will share pitching duties. Junior Quynh Vo will start at shortstop.

Also vying for playing time are seniors Lauren Tillman (2B) and Maggie Watson (C/1B), juniors Kelsey Hansen (2B), Tiffany Kula (OF), Megan Mills (2B/SS) and Megan Sutula (3B) and sophomores Kelyn Hickle (1B/2B) and Hannah Sabatino (C/2B/OF).

"We're getting some good leadership from our seniors, for sure," first-year coach Leah Howard said. "We have a lot of inexperienced players, so we're beginning a learning process. We're inexperienced (in the circle) and we don't have a dominator. But we have a lot of pitchers who are evenly matched and some of them could develop into a dominator in the future."

The Shamrocks finished seventh in the OCC-Central last season at 3-11, behind Central Crossing (13-0), Thomas Worthington (10-3), Worthington Kilbourne (10-4), Hilliard Davidson (7-7), Hilliard Darby (5-8) and Upper Arlington (4-10) and ahead of Westland (2-11).

"Central Crossing is still the team to beat because they have good pitching," Howard said. "But Davidson is always good, too, and everybody in our league is going to be solid. Our goal is to have no mental errors and to play within ourselves."

•Scioto opens Wednesday, March 28, by playing host to Watterson and begins OCC-Cardinal play April 2 by playing host to Olentangy.

The Irish finished 6-17 overall last season. They opened the Division I district tournament with a 14-0 win over Marion-Franklin in five innings then lost to second-seeded Gahanna 11-0 in five innings in the second round.

"My goal is to be .500 in our league this year," said first-year coach Larry Howell, who coached Centennial the previous 12 seasons. "Westerville North has to be the favorite to win the OCC-Cardinal, along with Marysville, based on who they have coming back. But we're working on changing the kids' attitudes and showing them that we can compete with any team on our schedule. Just because we've struggled in the past doesn't mean we need to continue to do so in the future."

Five starters have returned in seniors Kate DeVantier (CF), Paige Heasley (P/1B) and Allison Willman (2B), junior Mackenzie Nelsen (P) and sophomore Kelsey Esterline (3B).

Nelsen was second-team all-league and Heasley was honorable mention all-league a year ago.

Juniors Taylor Martin (P/SS) and Marie Storey (2B/OF) are first-year starters.

Also vying for playing time at a variety of positions are senior Courtney Conner, juniors Marissa Gibson and Kelsie Judge and sophomores Kaitlin Cameron, Kathleen O'Brien, Alexis Vanmeter, Abby Willman, Abby Wittenauer and Alexandra Wolfe.

"Our seniors worked extremely hard to get more kids interested in playing softball and we have enough girls to have a j.v. team for the first time in several years here," Howell said.

"That's a huge step in building this program."