Ready High School softball coach Jen Goff told her players last season that she always believed they were capable of going deep into the Division III postseason because they had been prepared by a difficult regular-season schedule.
When the Silver Knights surprised their way to a state semifinal -- which they lost to Columbia Station Columbia 3-1 -- despite having just two seniors, Goff believed it instilled a boost of confidence that still is benefiting her returnees.
"It helped them grow up and believe they could accomplish things," Goff said. "We were only 3-12 at one point and it gets frustrating, but I always told them that we had a hard schedule."
The Knights return five key players after making it to the state tournament for the fifth time in program history. Ready won just 10 regular-season games and went 2-4 in the CCL, but finished 15-16 overall.
Haylee Patel, who will play center field and bat leadoff, and pitcher Julia Hall, are senior returnees.
Also back are junior Hailey Bryan, who will pitch and play first base, sophomore Shannan Waldo, who has moved from first base to catcher, and sophomore Courtney Hawkins, who will play third base and bat cleanup.
The other senior is Kay-Lee Dunkle, who should see time in right field and left field.
Junior Carly Smith was mostly a courtesy runner last year but is expected to play second base. Freshman Erica Ogden is at shortstop.
Junior Brook Minnehan will play right field or left field. Sophomores Naomi Etgen and Maggie Mogan also should see time in the outfield.
In addition to losing catcher Emily Finchum and second baseman Sammy Hawkins to graduation, juniors Molli Abbruzzese (Upper Arlington) and Madison Gatley (West Jefferson) transferred.
Hawkins is playing for Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Ky.
The Knights opened April 1 against Pickerington Central. They play their CCL opener April 14 against Hartley.
"Our goal is to return to where we were last year, but we've had to replace four (key players) and that's raised some challenges," Goff said.
"They've got another tough schedule ahead of them."
New baseball coach happy with progress
First-year baseball coach Nate Hillery is pleased with the progress he's seen from his team.
"There was a large challenge with our guys with the education of the mental aspect," Hillery said. "We expect to compete for a district title. It comes down to the mental game and execution."
A season after going 12-13 overall and 3-5 in the CCL, Ready opened March 31 with a 9-4 win over Berne Union. The Knights play their CCL opener Monday, April 7, at Hartley.
Hillery, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native who was an assistant last year at Olentangy Orange, has a pair of Division I recruits in seniors Hunter Clanin (C/P, Bowling Green) and Jason Foster (P, Wright State).
Senior Drew Hasenkamp likely will pitch in league games and play second base. Senior Greyson Budd will play third base, senior Patrick Feldkamp will play center field and in other outfield spots and senior Drew Maxwell will play first base and pitch.
Other seniors are outfielders Vince Castorano and Dallas Phillips.
Also looking to contribute are juniors Colby Albanese (OF), Jason Horn (2B), Adam Hutton (OF), Brendan Kirby (OF), Caleb Reverman (1B/DH) and Brian Weiner (C/SS), sophomore Damian Lehnert (INF) and freshman Dominick Volini (OF).
Ready was seeded fourth for the Division III district tournament a year ago but lost to Heath 6-3 in a second-round game. It marked the third consecutive year the Knights didn't win a tournament game, and Harry Caruso's contract was not renewed after his fifth season as coach.