At the conclusion of last season, Marysville High School softball coach Chris Shirer decided on a different approach to the offseason. Wednesdays during summer break would be reserved for the Monarch Fundamental Camp.

At the conclusion of last season, Marysville High School softball coach Chris Shirer decided on a different approach to the offseason. Wednesdays during summer break would be reserved for the Monarch Fundamental Camp.

Shirer's goal was to simulate the spring's two-hour practices. So each Wednesday during the summer, the veteran players worked closely with the incoming freshmen. Shirer wanted his program, 40 players in all, to focus on improving fundamentals, most notably in the batter's box.

"It helped us and helped get our swings in," said Shirer, whose team opens Tuesday against Beavercreek at Cocoa Beach, Fla. "Usually, this time of the year the pitching is ahead of hitting. Even though we've been hitting against live pitching, we're not there yet, either. We will be. We didn't hit well last year and we put an emphasis on hitting."

Inconsistent offense doomed Marysville last season. The Monarchs finished 20-9 overall after losing to Pickerington Central 3-2 in a Division I district semifinal. Central went on to beat Gahanna 5-4 for a district title.

Pitching was not a problem, and once again Marysville's pitching is ahead of its hitting entering the season. The Monarchs return senior pitchers Chelsea Burns, Lindsay Hershberger and Dani Steepe. Steepe emerged as Marysville's ace and finished 18-6 with a 0.87 ERA. In 161 1/3 innings pitched, she struck out 268, walked 22 and allowed 20 earned runs on 71 hits. Steepe was first-team all-district.

"(Our success) will start in the circle," Shirer said.

Marysville graduated two players, Heather Hakola and Logan Martindale, but return plenty of offense in seniors Shelby Allmon (.307), Darik Parker (team-high 17 RBI), Paige Thompson (.349) and Hershberger (.323).

Defensively, Marysville's infield returns Thompson at first base, Allmon at second and Paige Westfall at catcher. The Monarchs' outfield has returned Parker in center field and Burns in right field.

Newcomers are sophomore shortstop Casey Sepeda and junior third baseman Rachael Mullaney. In left field, Shirer said there is a competition between senior Skye Howard and sophomore Arika Mower.

"It's been pretty competitive and we're still looking," Shirer said. "This year, we're giving them the opportunity to compete every day. Larry Fox and Jennifer Segner have tracked every at bat. It's helped us at the end of the week to see their average and see what they've done."

Marysville is also looking to repeat as OCC-Cardinal Division champions. Last season, the Monarchs went 11-3 to tie Westerville South for first. Marysville, which opened 2-4, won 12 of their final 15 games to earn the co-championship.

Marysville's late-season surge coincided with South's collapse as the Wildcats ended the season with three losses. South clearly remembers how the stranglehold on the OCC-Cardinal was lost.

"At the beginning of the year, we weren't set in our positions in the field. We were still trying new things," South senior first baseman Lauren Kesselring said. "So, by the middle of the season, we finally got it together. By the end of the year, with our rainouts and stuff, we just kind of got tired and, not lazy, but less motivated.

"We're ready for a new start, and we're out for revenge."

At a glance

•Coach: Chris Shirer, 12th season

•Next game: Tuesday at Cocoa Beach, Fla. vs. Beavercreek

•Key players: Shelby Allmon, Lindsay Hershberger, Darik Parker, Dani Steepe and Paige Thompson

SCHEDULE

March 30 at Cocoa Beach, Fla. vs. Beavercreek

March 31 at Cocoa Beach vs. Brimfield (Ill.) and Knoxville (Tenn.) Bearden

April 1 at Cocoa Beach vs. Beavercreek

April 2 at Cocoa Beach vs. Mogadore Field

*April 5 vs. Olentangy Liberty

April 6 at Hilliard Darby

*April 7 vs. Olentangy

April 10 at Upper Arlington with Gahanna

*April 12 vs. Westerville South

*April 14 at Dublin Jerome (doubleheader)

*April 16 at Westerville North

*April 19 vs. Dublin Scioto

*April 21 at Olentangy Liberty

*April 22 vs. Olentangy

April 23-24 at Stellar Classic

*April 26 vs. Westerville Central

*April 28 at Westerville South

*April 30 vs. Dublin Jerome

*May 3 vs. Westerville North

*May 5 at Dublin Scioto

*May 7 at Westerville Central

*OCC-Cardinal game