Coach Pat McWherter has returned after a one-season absence to lead the Tree of Life Christian School softball team.
McWherter, who stepped down following the 2011 season because of family commitments, replaced Mark Pratt.
"I missed it a lot," McWherter said. "The job was available and I said OK, and I knew the girls. I really enjoy coaching the Tree team, so I was glad to come back."
Pratt led the team to a record of 15-11 overall and 6-6 in the MOCAL last season. The Trojans lost to Millersport 12-0 in five innings in the second round of the Division IV district tournament after defeating Delaware Christian 18-3 in five innings in the first round.
McWherter coached the team the previous 15 seasons, leading the Trojans to seven league titles.
Tree of Life opened April 1 with a 6-5 loss to Mount Gilead. It fell to Grove City Christian 12-0 in five innings April 4 and split a doubleheader April 6 against Glouster Trimble, winning 16-9 and losing 16-6.
McWherter expects junior Kasey Ticknor to replace 2012 graduate Hannah Pratt as the top pitcher.
Last season, Pratt was 10-10 with 131 strikeouts and 79 walks in 126 innings. The former coach's daughter who now is playing at Mount Vernon Nazarene, she finished her Tree of Life career as the program's all-time leader in wins (49) and strikeouts (499).
She also led the team in hitting (.431), runs (31) and RBI (22) last season and was first-team all-league and all-district.
Ticknor was named the team's Defensive Player of the Year last season as a catcher and was second in hitting at .325. She was second-team all-league.
Also back is senior shortstop Lindsay Augustyniak, who last season hit .317 and was honorable mention all-league and all-district.
Also returning are senior Kaylea Safrit (2B), junior Morgan Pennington (3B) and sophomores Rachel Fallara (RF) and Kyra Peeks (OF).
McWherter expects freshmen Erika Grove and Sidney Flanagan to be the top two catchers.
Freshman Megan King will start in the outfield or at first base, according to McWherter.
Other players are senior Christianne Boulos (CF/LF) and freshmen Shannon Borton (P), Kaitlyn Brooks (INF), Stephanie Chea (OF) and Abbey Ticknor (1B).
"Our goal is to develop into a good team using the leadership of the seniors this year to just lock us in," McWherter said. "We're not going to be a world beater, but our goals right now are to learn to play fundamental softball and carry that forward."
Last season in the MOCAL, Tree of Life finished fourth behind Delaware Christian (11-1), Madison Christian (10-2) and Gahanna Christian (6-5) and ahead of Grove City Christian (4-6), Fairfield Christian (3-9) and Granville Christian (0-11).
Baseball team looks to defend league title
The baseball team began defense of its MOCAL title when it defeated Grove City Christian 10-0 in five innings April 4.
The Trojans opened April 2 with an 8-0 win over Morral Ridgedale. On April 6, they lost to Glouster Trimble 10-4 and 16-1 in five innings.
Last season, Tree of Life went 9-1 in the league to finish first ahead of runner-up Grove City Christian (6-4).
"I'm impressed by the kids' attitudes," said coach Rick Parcher, who is in his 18th season. "We have a hardworking bunch of kids with some reasonable talent. We have eagerness and leadership in the places where you need it, and that's a good sign."
The Trojans finished 22-7 overall last year after losing to Newark Catholic 6-1 in a Division IV district final. It was the first time the team won at least 20 games.
Senior Donnie Tong (CF/P) led the team with a .513 batting average last season. He was first-team all-league and all-district.
"Donnie is an anchor for us," Parcher said.
Also back is senior Joe Paliobagis (3B/P), who hit .319 a year ago.
Other returning players are seniors Erick Boyer (2B/P), Caleb Holt (1B) and Matt Ihlenfield (OF), juniors Jacob Bing (OF/2B), Phil Borton (C), Josh Fenstermaker (OF) and Andy Johnson (SS/C/P) and sophomores Ryan Cannell (OF/INF), Christian Gilbert (P/OF) and Jacob Koval (3B).
Other players are junior Nathan Severance (P/OF), sophomores Jonathan Burton (OF/2B), George Homoelle (OF/1B) and Sam Ruark (OF/1B) and freshmen Deven Clarke (2B/SS), Sam Lerch (OF/1B/P) and Robbie Nowe (SS/2B/P).
Tree of Life opened the district tournament last season by defeating Ridgedale 16-1 in five innings. The Trojans defeated Worthington Christian 6-0 in the second round and Fisher Catholic 4-3 in eight innings in a semifinal before losing to Newark Catholic.
Parcher said he will share coaching duties with Matt Shonkwiler and that Justin Burgess has been added to the staff. Burgess is a graduate of Tree of Life and former bullpen catcher for the Columbus Clippers.
Track teams look to build on success
The track and field teams are looking to continue their success from last season, when the Trojans qualified their first athletes for the Division III regional meet.
Junior Kierra Sanders and sophomore Taijanique Dawkins were members of the girls' 800-meter relay that finished ninth at regional in 1 minute, 53.65 seconds.
Dawkins accounted for the Trojans' lone point by finishing eighth in the 200 (28.16).
Tree of Life tied for 44th behind champion Mount Gilead (56) as 46 teams scored.
"Our team goal is always for each individual member to have an overall (personal record), but we still want to try to make it to regionals this year as well," fourth-year coach Nikki Steward said.
In their opener April 5, the Trojans finished second (37) behind host Worthington Christian (55) and ahead of Briggs (14) in a tri-meet.
Other members of the girls team are seniors Kristen Crews (sprints), Grace Hanson (distance), Hannah Murray (sprints) and Kailah Sanders (sprints) and freshman Dominique Davis (sprints).
At district last season, Tree of Life was 13th (17.5) behind champion Columbus Academy (83) as 22 teams scored.
The boys team tied for 42nd (1) at regional behind champion Columbus Academy (113) as 44 teams scored. Senior Jaylan Davis scored the team's point by finishing eighth in the 400 (52.74).
In the district 1 meet, the Trojans finished 10th (17) behind champion Academy (177) as 13 teams scored.
Other members of the boys team are seniors David Burton (distance), Josiah Ebert (distance) and Alex Tanner (distance), juniors Ryan Weilbacher (field events) and Walter Woodard (middle distance), sophomores Simms Boateng (jumps), Carl Jones Jr. (sprints) and Aaron Russell (sprints) and freshmen Isaiah Ebert (middle distance), Collin Swisher (throws) and Jordan Terry (throws).
The boys opened by finishing second (39) behind Worthington Christian (75) and ahead of Briggs (27).