Considering the expectations the Hartley High School softball team has this spring, coach Meghan Zuercher decided to get creative with the Hawks' practice time.
"We've been handcuffed by the weather," said Zuercher, whose team opened April 2 against Jonathan Alder. "We only have one gym at Hartley and the girls basketball team had a late season, so we've gone to a place in Gahanna and one over on Mound Street, just going over plays and signs trying to get the freshmen acclimated. (This team is) not shy about it. They certainly want to win the CCL and they want to win the state this spring."
The Hawks, who have gone 69-63 in four years under Zuercher, were 20-10 overall last spring and earned a second Division II district runner-up finish in four seasons.
Most of that team is back, although the Hawks have had to adjust since senior shortstop and Ohio State-signee Anna Kirk suffered a knee injury playing basketball in December.
Kirk was the district's Player of the Year and made first-team all-league after hitting .609 with nine home runs, 34 RBI and 35 stolen bases last season. She could return late in the season as a designated player.
In the meantime, junior Sidney Melton has moved from second base to shortstop after hitting .640 with 26 RBI and 27 stolen bases and making first-team all-league and all-district last season. She has verbally committed to the University of Louisville.
Senior Tiffany Wolf is back at pitcher after making second-team all-league and winning 16 games last season. Freshman Maria Cegledy also should see time in the circle.
The only other seniors are Allie Smith (CF), who has started since her freshman season, and Emily Davis (C/designated player).
Also expecting to start in the infield are juniors Alexis Britford (1B), Cassie Plageman (C) and Kristen Culbertson (3B). Freshman Lexi van Ooyen or Cegledy will be at second base, with von Ooyen also serving as backup catcher.
Britford hit .400 with six home runs and 20 RBI and was second-team all-district and first-team all-league last season. She also had a team-best .979 fielding percentage, with four errors in 198 chances.
Plageman hit .365 with 36 RBI and Culbertson batted .342.
Junior Mariah Rock should be in right field, with junior Nicole Weldon or sophomore Miranda Golden in left field.
Freshman Cheyenne Fraley likely will be a pinch runner.
Last season, Hartley was seeded fifth for the district tournament and opened with a 5-0 win over Licking Heights. The Hawks then beat sixth-seeded Lakewood 7-4 in a district semifinal before losing to top-seeded DeSales 13-4 in a district final.
Hartley placed second (4-2) in the CCL behind DeSales (6-0) and ahead of Ready and Watterson (1-5).
"We return every single starter except for Anna, and I would take our defense against anybody's," Zuercher said. "We've been able to build some camaraderie and we've got some incredible athleticism."
Veteran baseball team hopes to bounce back
The baseball team got a boost heading into the offseason with its play in the Division III district tournament last spring.
The Hawks, who upset ninth-seeded Marion Elgin 5-3 in a second-round game before nearly rallying from a 9-4 deficit in a 10-9 loss to sixth-seeded Columbus Academy in a district semifinal, lost only three players to graduation.
Hartley opened April 2 against Newark.
"We're going to be better than we were last year," said Morgan Assmann, who is in his 15th season as coach.
"We have a better pitching staff than last year. We're definitely not going to be the rookies we were last year. Our motto this year is, 'We're all in.' All our chips are on the table."
Hartley, which went 6-15 overall a year ago, has eight seniors.
Senior Luke Heinmiller, who will pitch and play third base and also might catch, is the top returnee. He gave up six runs in the first inning but didn't allow another run until the fifth and pitched a complete game in the tournament loss to Academy.
Seniors Adam Zevchik and Kevin Tillery and junior Andrew Gilliland are other returning pitchers. Senior Austin Gault is a left-handed pitcher who also will be a backup first baseman.
Gilliland will play second base, with senior Davis MacArtney at first base and sophomore Adam Lowe at shortstop. Senior Caleb Lowell will be the catcher.
Expected to start in the outfield are seniors Alex Rupert (RF) and Sam Montgomery (CF) and junior Drew Onega (LF).
Also looking to contribute are senior Nick King (INF), juniors Zach Muetzel (C) and Corey Wilbur (P) and sophomore Cameron Macioce (3B/P).
Last season, Hartley went 0-8 in the CCL to finish behind DeSales (7-1), Watterson (6-2), St. Charles (5-3) and Ready (2-6).