Westerville North High School softball coach Joe Francisco looks forward to the challenges each year brings.
"This is a great group of kids," said Francisco, whose team opened his 22nd season with a 7-6 win over Groveport on April 1. "They work with each other, they like each other, they work hard together. It's a great group to be around. I don't know how good we're going to be, but they're going to be as good as they can be. That's the attitude that they have."
Last season, the Warriors finished 12-12 overall after losing to Marysville 8-1 in the second round of the Division I district tournament. North defeated Dublin Coffman 1-0 in the first round.
North returns six players, including sophomore Halli Swiger (2B), who said: "We're doing better communicating. We're getting better as a team together."
Also back are seniors Paige Chapman (OF) and Olivia Grilliot (1B) and sophomores Alex Allamon (OF), Chase Brumfield (C) and Lizzy Bauer (SS).
Other players are seniors Hannah Miller (1B), Rachel Trimmer (P), Marta Stelmaszyk (OF) and Lauren Transue (OF), juniors Mara Daugherty (OF) and Kati Hall (P/OF), sophomore Jessica Stamos (OF) and freshman Sammy Kilbane (3B).
Last season, the Warriors finished second (10-3) in the OCC-Cardinal Division behind Olentangy Liberty (12-2) and ahead of Marysville (9-5), Westerville South (8-6), Westerville Central (6-7), Dublin Jerome (5-8), Olentangy (3-10) and Dublin Scioto (1-13).
Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby and Worthington Kilbourne have replaced Liberty, Marysville and Olentangy in the league.
North opens league play Monday, April 8, at home against Darby.
The Warriors lost nine players from a year ago to graduation, including Sami Dustman, who led the team with a .369 batting average, and Alli Rowland, who was the top pitcher. Rowland had a 12-11 record, including 10-3 in the league.
Both were first-team all-league, and Dustman was honorable mention all-district.
Francisco said Trimmer and Hall are competing for time in the circle.
"Competition is great," he said.
Central looking for bounce-back season
Central opened with a 5-0 loss to Olentangy Orange on April 1 and begins OCC-Cardinal play Monday, April 8, against visiting Scioto.
The Warhawks finished 10-15 last season. They defeated Mount Vernon 2-1 in nine innings in the first round of the Division I district tournament before losing to Gahanna 4-1 in the second round.
"I told the girls that we're a young team and there are probably not a lot of people expecting much out of us," fourth-year coach Brian Wamsley said. "That's a good position to be in because I know they're a hardworking team. They're going to be OK, so we're excited about the season. We're ready to see what happens."
Junior pitcher Paige McMenemy was first-team all-league and second-team all-district last season after leading the Warhawks in batting average (.495) and RBI (28). She also was 11-10 with a 1.36 ERA, 168 strikeouts and 59 walks in 159 1/3 innings.
"We're really excited," said McMenemy, who also plays first base and third base. "We're looking pretty good -- a lot better than what people expect us to be."
Senior Perry Wallinger (CF/C/SS) is in her fourth year on varsity. Last season, she batted .381 and was second-team all-league.
Junior Morgan Ciehanski (SS) was honorable mention all-league last season.
Other returnees are senior Hailey Pinkerton (2B/OF), junior Allie Haines (C/1B/P) and sophomore Hannah Carter (3B).
Also on the team are seniors Raechel DeSena (OF), Caitlyn Mount (3B/OF), Barb Mustard (3B/OF) and Adrienne Nelson (1B), junior Kyleen Cody (1B/OF), sophomore Riley Brown (OF) and freshman Ellyn Briggs (C/1B).
South returns key players
South returns several key players as it looks to improve on last year's 12-14 record, which included a 5-2 loss to Thomas Worthington in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
South defeated Zanesville 6-1 in the first round.
The Wildcats opened April 3 against Licking Heights. They begin league play Monday, April 8, at home against Kilbourne.
"It's a different team every year," said coach Jerry Kelbley, who is in his 33rd season. "We have to work to get the team together. It's different personalities. Kids that were underclassmen are now seniors, and it's fun to watch them take leadership."
Senior Chelsea Raker (3B/1B) was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district a year ago after leading the Wildcats in batting average (.529), RBI (30), doubles (16), triples (5) and home runs (4).
Senior Leah Ross (P) was honorable mention all-league after going 11-10 with a 2.62 ERA. She had 70 strikeouts and 47 walks in 144 2/3 innings.
Also back is senior Laura Hannah (OF).
"We definitely want to have a winning season and go pretty far in the tournament," Hannah said. "We have to have a lot of team bonding and we have to come together and find a position where we all fit together."
Other returnees are juniors Rachel Adkins (P), Mackenzie Daugherty (OF/INF), Nikki Mantle (2B/P), Cheyenne Raker (C) and Julie Stiltner (P/INF) and sophomore Aleah Llaneza (SS/CF).
Other players are sophomores Tricia Roederer (OF/INF) and Sophie Winegard (1B/OF).
Lost to graduation were Erica Aiello (SS), Lindsey Gerhart (OF/INF) and Devan Akers (C/INF).
Aiello was first-team all-league and all-district after hitting .494 and scoring a team-high 29 runs.
Gerhart, who hit .341, was second-team all-league.
"We better be better this year," Kelbley said. "I was disappointed with our record last year, but I wasn't disappointed with our effort."