The Worthington Kilbourne High School softball team has a tall task this spring in trying to replicate last season's success.
The Wolves, who opened April 1 at Briggs, broke the program record for victories in a season a year ago in finishing 24-3 overall and won their second league championship. They shattered the previous record for wins, which had been set in 2011 when they went 19-6.
Kilbourne, which had a 14-game winning streak last season, underwent a coaching change during the offseason, as John Warriner stepped down after four seasons and was replaced by Marty Mearhoff.
Mearhoff, 57, is no stranger to the Kilbourne program. His daughter, Laura, was a standout pitcher for the Wolves before graduating in 2004. That same year, he served as a volunteer assistant for Kilbourne's freshman team.
In addition, Mearhoff coached Olentangy for six seasons from 2007-12 and coached travel teams, ranging from U12 to U18, run by Worthington Youth Boosters. The travel teams later became known as the Worthington Heat and now are called the Buckeye Heat.
Mearhoff takes over a Kilbourne team that has returned four starters in seniors Miranda Adams (1B/P/C), Manda Cash (P/1B), Emily Rodriguez (CF) and Kristen Rossi (2B). The Wolves have one other senior in Leah Nourse (OF).
"Manda Cash is an exceptional softball player, with great defensive, offensive and pitching skills," Mearhoff said. "Miranda Adams is a strong first baseman with an outstanding glove. Miranda also hits with power. Even though she has not pitched in years, she has worked hard this spring to help strengthen our varsity pitching rotation."
Cash, a left-hander who has signed with the University of Dayton, went 11-1 last season with a 0.74 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 85 innings. As the leadoff hitter, she batted .505 with 28 runs, 10 doubles and five triples. She was named first-team all-OCC-Cardinal Division and second-team all-district in Division I.
Rossi was honorable mention all-league.
"Kristen Rossi makes good contact, hits with power and runs with speed," Mearhoff said. "She is also an excellent defensive player. Emily Rodriguez will anchor our outfield in center. She has great speed, covers a lot of ground, plays aggressively and catches everything hit to center. Leah Nourse is a first-year varsity player who should be a strong contributor."
Junior Elyssa LaBine is expected to be the starting catcher, but Adams also could see time behind the plate. Juniors Emily Dodd and Anne Dargenio are competing for playing time at third base and junior Grayson Brown is expected to start at shortstop.
Vying for playing time in the outfield are juniors Courtney Fisher, Paige Jones and Meghan Swazuk and freshman Alexandra Friesen, who also could see time in the circle and serve as a utility infielder.
Kilbourne won the OCC-Cardinal Division title a year ago, going 13-1 as Westerville Central (11-3) placed second. The Wolves now compete in the OCC-Capital with Big Walnut, Delaware, Franklin Heights, Mount Vernon, New Albany, Olentangy and Olentangy Orange. They open league play Monday, April 7, at Delaware.
Among the key losses from last season were 2013 graduate Sarah Adams (P/3B) and Sydney Warinner (P).
A four-year starter, Sarah Adams went 12-2 with a 0.73 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 95 innings last season while batting .440 with four home runs and 32 RBI. She was named first-team all-league and all-district and honorable mention all-state.
Warriner, who is John Warriner's daughter, transferred to New Albany for her sophomore season.
Three starters back
Thomas Worthington returns three starters from last season, when it finished 15-11 overall and went 9-5 in the OCC-Central to place third behind co-champions Marysville and Olentangy Liberty (both 11-3).
First-year coach Tim Masie believes his team's balance of offense and pitching, the leadership of its six seniors and its preparation in practice will help the Cardinals produce another successful season.
"I think that our offense and defense are solid and will both contribute to winning, possibly offense one day and defense the next," said Masie, who replaced Lindsay Shepherd as coach. "The combination is ultimately the best scenario and I feel, with the way this team prepares every day in practice, it will show on both sides of the ball more often than one or the other."
The returning starters are seniors Carson Baymiller (SS/OF), Anna Marie Boue (P/2B) and Fatima Said (2B/SS).
Last season, Baymiller was first team all-league and honorable mention all-district and Said was special mention all-league. Boue has committed to Mount Vernon Nazarene.
The only other returning letterwinners are senior Sammy Bullock (3B) and sophomore Sarah Boue (P/3B/1B).
"We've got six seniors and they have stepped out front because of their experience and age," said Masie, whose team opened April 1 against Grove City and begins OCC-Central play Monday, April 7, at home against Upper Arlington. "I think it is a natural progression for them to be out front of the team at this time. Fatima Said has been a very strong presence of leadership, as well as Anna Boue."
Rounding out the team are seniors Jenna Andersen (1B), and Allison Purcell (2B/OF), junior Ruby Clark (OF) and sophomores Hanna McNeill (OF), Kaylee O'Neal and Jamie Zinsmeister (C/OF).
Because he is still evaluating his players and the Cardinals have had to replace six starters from a year ago, Masie said his lineup could be a work in progress through the early stages of the season.
Entering the opener, he anticipated that Anna Marie Boue would start in the circle and Zinsmeister would start behind the plate, with Andersen (1B), Said (2B), Baymiller (SS) and Sarah Boue (3B) comprising the infield and the outfield consisting of O'Neal (LF), McNeill (CF) and Clark (RF).
"I feel that this team has hitters all the way through the lineup," Masie said. "The middle of the order (Baymiller, Sarah Boue, Zinsmeister and Anna Marie Boue) will be strong at the plate. I also feel that the top (Said and McNeill) will contribute and do their part as table setters and the bottom (Andersen, Clark and O'Neal) will do their part keeping innings alive and giving us an opportunity to extend innings."