First-year Westerville South High School softball coach Emily Swank-Kavanaugh realizes she has big shoes to fill.

Swank-Kavanaugh has replaced Jerry Kelbley, who retired after 36 seasons in which the Wildcats went 636-281 and won 12 OCC titles, 11 district championships and five regional titles.

She plans to implement her own philosophies while maintaining Kelbley's standards on and off the field.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge," Swank-Kavanaugh said. "Everybody knows coach Kelbley and he is a big part of the community, but I feel like I'm stepping into those shoes and trying to emulate a little bit of that ... When you step into that role you're more than just a coach, you become a public figure. I'm ready to take on this part of my coaching career."

Swank-Kavanaugh, 28, previously was an assistant coach at Olentangy (2013-16) and Grove City Christian (2010). A 2007 Central Crossing graduate, she played at Otterbein but her college career was limited because of a shoulder injury.

The Wildcats opened by playing a series of games in the Ripken Experience in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, during spring break, a tradition started by Kelbley. They defeated Weirton (West Virginia) Weir 6-5 and Nicholasville (Kentucky) West Jessamine 7-3 on March 31, lost to Glen Dale (West Virginia) John Marshall 11-1 in six innings March 30 and fell to Lafayette (Kentucky) 13-0 in five innings April 1.

Junior Meghan Bame (P/INF) earned the win in the circle against West Jessamine. She was named honorable mention all-OCC-Buckeye Division last season.

Freshman Megan Shoemaker was the winning pitcher against Weir.

The Wildcats, who played Hilliard Darby on April 3 in their first game in central Ohio, open OCC-Buckeye play Wednesday, April 11, against visiting Olentangy.

Along with Bame, another key returnee is senior McKenna Saunders (INF/OF), who was special mention all-league last season. She led the Wildcats with a .475 batting average despite missing the final 11 games with a broken hand.

Senior Emily Phillips (P/INF), who will share time in the circle with Bame and Shoemaker, also is a key returnee.

"It's been a great transition (with Swank-Kavanaugh), not only for me but also the underclassmen," Phillips said. "They really needed Swank this year. She's helped me become a better leader. We went through this 10-week leadership program, so she's definitely helped me become a better leader and helped me be able to work with underclassmen and be more patient."

Also back are seniors Bre Anderson (OF), Kirstin Anto-naros (INF/OF) and Melanie Batchelder (C/INF) and sophomore Kate Forrest (INF).

Other players are senior Jewelia Smith (INF/OF) and freshmen Mya Binning (INF), Trinity Cole (utility), Nia Cosby (INF), Maddie Faulkner (INF), Audrey Jones (utility), Maggie Musilli (utility), Kyla Nicholson (C/INF) and Isabella Vasquez (utility).

South does not have a junior varsity team this season.

Last season, the Wildcats went 4-20 overall and 1-9 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish sixth behind champion Westerville Central (10-0), which won its fourth consecutive league title.

"We're doing big things at South and we're making moves and that's all credit to our athletics director, Josh DeVoll," Swank-Kavanaugh said. "We were able to do some field improvements during the offseason. We have a brand new outfield fence and our dugouts used to be open, so we put safety fences up to protect our players and the opponents."

Baseball team seeks improvement

The baseball team is hoping to improve on last season's 7-17 record.

After opening March 24 with losses to host Worthington Kilbourne (14-4) and Fort Recovery (5-2), the Wildcats went 0-4 during a spring-break trip to Vero Beach, Florida.

South opened OCC-Buckeye play April 3 against Olentangy.

Ohio State football signee Jaelen Gill (OF/SS/P) returns for his senior season, although he was unable to make the Florida trip because of other commitments. Last season, he was first-team all-league and second-team all-district after leading South in batting average (.400) and runs (22).

"Jaelen is a very gifted athlete," said coach Tim Bates, who is in his 15th season. "We get one of those around Westerville South about every 10 years. I just enjoy watching him. He's one of the baseball players that you can just enjoy watch play."

Senior Eric Edman (C/P) was second-team all-league last season, and senior Jordan Orr (2B/P) was honorable mention all-league.

"Jordan Orr is our No. 1 pitcher right now," Bates said. "He was our most effective pitcher last year."

Edman batted .311 with a team-high 19 RBI, while junior Michael Dailey (3B/C/P) batted .309.

Other returnees are seniors Andrew Boszor (OF), Daniel Hinz (2B/P) and Jack McLean (C), juniors Seth Chrisman (INF/P), Kamron Hempy (1B/DH) and Jack Lovell (OF) and sophomore Jake Llaneza (SS/OF/P).

Other players are sophomores Aiden Braxton (OF) and Keyton Kowalski (3B/OF) and freshmen Matthew Bame (OF/P) and Brayden White (C/P).

Last season, the Wildcats went 1-14 in the league to finish sixth behind champion Olentangy (12-3).

"We play six games against the Olentangys and then we have four games against the Westerville teams," Bates said. "The beginning of our schedule is pretty brutal, especially for our first-year players. They wake up to big-time varsity baseball right away. It's going to be old hat for the seniors. That's why I'm relying on them for leadership to help the young guys figure it out."

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank

Schedules

BASEBALL

March 24 -- at Worthington Kilbourne with Fort Recovery

March 29 -- Columbia (Mo.) Westminster Christian Academy in Vero Beach, Fla.

March 30 -- Kings Mills Kings and Rochester (N.Y.) McQuaid Jesuit in Vero Beach, Fla.

March 31 -- Mays Landing (N.J.) Oakcrest in Vero Beach, Fla.

*April 3 -- vs. Olentangy

*April 4 -- at Olentangy

*April 6 -- at Olentangy Liberty

*April 9 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

*April 11 -- at Olentangy Orange

*April 13 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

*April 16 -- vs. Westerville North

April 17 -- vs. Northland

*April 18 -- at Westerville North

*April 20 -- at Westerville Central

April 21 -- vs. Franklin Heights (DH)

*April 23 -- vs. Westerville Central

*April 25 -- vs. Olentangy

*April 27 -- at Olentangy Liberty

April 28 -- at Newark with Mount Vernon and Reynoldsburg

*April 30 -- at Olentangy Orange

*May 2 -- vs. Westerville North

*May 4 -- at Westerville Central

May 5 -- at Teays Valley (DH)

SOFTBALL

March 30 -- Glen Dale (W.Va.) John Marshall in Ripken Experience in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

March 31 -- Nicholasville (Ky.) West Jessamine and Weirton (W.Va.) Weir in Ripken Experience in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

April 1 -- Lafayette (Ky.) in Ripken Experience in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

April 3 -- at Hilliard Darby

April 4 -- at Canal Winchester

April 6 -- vs. London

April 9 -- at Thomas Worthington

*April 11 -- vs. Olentangy

*April 12 -- at Olentangy Liberty

April 13 -- at Pickerington North

*April 16- at Olentangy Orange

April 17 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

*April 18 -- vs. Westerville North

*April 19 -- at Westerville Central

April 21 -- vs. Big Walnut and Hilliard Bradley

*April 23 -- at Olentangy

*April 25 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

*April 26 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

April 28 -- at Reynoldsburg with Watterson

*April 30 -- at Westerville North

*May 2 -- vs. Westerville Central

May 5 -- vs. Bexley (DH)

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the South boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:

BOYS LACROSSE

*April 5 -- Home vs. Olentangy

*April 10 -- At Westerville North

GIRLS LACROSSE

April 9 -- Home vs. Centennial

*April 11 -Home vs. North

BOYS TENNIS

*April 5 -- Home vs. Olentangy

*April 10 -- At Olentangy Liberty

April 11 -- Home vs. Newark

TRACK & FIELD

April 6 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby

April 10 -- Home vs. Centennial, Oakstone Academy and Whitehall

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

*April 5 -- At Liberty

*April 10 -- At Olentangy Orange

*League contest