Tom Kontak enters his seventh season as Genoa softball coach with two Suburban Lakes League championships, a district and regional championship, and a state final four appearance under his belt.
Last season, the Comets were 17-8 overall and runner-up in the SLL with a 9-5 record. This year it is the Elmwood Royals who are picked to win the SLL.
“The coaches in the league have made Elmwood the clear favorite, and I think deserving so based on their run to state last year,” Kontak said.
“They are on top ‘till someone knocks them off,” Kontak continues. “Eastwood and Gibsonburg are loaded with talent as is Woodmore. The rest of us are figuring out our identities and who we are.”
The Comets will miss graduated third baseman Lydia Eckel, pitcher Aerica Susor, second baseman Jolynn Brossia, and Heather Nino. Eckel, Susor, and Brossia are all playing softball at Owens Community College.
At Genoa, Susor earned Second Team and Honorable Mention All-SLL and Honorable Mention All-District honors her final two seasons. Eckel was First Team and Honorable Mention All-SLL and All-District. Additionally, Eckel was a Second Team All-Ohio selection as a senior.
Brossia was Second Team and Honorable Mention All-SLL and Honorable Mention All-District. In addition, Brossia was a First Team All-SLL and Honorable Mention All-District selection in volleyball.
Genoa softball’s final identity this season will include the play of six varsity returners — sophomore catcher and team captain Olivia Reeder, senior infielder Courtney Mowery, junior infielder Casidy Bumbera, sophomore outfielder Hartee Hummel, sophomore infielder Kayla Pickard, and junior outfielder Allison Johnson.
“The strength of this team is the ‘attitude of gratitude’ they bring every day,” Kontak said. “This group really likes each other and does not want to let each other down at all.
“That motivates each player to give their all on every single play. We are emphasizing a sort of ‘going back to old school’ Genoa softball style,” Kontak continues.
Kontak says Genoa coaches will focus on “fundamentals, a sense of responsibility to produce, and a great enthusiasm for the opportunity to wear the ‘G’ on the front of the uniform.”
“This group is hungry to make things happen this season,” Kontak said. “I trust this group to be at its best every day and every game.”
First-year varsity players are sophomore pitcher/outfielder Mallory Murphy, junior infielder Alyssa Nino, sophomore infielder Hannah Morrison, sophomore utility player Jessica Feller, junior pitcher Sarah Muncey, junior infielder/catcher Rachel Montgomery, and sophomore utility Rachel Johnson.
Gibsonburg first-year softball coach Kyle Leatherman takes over the Golden Bear program will plenty of experience on the diamond at different levels — high school and college.
Leatherman knows to bring the Bear’s program back to the days of its three consecutive state championships will be a tough task. Leatherman’s varsity assistants are Matt Castillo, Brock Nagy, and Brent Liskai. Scott Sorg and Thom Loomis are leading the junior varsity coaching staff.
Last year, the Golden Bear varsity was 17-10 overall, 7-7 in the Suburban Lakes League. Leatherman has eight returning lettermen to build on that with.
Leatherman expects his team to finish third or fourth directly behind pre-season pick Elmwood, but says the “SLL should be very competitive from top to bottom any night. Anyone can win.”
Key players include senior infielder Alaina Haubert, junior pitcher/infielder Samantha Stainbrook (.314/27 hits/22 RBI), senior infielder Kristi Krotzer (.360/27 hits/13 runs/18 RBI), and junior outfielder Aubrey Goetz. On the mound last season, Stainbrook was `12-8 with a 2.28 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 135 innings pitched.
Leatherman expects Haubert to be one of the team’s top hitters this season because of her strength and “athleticism.” He adds to that Goetz and Aubrey, a switch hitter who “knows the strike zone.”
He says the team as a whole needs to reduce the number of strikeouts from last season. The Gibsonburg coach expects Goetz average to improve because she has acquired “better recognition of the strike zone.”
Stainbrook will return to the mound because of her ability to “control a lot of pitches,” Leatherman said. Haubert will join her in the rotation bringing “velocity and control.” Haubert has already committed to playing softball at the University of Findlay, but Leatherman says she “can play anywhere.” Both Stainbrook and Haubert will play in the infield when not pitching.
Sophomore Taylor Henline fills out the Golden pitching staff, and will be play in the infield when not pitching.
Leatherman believes his team will be especially solid defensively because of experience. Krotzer will bring plenty of veteran fielding experience to her spot at second base, while Leatherman says Goetz brings a “quick and good arm” to the outfield. Leatherman said sophomore infielder/catcher Katey DuShane is especially “solid” defensively behind the plate.
Rounding out the infield are senior Reba Burmeister, sophomore Abby Copley, junior Stephanie Fisher, junior Emily Kohler. Goetz will be joined in the outfield by senior Kati Bailey, junior Jackie Mitchell, and sophomore Rachel Reynolds.
Lake coach Dave Rymers knows that to keep up with the schools’ success in girls’ basketball and soccer, his players will have to contend with a strong Suburban Lakes League in softball.
Last year, Rymer’s first at the helm at Lake, the Flyers finished 17-12 overall and were sectional champions and district runner-up.
“We talk about being good when it really counts and that has nothing to do with experience,” Rymers said. “We talk everyday about winning the pitch, winning the play, winning the inning, and winning the day. The games will take care of themselves.
“The SLL is a competitive league where anyone can beat anyone on any given night,” Rymers continued. “As was the case last year, we are going to have to win with the bat with runners in scoring position.”
Returning letter winners include senior shortstop Lauren Lind, senior infielder/outfielder Kayla Alemino, junior infielder Bri Freeman, junior outfielder Rachel Duncan, and sophomore pitcher/infielder Adrienne Lowe. Rymer expects all five returning players to lead the Flyers hitting charges again this season.
“All have at least one year of successful varsity under their belts included a dedicated winter in the cages,” Rymers said.
Lowe (.353 BA/.481 OBP) was a Second Team All-SLL outfielder last season, and Lind (.300 BA/.474OBP) and Freeman (.241 BA/.349 OBP) were honorable mention choices at shortstop and as a utility player.
Lind knows the strike zone, striking out only six times all last season, while Alemino brings back a batting average of .273 and an on base percentage of .400.
On the mound, Rymers said Lowe and sophomore Lauren Densic will try to fill the void left by the graduation of four-year starter Aubry Akenberger (17 wins/0.74 ERA/274 SO), a First Team All-SLL choice.
“Both have worked very hard improving their consistency and speed over the past year,” Rymers said. “Both pitchers located well and will require a consistent defensive effort behind them every night. I am confident that either pitcher gives us a very good chance of competing for seven innings every night.
Defensively, Lake will have seven new starters in the field with Lind returning to a position she played a year ago.
“She will anchor our infield our infield as a three-year starter at shortstop,” Rymers said. “Bri Freeman will be asked to replace Marli Fisher (a 2008 Second Team All-SLL second baseman).
“Everyone returning with the exception of Lind will be asked to play a different position than they did the year before. These players have embraced their new roles and improve every day.”
Two sophomores, Kaysie Brittenham and Drew Plummer, return after having not played softball for two years.
“Both are extremely good athletes (Plummer was First Team All-SLL in soccer/Brittenham is a two-time First Team All-SLL basketball player). Kaysie will be asked to solidify an outfield that lost two starters from a year go,” Rymers said. “Both are working hard to improve their game offensively.”
Freshman Megan Schnell will be asked to replace Amanda Cutcher, a three-year starter and Honorable Mention All-SLL, at third base.
“Our pitchers and our defense will keep us in a lot of games,” Rymers added.
In his first year as head softball coach at Eastwood, Joe Wyant led the Eagles to an 18-12 record. But Wyant’s experience coaching may prove valuable to the Eastwood program in the long run.
Wyant coached at Lakota 10 years, where his teams went 118-81, and one year at the helm at Oak Harbor his team went 14-10. His teams have won two Suburban Lakes League championships, five sectional titles, and two district titles.
Last year in the SLL, the Eagles were 8-6 and tied for third. Wyant has nine returning lettermen from that team — pretty much his entire varsity lineup. Wyant says his team “hopes to contend for the SLL title.”
“The SLL is one of the best leagues in Northwest Ohio,” Wyant said.
Wyant says to do well his team must perform well defensively and play like “competitors.” The only hitch for the Eagles is that returning top pitcher Audrey Flores (8-6 W-L/1.63 ERA/89 SO) is out for the season. She was scheduled to have her second knee surgery this past week.
Sophomore Christine Foster (9-6/2.27 ERA/61 SO) and senior Beth Knott (1-0/3.87 ERA/11 SO) are expected to fill in for Flores.
Returning letter winners include Flores, Foster (P/OF), Knott (OF/P), senior Alyssa LaVoy (OF/1B/DH), junior Katie Dewyre (SS/3B), junior Kristin Martin (2B/3B), junior Megan Eisenhour (OF), senior Brooke Albright (3B/SS), junior Jimmi Gangwer (1B/C), and junior Kerri Gangwer (C/1B).
The only varsity players listed that are not returning letter winners are junior Gabby DeMose (OF/DH) and senior Megan Leady (DH/3B).
Last year, Dewyre batted .400 and had 28 RBI, Eisenhour .344 (1 HR/10 RBI), Albright .300 (2 HR/21 RBI), and Kerri Gangwer .301 (1 HR/12 RBI). He expects them to lead the team in hitting again, with Jimmi Gangwer adding a little firepower herself. Wyant says Jimmi Gangwer and Knott are “both every improved at hitting and defense.”
Woodmore softball coach Aaron Clouse returns for his second season at the helm after leading the Wildcats to a 14-13 overall finish last year, 7-7 in the Suburban Lakes League.
Woodmore has nine returning lettermen, enough for Clouse to believe the Wildcats can be a contender in the SLL this season.
“We should finish in the top half of the league because of the experience returning and the fact that we have a very well balanced league with a chance for a lot of teams to possibly win it,” Clouse said.
Key players are senior Sami Michaelis (P), senior Emma Sullivan (C/OF), senior Tifany Keaton (OF), junior Shelby Phillips (C/SS), junior Melissa Busdeker (2B), senior Kaylee Paul (1B), and sophomore Bailey Ulinski (3B).
Michaelis pitched every inning because of her movement and control, Clouse said. Leading the team in fielding percentage last year were Ulinski and Busdeker.
“The strength of this team is defense and pitching,” Clouse said. “Sami (Michaelis) is going to make it difficult for opposing teams with her experience and skill. She has an experienced defense behind her.
Michaelis, who has already committed to play college softball at Belmont Abbey in South Carolina, was Second Team All-SLL last year, and Sullivan, Rachel Bouldin, Busdeker, Keaton, Paul, and Ulinski were honorable mention league picks.
Clouse says Ulinski has “great speed and hits from both sides.” Sullivan is a “good contact hitter,” Paul is a “great contact hitter with the ability to hit into gaps,” and Keaton led the team in extra bases last year.
“Melissa Busdeker has improved dramatically at the plate since last year,” Clouse said. “We need to come up with the big hit when we need it. Our team batting average wasn’t as high as we wanted, so we want to improve upon that this year.”
Clouse also has some underclassmen expecting to bring something to the table this season.
“Brittany Mondragon (OF) and Kalyn Tate (SS) are two freshman who looked very well in the early season,” Clouse said. “They swing the bat very well and are hard nosed kids who work very hard.”