Softball: NCC outlook
If you’re a Kankakee Valley softball fan, you couldn’t ask for much more from last year’s squad. It posted the program’s best record (24-4) and captured its first conference title in the NCC and had an Indiana All-Star in shortstop Hillary Hoffman (who is now playing at Purdue North Central).
Well, they could have asked for a sectional title, but that didn’t come after a 2-0 loss to Andrean and the Kougars beat the 59ers in the regular season. So that’s the biggest goal for coach Brian Flynn who is back for his 19th year.
KV will have senior No. 1 pitcher Ashley Dobson (0.96 ERA, 15-5) back, along with solid No. 2 pitcher Danielle Ruesken and junior infielder Alyssa Matson (.371 avg., 16 SB).
Andrean will likely still be the hurdle KV has to get over in the sectional, and maybe the NCC too. The 59ers has senior pitcher Nikki Steinbach (0.67 ERA) and talented senior hitter Kaitlin Barajas back to help new coach Brooke Baker-Runyon.
Munster lost a couple top players, but will have plenty of offense returning from a 20-9 season in which it lost to Lake Central in the sectional. That includes Taylor Michalski (.376 avg., 25 runs), Briana Zunica (.380, 27 runs) and pitcher Carly Murphy (15-8, 1.90 ERA, 172 SO).
“Plusses for us are having catcher, pitcher, shortstop and second baseman all back,” Munster coach Beth Vesa said. “We should be pretty strong in the infield, but we’re still going to be pretty young.”
Lowell coach Pete Iussig couldn’t stay away from game more than one year. And he has a rebuilding project on his hands after the Devils were well below .500 last season. The good news is that he has multiple starters returning, including shortstop Carley Austgen, third baseman Lexi Marshall and outfielders Ashley Starcevich and Morgan O’Hanlon.
Hobart coach Katrina Lucas is optimistic the Brickies are on their way to building a program after they went 13-13 last season. They only lost one starter (SS Abby Adams, currently playing at Samford University), but should be still be well-rounded on both offense and defense with Aimee Pope (.347), Kaleigh Spencer, Hannah Spence and Dana Claussen back.
Griffith is coming off a disappointing season (9-12, 4-8 NCC), but the future is looking bright with 10 freshmen in the program, including nine on the JV team. The varsity squad will have seniors Stephanie Brandner and Rhiannon Cox back, as well as juniors Sammi Adams and Sarah Galambos.
Highland will also be looking to improve a tough season, though the Trojans did beat NCC rivals Andrean and Lowell and made it to the sectional final. They were playing better at the end of the season and had several freshman contribute to get ready for this season. Among the returners who hope to lead Highland to new heights are infielders Kylie Hirchak (.307) and Tiffany Morton (.287) and pitcher Lauren Bultema (3.45 ERA).