Skilled newcomers brighten Waubonsie Valley hopesWaubonsie Valley ss Amanda Minahan makes a throw to first base to get an out against South Elgin on Wednesday in Aurora. Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 27, 2012 7:50PM
Waubonsie Valley hopes this is the year things turn around for a program that has seen its share of lean years.
“We haven’t won a regional championship since 2001 and it’s time to change the numbers up there,” coach Aly Kelley said. “Every day at practice when we’re in the main gym, we tell the girls to look up on the wall at softball, and look at how the numbers need to be changed up there.”
For 2012, the Warriors hope to contend in both the Upstate Eight Conference and the regional.
“We can hang with some of the top (UEC) teams,” Kelley said.
A pitching resurgence is the main reason for Kelly’s optimism. Last season, the Warriors went 11-20 overall and finished sixth, at 7-12, in conference play. After winning their regional play-in game against Oswego, they dropped their first-round game to Downers South.
Last season, they had two pitchers.
This season, Waubonsie Valley has five pitchers and depth is one of the team’s strengths.
Freshman Shannon Hohman will anchor a young-but-talented pitching staff comprised mainly of freshmen.
“She throws really hard for a freshman (and) she’s got a lot of pitches,” Kelley said. “She’s been playing older ball — during the summer, she plays up on an 18-and-under team — so she’s used to this level of competition already, so we’re confident that we can throw her in there and she can handle it.”
The Warriors lost three seniors last year but a strong returning class figures to mitigate their losses to graduation.
Junior shortstop Amanda Minahan batted .523 last year while driving in 25 runs. She also clubbed 15 doubles, six triples and five home runs. Minahan has great range and a strong arm defensively.
Third baseman and fellow junior Erin Hohman — Shannon’s older sister — uses her smooth hands to great effectiveness in the field, with a rare ability to backhand balls. She’s also no slouch at the plate, having hit .330 in ’11, producing 26 RBI, seven doubles and four homers.
Senior center fielder Jessica Sarch is the team’s most gifted all-around offensive player. She can slap and bunt to get on base, and can also go deep. Kelley wants Sarch to continue to become more aggressive on the basepaths in order to utilize her speed. Sarch stole 12 bases last season.
Sarch batted .327 with six triples and two home runs a season ago.
Sophomore utility player Amanda Lack filled in for the team at various spots last year when starters were out with injuries. In that role, Lack excelled with a .388 batting average, eight doubles and 23 RBI. She figures to earn even more playing time this year.
Sophomore right fielder Melaina Koulos came up late in the season last year and was solid for the Warriors. She’ll rejoin the varsity squad to begin this season.
Senior second baseman Haylie Wensel could make a huge impact on the team through her heady play and vocal leadership. Kelley says Wensel specializes in doing the little things to help a team win like hitting the ball to the right side. Wensel also has a knack for calming the team down during rough stretches.
The ingredients are in place for a winner on the far east side of Aurora. Now, the key will be execution.
“This team really has it all,” Kelley said. “We have great defenders, we have kids with great swings, we have kids that have all kinds of tricks in their offensive bag — they can bunt, slap, drag — and now, we’ve got an overload of pitching, so we’ve really come full circle.”