Head Coach: Joy Eskuchen
Outlook: The Panthers are all about attitude as they work to turn around last year's winless season. The team lacks depth on the mound, as the number two pitcher is out for the season with a torn rotator cuff, but junior pitcher Whitney Lamb brings experience, and freshman Tiffany Sherrane is expected to be an immediate contributor.
Junior Katie Wicklund will move from second base to shortstop and Kathryn Pahl from third to second. Senior Allison Redlin will start at catcher. Eskuchen said, "The holes can close up easily."
The challenge will be getting girls on base. With a lack of power hitters, Annapolis is likely to rely on the bunt and keep the ball out of the air.
Head Coach: Katie Warren
Outlook: Seven starters return from last year's team and are working to raise the Wildcats above .500. With 10 seniors on varsity, Warren's biggest concern is senioritis. Freshman Lindsay Berman is pushing two seniors for the starting catcher position, and junior Kiera Connolly, who was promoted from the junior varsity, is likely to start at first.
Junior third baseman Kim Smith led Arundel defensively last year with a .975 fielding percentage. Senior shortstop Tiffany Palmer had 20 assists and 36 putouts. Senior second baseman Deanna Romeo and junior third baseman Kim Smith are also returning starters.
Senior Jess Sinkule will lead the team from the mound and find relief in senior returning pitcher Kristi Forrester. Sinkule finished last year with a 1.53 ERA, throwing 153 strikeouts in 110 innings. Senior Ashley Snyder pitched three innings last year and will be a utility player.
Head Coach: Jim Ware
Outlook: The Bruins finished 12-9 last year, their first winning season in school history, and are focused on repeating the success. Senior Amy Bush, an all-county outfielder last year, hit .492 and also stole 21 bases and had 21 assists.
Sophomore Jessie Battista, who finished 6-4 last year with a 3.42 ERA, will be the team's ace. Bush will come in for relief but do most of her work in the outfield. Senior Kara Zoolakis has been the starting catcher for two years but is making the transition to shortstop. Junior Sarah McCaslin will start at catcher for the first time. "We could be in the top five," Ware said. "That's the challenge I've placed on them."
Head Coach: Don Ellenberger
Outlook: Eight players return from last year's 16-0 county championship team, and they all played summer ball, making the Cougars one of the top teams in the county. All-county senior Lindsay Ettinger, who won 16 straight games for the Cougars and finished with a 16-2 record and a 0.65 earned run average, is among the returners. She struck out 127 batters in 128 2/3 innings last year, leading Chesapeake to wins over North County, the eventual 4A state champion, and county champion Glen Burnie. She made just two errors for a .961 fielding percentage. Kristy Herman, who had a successful season with the junior varsity last season, will be the number two pitcher.
At the plate, the Cougars will count on junior all-county shortstop Tracey Dahlen, who batted .434 with four triples and four doubles last season. Junior catcher Jessica Dayton has summer league experience, and junior third baseman Brittany Owen and junior first baseman Danielle Gibson lead a solid defense. Sophomore Emily Bolling, senior Jess Fogle and senior Kristen Siskey are all returning outfielders. "I think our outfield will match up with anybody, and with Tracey anchoring the infield, I'm always comfortable as a coach," Ellenberger said.
Glen Burnie Gophers
Head Coach: Bob Broccolino
Outlook: Five girls return from last year's county championship season in which the Gophers pushed Chesapeake to 11 innings. The entire starting infield is juniors, including second baseman Sara Schmidt, shortstop Amber Stapler and third baseman Amy Grail. Two seniors -- Amanda Conley and Jackie Wineke -- return to the outfield.
Schmidt is the team's top returning hitter with a .343 batting average, four doubles and 10 RBI.
Junior Natalie Cryan, the junior varsity's leading hitter last year, will start at first. Junior pitcher Beth Slater moves into the number one position with a 5-1 record and 1.36 ERA. Slater pitched 46 innings last year with 37 strikeouts and five walks. Senior catcher Allison Hohman was brought up from the junior varsity last year and had the most playing time in right field.
Head Coach: Joyce Wills
Outlook: The Mustangs have one of their most experienced lineups ever and expect to surprise some people. Junior pitcher Katie Worley returned from several camps and clinics with a "pretty decent arsenal," including a wicked fastball, Wills said. Junior Heidi Jenkins also will pitch, and they have been working with sophomore catcher Alexandria Scott.
Senior second baseman Abbie Acvedo, who has received a full academic scholarship at Howard University, complements senior first baseman/outfielder Michele Gonzalez, who is going into the Air Force. Senior Audrey Venecia will start at shortstop. "Defensively, we should do just fine," said Wills. "It's what can we do behind the plate with the bat. . . . "
North County Knights
Head Coach: Bob Boyd
Outlook: When sophomore pitcher Beth Mullins throws what some call her "killer change-up," she usually wins. Mullins, a first-team all-county and honorable mention All-Met as a freshman, was integral in leading the Knights to a state championship last year and is facing a lot of pressure to keep them in the mix again, especially with the graduation of five starters. She finished the season 14-2, with 135 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.50 in 107 innings.
Mullins will be supported by senior second baseman Shannon Conwell and junior Amanda Baldwin. Hanna Karaszkiewicz was brought up from junior varsity last year and started in right field for the first two playoff games. Boyd said she worked during the offseason on her hitting and bunting. The Knights' top defensive returner, shortstop Jen Roantes, injured her fingers in a car accident, but she is still swinging the bat well, Boyd said.
Last year's leading hitter, junior catcher Danielle Martinez, will combine with Mullins to lead the way in average and power. The Knights' task will be to surround them with strong hitters so they're not intentionally walked. Martinez will move up from the No. 3 slot to leadoff hitter.
Head Coach: Marianne Schultz
Outlook: Every coach in the county, including Schultz, is anxious to see how junior pitcher Ashley Gray can help the Eagles. Gray, a transfer from the Institute of Notre Dame, left Northeast after her freshman year but came back prior to the start of this school year.
Last year she set several single-season school records and finished with 210 strikeouts in 179 innings for a 0.51 ERA. She also tossed 10 shutouts and led IND to the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland's A Conference final, where her team lost to Spalding.
As a freshman, Gray played mostly first base. With the bulk of the offense gone after graduation, she also will be needed in the lineup. Freshman Lauren Hart is the tentative number two pitcher.
Senior Amanda Jenkins will start at first base and senior Megan Lucas at second. Rachelle Wedell will move from shortstop to catcher, replacing all-county graduate Melissa Tewey. Junior Leeann Raber will start in center field and could be joined by freshman left fielder Lela Wedell, Rachelle's little sister. Right field could be shared by seniors Jamie Lupinek and Chrissy Smith.
Old Mill Patriots
Head Coach: Steve Morgan
Outlook: Morgan calls sophomore pitcher Dawn Artman and senior pitcher Jenn Clarke "bookends" because they have the potential to hold the team together this year. Artman, also one of the team's top hitters, finished last year with a 4-4 record and a 1.62 ERA. Clarke has the experience that helps in pressure situations, Morgan said. "It's going to take a lot to rattle her." The pair throw with equal speed, have the same amount of pitches and will share time at first base to lead a solid infield. Junior Jill Willey was also a starting pitcher last year and will give the Patriots some depth.
Junior Ashley Burnham spent time at second base last year, and junior Christina Deavers, a former junior varsity player, has a chance at third base. All of the outfielders gained a little bit of experience as backups last year. Junior Alison Miller, Akeia Williams and senior Kara Cullins could have bigger roles this year.
Six seniors graduated who were collectively hitting over .700 last year, so much is expected of junior shortstop Danielle Ziegler, who finished with a .436 average last year. She also had six doubles, three triples and 14 RBI.
Severna Park Falcons
Head Coach: Jeff Shepherd
Outlook: The Green Hornets' recreational league has prepared this club well for the tough competition it likely will see from the north. With several top players back, the Falcons have a shot at repeating as 3A East Region champs.
Sophomore outfielder Anne Roche moved up from the junior varsity for the postseason last year and played for the Green Hornets last summer. Shepherd said she is one of the quicker athletes on the team. Senior shortstop Lauren Haag was injured in during the basketball postseason but has earned a softball scholarship to Emory and is still expected to be an impact player. She played summer ball with junior outfielder Shannon Warco and junior first baseman Erin O'Keefe, who could move to catcher for some of the tougher games.
With only one senior on the infield, the Falcons are relying on young talent, including sophomore pitcher Jen Wiley and freshman Kaila Jenkins.
South River Seahawks
Head Coach: Valerie Rhodes
Outlook: Eight girls return from last year's team, but the Seahawks also have their third coach in as many years. Rhodes is looking to return some stability to the program. She has several talented players to build upon. Senior twins Brandi and Jacque Sutphin, both all-county soccer players who led last year's softball team at the plate, will start at second and third base, respectively. Last season, Jacque hit .422, and Brandi, .414.
Senior Laura Gill and junior Tiffany Pelton are returning outfielders, but six other players will move up from the junior varsity. Senior Christine Kloby will start for the first time at catcher. Junior infielder Kim McDermitt played about half the season last year and is likely to be a consistent contributor. Junior Casey Thompson, who started at first base last year, has been learning to pitch.
Head Coach: Preston Holtz
Outlook: The Bulldogs are depending on two seniors -- first baseman Jessica Ubanks and shortstop Nikki Hangsleben -- to anchor an inexperienced team. Holtz is hoping juniors Candice Cross and Sarah Music can help pull the team above last year's 6-11 mark. Junior Marijayne Meyer was injured last year but should make her comeback at third base. Southern had more than 30 girls try out for the team this year, leaving Holtz with a few more options. As in recent years, pitching is still a question mark. "Rebuilding is what we're doing, but they want to play, and they've got the heart," Holtz said. "We'll be in every game."
Annapolis Area Christian School Eagles
Head Coach: Mike Hall
Outlook: Two quality pitchers and a strong infield defense led by junior catcher Meaghan Robertson will help the Eagles through another independent schedule. Robertson, a transfer from Virginia, will complement returning junior pitcher Cortnie Higgins. Freshman Josette Graham will be the team's number two pitcher. Higgins led the Eagles with 104 strikeouts and seven RBI last year.
Also expected to contribute are junior first baseman Lauren Hogan, a three-year starter who had six RBI in nine games, and sophomore Gianna Graham, who will play shortstop. Senior second baseman Lindsay Wallace, who scored 12 runs in nine games last season, is the top offensive returner.
Head Coach: Linda Taylor
Outlook: The Cavaliers aren't the same team that won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's A Conference championship last year. Senior All-Met second baseman Kerry Lounge is out for the season with a shoulder injury; two girls decided to join the track team; and seven others graduated. Still, 90 percent of the current team plays softball year-round and is fundamentally sound.
Senior pitcher Caitlin Fisher has been waiting patiently for three years to take over a position that had been dominated by All-Met graduate Meghan Cowen. Taylor said junior infielder Marissa Wentzler is "one to watch. She's just powerful." Junior Melissa Moreau could play third base or the outfield, and two junior infielders -- Kelly Harmon and Caitlin Park -- have been promoted from the junior varsity. Sophomore Rachel Linonis will make the transition from outfield to first base and pitcher. "Obviously we were hit pretty hard with graduation and injury, but I'm very confident this team is going to succeed and continue on with Spalding's winning tradition," Taylor said.
St. Mary's Saints
Coach: Tom Newman, interim
Outlook: The Saints weren't even sure they were going to have a season this year, as first-year coach Bill Bertwell was whisked to Bosnia with the National Guard before practice even started. Still, Newman brings experience from about a decade of head coaching at Glen Burnie, where he ended his career with a state championship in 1986.
St. Mary's has its own championship tradition: Last year the Saints advanced to the IAAM B Conference final. This year they are determined to win that title.
A bulk of responsibility falls to junior pitcher Whitney Eikenberg. Her younger sister, Holly, will back her up on the mound and could be an immediate contributor in the outfield. Junior Allison Lund, one of the fastest girls on the team, will start in center field.
Six seniors return, including outfielder Ginny Ross, first baseman Kristen Brendle, outfielder Jaclyn Brandt, second baseman/catcher Erin Anello, outfielder Marlinea May and third baseman Laura Wills.
Sophomore Marie Oben, one of the Saints' top soccer players, will start at catcher and should provide solid hitting from the leadoff spot.
-- Heather A. Dinich