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Softball Top 25 Team Preview: Mattawan, Dakota and Midland own top 3 spots

By: Tom Markowski, April 6, 2017, 3:29 pm

1.Mattawan (32-9), Division 1: The Wildcats always seem to be at or near the top. They lost in a state semifinal last season and they return seven starters. Coach Alicia Smith begins her 20th season and she has five seniors on what is a team with fine depth. Joanna Bartz (3B) and Alexis Taube (SS) are the mainstays, the best of friends and unquestionable leaders. Bartz signed with Michigan State, Taube with Kent State. Emily Koperdak is one of the top pitchers in the class of 2018. A starter since her freshman season, Koperdak is a good base runner and when not on the mound she’ll play second base. Meaghan Markus, a four-year starter, will play center field and could see time on the mound. Smith will rely on her underclassmen quite a bit. Two freshmen are on varsity and sophomore Maddie Duell will start at catcher.

2.Macomb Dakota (38-3), Div. 1: Coach Rick Fontaine returns 10 of his 14 varsity players from a team that reach their first state final. Kendahl Dunford was 35-3 and is one of the state’s top three or four pitchers. Four-year player Kattie Popko will move to second base after playing in the outfield. Corbin Hison (SS) is a three-year starter who batted .426 as a sophomore. Julia Salisbury (1B) will bat cleanup and junior Arieanna Grannatico will start behind the plate. “We’re shaping up,” Fontaine said. “We’re younger but our hitting should be the same as we were last season.”

3.Midland (36-8), Div. 1: Coach Kevin Allen returns all but two players from last season’s state semifinalist team. There’s balance but Maya Kipfmiller is a special player. A four-year starter, Kipfmiller is again the ace of the staff. She batted .664 and has good velocity on her rise ball. Kipfmiller has a 4.5 grade-point average and she signed with Boston University. Twins Julie (SS) and Tara (2B) are a tremendous double play combination, and both signed with Northwood. Junior catcher Nicole Miller committed to Northwood. Julian Elmer (3B) will back up Kipfmiller on the mound and junior Allison Gray (CF) is a three-year varsity player. A number of role players will contribute including the speedy Sydney Coppens (OF). “We’re a deeper team,” Allen said.  “One weakness last year was our speed. We’re faster this year.”

4.Escanaba (37-3), Div. 2: The Eskymos lost in a state semifinal and return six quality starters. Katie Ross (1B) is the ace of the staff and she’ll play at Ferris State next season. Freshman Gabi Salo will also see time on the mound. Emily Bruntjens (CF) is a three-year player and she’s a left-handed who puts the ball in play. She’ll play at Olivet Nazarene (IL) next season. Coach Jamie Segorski’s daughter, Taylor (C), is a three-year starter who has a quick release. Jerrika McAlpine (LF), like Bruntjens, is a left-handed slap hitter who puts pressure on the defense. She’ll attend Lakeland (WI) College in the fall. Junior Taylor Gauthier (SS) is the team’s best all-around athlete. She plays tennis, basketball and is a state champion figure skater.  

5.Allen Park (32-6), Div. 1: The Jaguars lost to Mattawan in a quarterfinal and return seven starters, six of whom are seniors. Sammi Howell is a three-year starter on the mound and she signed with Central Michigan. Howell was 22-4 last season and is probably Allen Park’s best player but there’s an abundance of talent. Carlie Magier (SS) will bat leadoff and Hailey Genaw (1B) is a power hitter and will bat third. Sophomore Allysa Lake (C) is coming off of a solid season. Other top seniors include outfielders Izzy Slate and Olivia Labut. “We’re hungry,” coach Patsy Curnell said. “We’ve had a taste of success. I’m excited.”

6.Caledonia (27-9), Div. 1: The Fighting Scots could be a year away from reaching the state semifinals and seriously challenging for a state title. Youth could be a drawback but there is experience. Sammie Gehrls experienced a bit of the sophomore jinx last season after breaking onto the scene as a freshman. Look for Gehrls to be again one of the top pitchers in the state. Senior Maddie Wise will also see time on the mound. Four sophomores will contribute significantly. Shortstop Brooklyne Siewertsen hit 13 home runs on the junior varsity last season. Jaden Huyser (3B) and Ashleigh Zytveld (2B) both started last season, and catcher Taylor Cross will see her first varsity action. Junior Lauren Kimes (1B-C-OF) is versatile. 

7.Saginaw Sawn Valley (39-3), Div. 2: After losing to Escanaba in a quarterfinal Swan Valley returns eight starters including one of the top catchers in the class of 2017 Becca Curtis. Curtis hit. 500 last season and she signed with Lansing Community College. Juniors Callie Burgess (23-1) and Kalynn Gulliver will share time on the mound. Gulliver hit eight home runs last season and she committed to Ferris State. Lauren Addy (SS) is an all-around athlete. She started at point guard on the basketball team and she hit .570 with 89 stolen bases. Grace Dutoy (OF) hit eight home runs last season and she signed with Northwood. Maddy McLeod, who signed with Ferris State, will move to first base after playing third and the outfield, and Ashley Danilowicz (CF) is perhaps the fastest player on the team. “Offensively and defensively this is the best team I’ve had in 38 years,” coach Tom Kennelly said. “Most are three- and two-sport athletes.” 

8.Grandville (28-9), Div. 1: The Bulldogs won a district title and ran away with the O-K Red Division title by finishing 14-1. Grandville has seven qualities players left over from last year’s squad and of the 14 players, six are seniors. Ellie Muilenburg was 17-3 as a junior and she should be good to go following knee surgery. She signed with Davenport. The entire infield is back led by all-state shortstop Nikoma Holmen. Kai Pommer was third on the team in runs scored and will pitch until Muilenburg is 100 percent. Kaitlyn Orme (1B/OF) is a junior who hits left-handed and Calli Gibson (3B) is a power hitter who will bat cleanup.  

9.Farmington Hills Mercy (43-2), Div. 1: The defending state champs have plenty of pop to warrant a return trip to East Lansing and the semifinals but consistency on the mound could hold the Marlins back. Sophie VanAcker (OF) is a candidate for player of the year honors and coach Alex Lesko will need VanAcker’s leadership qualities. Nicole Belans (IF) homered in the championship game and will bat in the middle of the lineup. Shannon Gibbons (SS) displays a calm demeanor and can hit in the clutch. Outfielders Mary Reeber and Anna Dixon have plenty of experience, freshman Dunya Dixon will play catcher. Freshmen Olivia Iafrate and Samantha Shea will share time on the mound. 

10.Clarkston (29-10), Div. 1: The Wolves will lean on two sophomores, Liv Worthington, a transfer from Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, and Sarah Gladding, who was 10-1 last season, on the mound. Paige Blevins (SS) is a three-year starter and is a candidate for player of the year. She hit a school-record 11 home runs last season. Junior Anna Chadwell (3B) committed to Oakland. Coach Don Peters has but one senior and will lean on two freshmen, Abby Tolmie and Hannah Cady, to play major roles.

11.Mount Pleasant (31-8), Div. 1: The Oilers lost to Bay City Western, 1-0, in a pre-district and look to make a strong tournament run as they return six starters. Hannah Carson (C) is a three-year starter who could bat leadoff again. Last season Carson hit .550 with eight home runs. She committed to Michigan. Coach Ted McIntyre has a good mix of seniors and underclassmen, and the one question is how well sophomore Oaklie Mogg handles her duties on the mound. She was 23-6 with a 2.12 ERA last season but she’ll have a freshman, Katie Sexton, as her battery mate. The top two seniors are Allison Conway (SS) and Ellyn Ecker. Conway batted just .272 but she had a school record 22 sacrifices. Ecker will switch from third base to center field after batting .381 last season.

12.Utica Ford (26-10), Div. 1: The Falcons returns nine starters, seven of whom are seniors and at least four will play at the collegiate level. Nikki Sorgi (P/IF/OF) batted .438 with 31 RBI and signed with Bowling Green. Lefty Emily Karas (P/1B) will attend Oakland as a preferred walk-on. Catcher Gabby Dobroczynski is a four-year starter who signed with Ferris State and she’ll bat third. Meagan Vervaecke (OF/IF) signed with Saginaw Valley State. Maddy Gross is back in center and has decent power. Victoria Giardina (3B) is a four-year starter and she slated to bat fourth. The team grade-point average is 3.72 and if Ford can get past Dakota in the districts the Falcons could make it all the way to the state semifinals.   

13.Vicksburg (36-9), Div. 2: Vicksburg never played in a semifinal before last season and coach Paul Gephart’s team lost in the final to Richmond, 2-0. Seven starters return and there are seven seniors. Junior Avery Slancik uses a variety of pitches to keep batters off balance. Carlie Kudary (CF) hit .575 and she’ll play for Missouri-St. Louis next season. Grace Stock (C) led the team with 60 RBI and she hit .523. Shaidan Knapp (SS) signed with Central Michigan and she hit .486 a year ago. These three seniors all started as freshmen. Raquel Rice returns at first base and Sadie Martin (RF) will back Slancik on the mound. Gephart could start a freshman, Knapp’s sister Tailynn, at second base.   

14.St. Joseph (24-10), Div. 2: The Bears return six starters and a seventh who started part time for a team that captured a district title. Olivia Shinrock (1B/OF) is a four-year player who hit .505 last season with 15 home runs. Kali Prillwitz (SS) is another four-year varsity player who hit .343 last season with 31 RBI. She’ll attend Alma College in the fall and compete for a starting spot. Erin Scanlon (3B) hit .330 and she’ll play at Olivet College next season. The battery is comprised of sophomores, Katie Bailey, who was 5-2 with a 2.23 ERA and Courtney Farrish who hit .443 with seven home runs. Farrish committed to Western Michigan.  

15. Romeo (28-8), Div. 1: The Bulldogs won their six consecutive district title and they return seven starters led by one of the state’s top shortstops, Madison Jones. Jones is quick as a cat and she hit .500 last season with 12 home runs. She hit 18 home runs as a sophomore and Jones signed with Oakland. Coach John Olley returns Madisyn Collins on the mound but he will often play her at first base and the outfield. She signed with Ferris State. Alex Locke (CF) has the speed to run down balls hit in the gap and she’s not afraid to making a diving catch. Jordan Chapman is one of the top catchers in the class of 2019 and she committed to the University of Detroit. Freshmen Bella Brass (2B) and Savannah Snarski (RF) will move into the starting lineup.  

16.Warren Regina (16-19-2), Div. 1: The Saddlelites won the state title in 2015 and, after a down year, they’ll compete for a league and district titles. Sophomore right-hander Marisa Muglia and junior lefthander Maddie Simon will share time on the mound. Catcher Nina Szalkiewicz is a three-year starter who is expected to bounce back after a sub-par season at the plate. The infield is solid with Melina Livingston back at third and sisters Leah and Jessie Munson stationed up the middle. “We have kids who can play multiple positions,” coach Diane Laffey said. 

17.St. Clair (17-15), Div. 2: Eight starters return for coach Kevin Mahn including junior Alexis Churchill (P) who committed to Canisius. Sisters Heidi and Molly Likins return and they will again hit in the heart of the lineup. Senior Alexa Landschoot (CF) did not commit an error last season and senior Morgan Markel also fields her position well in the outfield.  

18.Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (28-5), Div. 3: The Kestrels have the state’s top pitcher in Meghan Beaubien but coach John Morningstar has but one other senior, Grace Mikesell (CF). Beaubien signed with Michigan and SMCC will be in every game. Scoring runs could be a problem at times. There are just 12 on the roster so juniors like Alex Dobberstein (RF), Kelsey Barron (SS/P), Kenna Garst (C) and Danielle Michael (OF), a three-year starter, will be counted on to have a major impact. Sophomores Brook Angerer (utility) and Brook Barton (2B), a transfer from Ida, will start.

19.Richmond (32-9), Div. 2: Eight times Richmond has reached the state semifinals. Last season the Blue Devils broke through for their first title. Five starters return for what is generally a young team. Junior Carley Barjaktarovich (SS) is a slap hitter who hit .620 last season. She committed to Lehigh. Erin Shuboy bats fourth and last season she pitched a no-hitter in the title game. The top seniors are Emma Caperton (LF), Amy Thueme (CF) and Angela Coules (OF/3B). Caperton’s sister, Kennedy, a sophomore, will start at catcher.

20.Walled Lake Northern (30-13), Div. 1: The Knights return six starters from a team that reached a regional final. Hannah Bunker (2B) is a four-year starter who signed with Massachusetts. Bunker batted .480 and had 30 stolen bases. While Bunker is the best player there are a handful or more who are expected to have big seasons. Courtney Callahan (CF) is a junior who was selected first team all-state after batting .600. Senior Cassie Frankowiak has been Northern’s ace since her freshman year. Frankowiak isn’t a power pitcher but she mixes her pitches well. She signed with Northwood. Sophomore McKenzie Knight (P/3B) is a power hitter who will bat fourth. Samantha Harris is back at catcher. A fine defensive player, Harris, who committed to Central Michigan, will bat third.

21.Stevensville Lakeshore (26-11), Div. 2: Denny Dock begins his 38th season as a head coach and he’ll have his top power hitter back. Olivia Freehling hit 16 home runs last season and she could start at catcher. Other top seniors include Lindsay Zavoral (SS), Jordan Wermund (RF) and Mahri Younger (CF). Zavoral suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game last season but is expected to be at full strength. Junior Taylor Simon (RHP) also suffered a season-ending injury (back) in the sixth game, which is a testament to how well the Lancers faced adversity in 2016 (they won the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division). Junior Becca Spenner will play first and Zavoral’s sister Cassidy will switch from shortstop to third base.  

22.Portage Central (33-6), Div. 1: Tom Hamilton enters his 20th season as a head coach and he has five starters returning plus two others who saw significant playing time. Madison Cole (OF) batted .385 last season and she’s a four-year starter who signed with Rutgers. Adasha Heidtman (C/2B), Bailey Vandeviessen (SS/C) and Rachel Pijaszek (P) are the other top seniors. Pijaszek was second in the rotation last season. Josie Mussley (2B/SS) is the team’s top junior and Mussley could be the best player overall. Sophomore Becca Cottrell is a solid utility player and juniors Breleigh Foerster (OF) and Trinity Cumo (OF) have experience. “We’re a little unproven,” Hamilton said. “Rachel has to step up. We’re pretty good. It depends on how much heart we have.”  

23.Plymouth (27-7-2), Div. 1: The Wildcats tied for the KLAA South Division title and they were eliminated by Allen Park in a region final. Nine varsity players return led by Jenny Bressler. Bressler is one of the top pitchers in the class of 2018 and she committed to Texas-Arlington. Whitney Holden started at shortstop as a freshman before moving to the outfield last season. Junior Jessica Tucci played seven positions last season and she’ll start in the outfield. Two of the top seniors are Kelli Denowicz (1B/OF) and Gina Barber (OF). The junior class is the backbone of this team but two sophomores, Haley Gannon and Arie Bartholomew, will share time behind the plate.

24.Essexville-Garber (29-13), Div. 2: Coach Chad Newton returns six starters from a team that lost to Swan Valley in a region final. Add to this junior Kristie Gray (1B/P), a transfer from Bay City Western, who will share time with junior Sasha Aide on the mound. Kaylee Meyer (C/CF) is a seasoned veteran and the team’s top senior. The junior class will determine how far this team goes in the tournament. Both Katy Ratajczak (SS/C) and Alyssa Seegraves (2B) committed to Saginaw Valley State, and Katie Hugo (1B/SS) will add stability to the infield.

25.Hartland (24-13), Div. 1: The Eagles graduated seven seniors and coach Bob Greene is confident the players he has this season have the potential to be even more competitive. Greene will count on juniors Anna Kemp and Madelin Skene (3B-1B) to handle the duties on the mound. Both are returning starters, Skene has been a starter since her freshman season. Other returning players who are expected to play a major role are juniors Brianna Robeson (2B), Delaney Grundman (3B/1B) and Hannah Mourad (OF). All three are solid defensively and are run-producers at the plate. Greene’s lone senior is Lauren Plasky (2B/SS). Look for sophomore catcher Miranda Millington to have an outstanding season.