Softball Preseason Rankings: Caledonia claims top spot, Mattawan No. 2
Caledonia – Reaching the state softball finals for the first time isn’t good enough for Caledonia. The Fighting Scotts are determined to take that next step.
Caledonia returns eight starters from a team that reached the Division 1 final last season including a player who is among the 10 players listed in State Champs player of the year contest sponsored by Total Softball.
Sammie Gehrls is a 5-10 sophomore who batted .540 with 15 home runs as a freshman. Gehrls was 21-2 on the mound and will again be counted on to have a stellar season.
“She’s a great kid to coach,” coach Tom Kaechele said. “She’s a positive person and a great teammate.”
In Caledonia’s opener this season Gehrls went 4-4 with a home run and a double.
In what promises to be a wide open race for the Division 1 title, Caledonia is State Champs’ No. 1 team in its first statewide poll for 2016.
Kaechele said this team has more speed and depth than the one he had a season ago.
“After losing in the final they’re working hard to get back and win it,” he said.
Three are a handful of seniors on this team whom Kaechele will count on for leadership. Topping this list is Taylor VanZytveld, an all-around athlete who signed with Lansing Community College. VanZytveld will play first base, center field, and shortstop and will see time on the mound. Gehrls will move to the outfield when VanZytveld is pitching. VanZytveld batted .350 last season with seven home runs.
Also returning is Hannah Horvath (2B), a left-handed hitter who batted .490 last season.
McKenna Dixon is a quality hitter and she’ll again play first base.
Adding experience and savvy is senior Lexi Lieski. Last season Lieski showed leadership qualities behind the plate. Not only was Lieski responsible for keeping Gehrls on track but she also had two other pitchers, each with different styles, with which to work.
Ashley Cross suffered a knee injury in the third game of the 2015 season and didn’t return. Kaechele said Cross is back and will play center field. Cross and Horvath also signed with Lansing Community College.
Kenzie Newman will split time between shortstop and the outfield.
Kaechele anticipates contributions from two freshmen, Vanzytveld’s sister, Ashley (OF) and Jadon Huysor who is a utility infielder.
2. Mattawan (31-13), Div. 1: The Wildcats lost to Warren Regina is a state semifinal and return nine players, eight of whom started. Shortstop Alexis Taube is one of six seniors and she signed with Kent State. Joanna Bartz (3B) committed to Michigan State and Meaghan Markus (CF) committed to U. of M-Dearborn. Both are juniors. Sophomore Emily Koperdak started 60 percent of the games on the mound last season, including the semifinal, and that percentage is expected to rise. Sarah Hillsburg (LF) signed with Kalamazoo Valley Community College and she is expected to see time on the mound. Genny Saltesz (2B) is a slap hitter who will again bat leadoff. She scored a 36 on her ACT and will attend Columbia.
3. Farmington Hills Mercy (27-4), Div. 1: The Marlins reached the state semifinals and return seven starters. Abby Krzywiecki (1B/P/3B) is a Miss Softball candidate and one of the state’s top power hitters. She signed with South Alabama. Andrea Elmore won the job as the starting pitcher last season and is back for her senior season. Mercy is strong up the middle with the return of Nicole Belans (2B) and Shannon Gibbons (SS). The top two outfielders are underclassmen (Anna Dixon, Sophie VanAcker. Senior Cari Padula is a utility player and team leader. “Talent-wise, we match up well whomever we play,” coach Alec Lesko said.
4. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (37-5), Div. 3: Meghan Beaubien is the reason the Kestrels are ranked this high. The junior lefthander did not allow a run in the five tournament games as St. Mary C.C. won the state title. Catcher Kenna Garst is a transfer from Petersburg-Summerfield and she hit 10 home runs as a freshman. The top two seniors are Anna Dobberstein (OF) and lefty Kayla Rogers (1B). Freshman Brook Angerer (C/1B/OF) is a utility player who will start. Junior Payton Bollenberg will play second base after missing last season with a shoulder injury.
5. Macomb Dakota (32-8), Div. 1: Eight starters return from a team that won the Macomb Area Conference Red Division. A loss to Utica Ford in a pre-district let in a little rain in what was a successful season. Junior Kendahl Dunford is a power pitcher who was named the Red Division MVP. Dunford committed to Florida International. Kelcie LaTour (1B) is a four-year starter who bats third. Sarah Fringer (2B) and catcher Samantha Bunk are also four-year starters. The Cougars have plenty of depth and with just four seniors the future looks bright, too. Kattie Popko is the top outfielder and the left side of the infield is in the capable hands of Kelsey Ramus (3B) and Corbin Hison (SS).
6. Clarkston (40-3), Div. 1: The Wolves lost six players to graduation but coach Don Peters does return five starters including catcher Abby Skvarce who signed with Michigan. Skvarce batted .450 for a team that reached the quarterfinals in 2015. Paige Blevins (SS/3B) committed to Central Michigan and Hannah Caldwell (1B/3B/OF) committed to Oakland. Both are returning starters, both are sophomores. Mariah Hood signed with Northwood and adds stability to the infield. Junior Maddy Scarsella will play on the left side of the infield and she committed to Detroit Mercy. Defensively the Wolves are expected to be as good as any in the state. The question is pitching. With freshmen Sarah Gladding and Sarah Kuenzel there is talent but no varsity experience. “It’ll work itself out,” Peters said.
7. Saginaw Swan Valley (30-9), Div. 2: Swan Valley lost one starter from a team that reached a regional final. As good as this team will be this season the futures looks brighter. Sophomores Kalynn Gulliver and Callie Burgess split time as starting pitchers last season, and will do the same this season. Lauren Addy (SS) led the team in on-base percentage and will again bat leadoff. Carlee Larsen (2B) will bat second and was one of the team’s top hitters a year ago. Both are juniors. The top seniors are Jenna Baase (1B/C/OF) and three-year starter Madison McLeod (OF/IF). Baase homered five times a year ago. Add to this group a transfer, Becca Curtis (C/3B), who started at Mount Pleasant last season. “One through eight, they’re as good as I’ve ever had,” coach Tom Kennelly said. “If our pitching is good, we’ll be real good.”
8. Portage Central (33-6), Div. 1: Coach Tom Hamilton lost five players to graduation and a sixth who decided not to return. Pitcher Hannah McQueen (Lake Superior State), first baseman Meredith Adams (Lawrence Tech) and Tyler Snyder (Kellogg Community College) all signed early, and Bailey Lee is back behind the plate. Hamilton’s best player is junior Madyson Cole (SS), a candidate for State Champs player of the year who committed to Rutgers. Hamilton’s fourth senior, Christine Taylor (OF) committed to Albion College.
9. Mount Pleasant (27-10), Div. 2: Five upperclassmen return, three of whom started, and the best player is a sophomore. Hannah Carson is a catcher who batted .565. She committed to Michigan. Senior Mariah Goecker returns as the ace and junior Allison Conway is back at shortstop. The three top seniors are Katie Heller (OF), Lauren McGregor (2B) and Erica Lybeer (1B/P). Look for freshman Oaklie Mogg to challenge Goecker for innings as the season progresses.
10. Midland (25-13), Div. 1: The Chemics won their first regional title since 2001 and lost to Mattawan in extra innings in a quarterfinal. Midland graduated two starters and has just one senior, Zoe Manary, a strong hitter who could move from the outfield to third base. Junior right-hander Maya Kipfmiller (1B) returns on the mound and she’s committed to Boston University. Jillian Elmer (1B/3B) is a power hitter who will also start a few games on the mound. Twins Julia and Tara Gross are three-year varsity players who are starting middle infielders. Allison Gray (CF) and catcher Nicole Miller solidify the defense. The Chemics have pitching depth and could be a year away from challenging for a state title.
11. Vicksburg (31-6), Div. 2: Vicksburg lost in a regional final and lost just one senior to graduation. Vicksburg had a team batting average of .468 led by junior Grace Stock (C/CF) who hit .563 with five home runs and 60 RBI. Shaiden Kemp (SS), the leadoff hitter, batted .546 with 33 RBI and 18 stolen bases. She committed to Central Michigan. Olivia Holmes (2B) batted .470 and signed with Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Alicia Cagrey (LF) batted .470 and she signed with Indianapolis. Sophomore Avery Slancik was 17-4 with a 1.82 ERA, and she’s the ace. Junior Sadie Martin will also pitch. Carlie Kudary (CF/RF) batted .443 with 32 stolen bases.
12. Warren Regina (27-16), Div. 1: The defending state champions return four starters and a total of nine players. Hailey Reese (1B) is a college prospect and Kristi Carlson (CF) signed with Siena Heights. Julie Munson (SS) came through with some key hits in the tournament and Nicole Roeske (OF) is expected to be the ace on the mound after starting in right field. Roeske does have some experience on the mound. “We’ll be young,” coach Diane Laffey said. “But we’ll be OK.” Laffey will start untested sophomores as middle infielders and junior Nina Szalkiewicz will start at catcher after serving as the backup.
13. Wayland Union (36-2), Div. 2: The Wildcats have lost four games over the last two seasons and coach Cheri Ritz lost five seniors to graduation so it’s possible they might struggle early. Don’t expect a big drop off. Morgan and Mallory Teunissen have graduated but there’s another Teunissen (Bethany), a junior infielder, to keep the family tradition going. Sophomores Abby Merice (OF) and Sydney Urban (OF) are returning starters and are expected to see time on the mound. Leigha Morse, a junior catcher, could be the team’s top player. She had three doubles and seven RBI in the state semifinal and final last season. Taryn Coughlin could also see time on the mound.
14. Plymouth (30-5), Div. 1: The Wildcats won the Kensington Lakes Activities Association title and a regional title in coach Lauren Evans’ first season as head coach. What does she have in store for an encore? “Win a quarterfinal,” Evans said. That’s seems doable with the return of seven varsity players, six of whom were starters. Jenny Bressler (P/1B/2B) will be the ace after pitching half the games last season. Bressler, a sophomore, committed to Texas-Arlington. Cali Jones (3B/2B) and Rachel Zerona (CF/IF) are co-captains and Evans’ lone seniors. Zerona signed with Oakland. Josie Rutkowski will be behind the plate and switch to third base at times. Sophomores Whitney and Jessica Tucci both started in the outfield as freshmen. Zina Barber, a defensive specialist, and Mikayla Rose are utility players in what is an athletic and experienced team.
15. Stevensville Lakeshore (26-10), Div. 2: The Lancers, a state semifinalist in 2014, are coming off of a down season. Veteran coach Denny Dock has a good mix of seniors and underclassmen, this fact emphasized by Dock’s decision to have senior Jamie Belt and sophomore Taylor Simon share time as starting pitchers. Sidney Weaver (RF) is a four-year starter and Jackie Nate (3B) is a four-year varsity player. Julia Carpenter (CF) is a slap hitter who started for three years. Junior Lindsay Zavoral returns at shortstop and Becca Spenner will start behind the plate after serving as a backup.
16. Unionville-Sebewaing Area (39-3), Div. 4: Never mind that USA competes in Division 4. The Patriots are the standard-bearers for post-season success recently. They’ve made the semifinals 11 of 12 seasons and won the title last season after finishing runner-up in 2011, ’13 and ’14. Nikki Bauer is a four-starter and one of the state’s premier pitchers. She batted .360 last season and she signed with Stanford. Marisa Morton will switch to shortstop from right field and Sara Reinhardt will move from shortstop to catcher. Kayla Gremel is an all-state second baseman. The Patriots won the Division 3 title in 2006 and ’07, and its state final losses in 2013 and ’13 also took place in Division 3.
17. Romeo (32-4), Div. 1: The Bulldogs finished second behind Dakota in the MAC Red and lost to Clarkston in a regional final. Coach John Olley lost five seniors to graduation but has four of the top players in the Metro Detroit back. Morgan Gardner (SS) is a candidate for State Champs softball player of the year. Madisyn Collins is a junior right-hander who possesses the proper temperament on the mound. Olley’s daughter Breanna (2B) is a three-year starter who will bat leadoff. Junior Madison (3B/1B) started in the outfield last season and hit 20 home runs. Freshman Jordan Chapman is a utility player and will bat second.
18. Allen Park (32-6), Div. 1: The Jaguars lost to Regina in a quarterfinal and they return junior Sammi Howell, a three-year varsity player, who was 12-2 last season. Carlie Magier (C/SS) and Hailey Genaw (3B/1B) are also juniors and the team’s top two hitters. The top seniors all are outfielders and returning starters. They Kailey Littleton, Brie Arnold and Haley Rasmussen. Casey Storck is a junior with experience to add glue on the infield. “We have a great group back,” coach Patsy Curnell said. “After last season we know we can play with anyone.”
19. Zeeland West (21-5), Div. 2: The Chix lost their starting pitcher to graduation but have all eight fielders back. Coach Rhonda Hoogenraad will survey the success of sophomore Maddie Sliva and freshman Kenzie Siersma throughout the season before deciding which one starts the big games on the mound in late May. Hoogenraad’s daughter, Haley, will switch from the outfield to shortstop to help solidify the infield. Haley signed with Michigan. The other two seniors on the team, Cierra Langejans (2B) and Taylor Siersma, Kenzie’s sister, are four-year starters. The top juniors are Abby Wallar (1B), catcher Sarah VanValkenburg and Kinsey Arendsen (OF).
20. Carleton Airport (36-5), Div. 2: Coach John Warren has his ace back, senior right-hander Emily Bindus, but he did lose five seniors to graduation. Sophomore Amy Clegg (3B/P) and junior Alyssa Lang hit one-two in the lineup. Lang will move from second base to catcher and will likely bat third this season to create more RBI opportunities. Junior Autumn Markgraff (1B) is a returning starter and Camryn Cousino (2B/P) saw limited playing time as a freshman but will be asked to contribute much more this season. Warren has four seniors but it is his underclassmen who will carry this team.