Worth noting: The Redwings last season won their first regional title since 2013. Coach Schilf thinks that Brdecka, a four-year starter and returning all-conference player committed to Dayton, could be the best player in the area. Eight starters return, but two of Benet’s top pitchers – Brdecka and Bridget Cunningham – will not be pitching this season. Cunningham is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Schilf touts his outfield as perhaps the best in the area with returning all-conference players Fajardo, Pesare and Mikitka joined by speedy slap hitter Sconza, a transfer from Plainfield East. Samantha Schilf, who will play in college at North Central, and Mikitka, going to St. Mary’s, will share time in the circle.
“We should compete if pitching holds up,” Jerry Schilf said. “My daughter Samantha Schilf and Samantha Mikitka need to keep us in the game. We have hitting, speed and will score runs.”
Downers Grove North
Coach: Eric Landschoot (ninth season)
Last year’s record: 10-11, 6-6 West Suburban Silver
Worth noting: The Trojans are young with seven sophomores, but are returning all of their starters from the 2021 shortened season. Landschoot thinks he has three effective pitchers, led by Gusel, and a potent lineup. Wagner recruit Janicki hit .371 with eight doubles, two homers and 18 RBIs last season, UW-Whitewater commit Ward hit .422, Illinois College commit Cole hit .333 with a .432 on-base percentage and Callaghan hit .356 with two triples, two homers and 14 RBIs. Rodriguez hit .353 with a .421 on-base percentage as a freshman, and Landschoot believes she’ll be one of the best infielders/catchers in the conference.
“We have loaded up our schedule with some of the toughest opponents in the state, and I would also argue that our conference will be one of the strongest in the area,” Landschoot said.
Downers Grove South
Coach: Jim Cushing (fourth season)
Last year’s record: 18-5, 10-0 West Suburban Gold
Top returning players: Ella Cushing, so., P/1B; Bella Lapacek, sr., OF; Gracie Lapacek, sr., C/3B; Alyssa Deschamp, sr., SS/2B; Anna Luczak, jr., IF.
Worth noting: The Mustangs have nine newcomers, so they’ll be a little inexperienced. Downers South last spring won a regional and lost to York in sectionals. Bella Lapacek hit .519 as a junior. Gracie Lapacek hit .426. Also back is Cushing, who hit .323 as a freshman, Deschamp, who hit .340 last season, and Luczak, who hit .263. Coach Cushing enters his 30th season as a varsity coach, both as a longtime assistant and the head coach. He is looking for Ella Cushing and Delaney Madiar to anchor things in the circle. The Mustangs have more speed and a number of good contact hitters but less power than in the past.
“We hope to have a good competitive year,” Jim Cushing said. “Development is crucial to our postseason run.”
Top new players: Kailey Janda, fr., P; Gabriella Simon, fr., IF; Teresa Nevarez, fr., IF; Molly Mullen, fr., 1B; Caitlin Barganski, fr., C.
Worth noting: Fenwick alum Hoffman takes over a young Friars program with five freshmen who could play significant roles and a sophomore, Entler, who is one of the top returning players from a 3-22 team. Senior Maddie Krzak, one of Fenwick’s projected top returning players, is out for the season with an injury and instead will play a managerial role. “Losing Maddie is a huge loss for us,” Hoffman said. “Maddie was poised to have her best season yet. She’s one of our gutsiest players willing to run through walls. She’s well-liked by her teammates and they all look up to her.”
Lorenzo struck out 177 and posted a 3.37 ERA as a sophomore and will lead the Friars in the circle. Entler played only 11 varsity games as a freshman, but hit .438, slugged .688 and hit two home runs with eight RBIs.
“Many of us are new to the program. I would like to see improvement in our defensive execution and I would like to see us bond as teammates,” Hoffman said. “Again, many of us are new to the program and team cohesion is huge. This is something we are going to have to develop at an accelerated rate.”
Coach: Victor Swanson (third season)
Last year’s record: 9-12, 9-8 Upstate Eight Conference
Top returning players: Gianna Raitano, sr., SS; Ella Brooks, sr., 3B; Ally Block, so., C; Sophia Opila, so., OF.
Top new player: Melissa Saldana, fr., OF/P.
Worth noting: The Rams are looking to build on the success of last season with six returning starters. Six new varsity players create depth that Swanson said Glenbard East hasn’t had in recent years. There also is pitching depth with five quality pitchers in the program. The biggest question mark is how the Rams replace four-year varsity starter Katie Mulatz at catcher. Block, who hit .400 with nine doubles, six homers and 31 RBIs as a freshman, will fill that role. Raitano hit .464 with eight doubles, five homers and 23 RBIs. Brooks hit .348 with 17 RBIs last season and is a good glove at third base and strong leader in the dugout. Opila, who provides strong defense in the outfield, has been working on becoming a slap hitter to better use her speed. Fellow sophomore Raya Schwebl also spent most of the offseason fine-tuning her slapping skills.
Coach: Julie Fonda (16th season)
Last year’s record: 17-11, 14-4 Upstate Eight Conference
Top returning players: Hannah Rafferty-Flatter, jr., P; ; Mia Lake, jr., SS; Lauren Atkinson, sr., CF; Julia Gavin, sr., 2B/SS/OF; Kaylee Full, sr., 2B/SS/OF.
Top new players: Grace Zeman, so., 3B/P/1B; Mackenzie Brach, sr., 2B/SS; Maddy Blazek, so., C/1B/OF.
Worth noting: Fonda, inducted into the Illinois Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in February, looks to continue the Raiders’ tradition of being a winning force in DuPage County and beyond. Rafferty-Flatter in the circle is a good place to start. Rafferty-Flatter went 12-9 last spring with a 3.86 ERA and 156 strikeouts, and also hit .311 with a .433 on-base percentage and drove in 21 runs at the plate. She’ll lead the way offensively with Gavin, who hit .319 with a .466 on base percentage and 22 RBIs last year and Full. The Raiders will be without Lake for much of the season with a torn ACL from basketball season, but Fonda hopes to have her back in the lineup by May.
“Filling the vacancies and putting together the defensive puzzle will be the key,” Fonda said. “Looking forward to watching this group develop. I’m confident our team will make some waves this year.”
Coach: Mary McGrane (15th season)
Last year’s record: 16-7, 6-6 West Suburban Silver
Top returning players: Grace Walker, sr., OF; Kayla Heard, so., IF/OF; Julia Norton, sr., C; Olivia Terek, sr., 1B; Norah Seilder, sr., 1B/OF; Anne Dillman, sr., OF; Ava Heard, so., C/3B.
Top new players: Mallory Brannegan, so., P; Ainslie Bobroff, fr., U; Lauren Escalanta, fr., IF; May Adduci, so., OF; Alyssa Demanuale, sr., 1B; Ellie Adduci, fr., P/3B.
Worth noting: The Hilltoppers graduated eight starters off last season’s team that lost to St. Charles East in a regional final, but McGrane and her staff are excited about this group’s potential. Walker was Glenbard West’s starting left fielder last season before she suffered a concussion. Kayla Heard replaced her. They are the lone two starters returning from last season. McGrane noted “we are a team of newbies.”
“We have a talented group that offers a lot of different defensive looks, the players are versatile, and it’ll be fun working with the younger players we have up on varsity,” McGrane said. “The seniors have done a nice job including the underclassmen, and every player competes every day.”
Coach: Brittany Zust (sixth season)
Last year’s record: 6-15, 4-8
Top returning players: Brooke Bauer, sr., IF; Kaila Kuo, sr., P; Sarah Brosius, jr., P; Allie Diaz, jr., U; Amelia McLaughlin, jr., U.
Worth noting: With a fair amount of new athletes joining the Red Devils this spring, Zust is excited to see them mesh with her five returning starters. Hinsdale Central is coming off a challenging season with many highs and lows, issues many teams were dealing with last spring, but Zust is excited to see what is ahead.
“We have a diverse group of girls from freshmen to seniors that can play ball,” Zust said. “It will ultimately come down to each individual athlete’s determination and desire to perform at a high level of competition.”
Top new players: Caelyn Chorzempa, jr., 3B/U; Camden Kiefer, so., OF.
Worth noting: The Hornets return eight starters from a team that reached a regional final and are looking to build off last season’s second-place finish in the West Suburban Gold. Headlining that group is third-team All-State center fielder Berger, who hit .500 with a .565 on-base percentage, 14 doubles, five homers and 20 RBIs. Rochowicz, committed to Heartland Community College, is a returning all-conference player who hit .407 with six doubles and 14 RBIs. Drake, committed to play at Chandler Gilbert, hit .333 with six doubles, a triple and 11 RBIs. Also back is Kaleta, who hit .255 with two doubles and seven RBIs, Fedinec, who hit .333 with nine doubles, four homers and 21 RBIs, Leban, Bishop and Nicol.
“We are excited to compete for a conference title and advance in the 3A playoffs this season,” Fuller said. “After having exclusively played against our conference of several powerhouse 4A programs last year, we are thrilled to be able to play against a different variety of teams this year. Quite simply put, the girls on this team are resilient and selfless, and they are ready to move the bus and cannot wait to get back on the diamond.”
Top new players: Riley Venn, jr.; Isabella Jelic, fr., Lily Fisher, fr.
Worth noting: The Knights return five starters from last season’s team that won the program’s seventh straight regional title and lost to Manteno in the sectional semifinals. It’s still a young group, with all but one of those returners underclassmen. Leading the way is Raffaelli, who hit .478 as a freshman with 35 RBIs, 37 runs scored and 37 stolen bases, and Dwyer, who hit .562 as a freshman with 43 RBIs and 12 doubles. Carrillo hit .354 last year and DeRose hit .341. Venn is committed to Stetson.
“Like many years, we have a tough schedule,” Reaber said. “We should be competitive with other teams.”
Worth noting: Lemont returners five starters off the team that took second place in the state in Class 3A last spring, led by the All-State battery of Mardjetko and Rita. Mardjetko, committed to play in college at South Carolina, posted a minuscule 0.285 ERA last season with 259 strikeouts in 123 innings, and also hit .370 with 15 RBIs. Rita, committed to Bowling Green State, hit .526 with 50 hits, 39 runs scored and 31 RBIs and had a .997 fielding percentage behind the plate. Also back is Taylor, who hit .370 as a freshman with 23 runs scored and 27 RBIs, Pawlowicz, who hit .337 with 33 runs scored and 22 RBIs, and Duncan, who hit .370 with 26 RBIs and 15 runs scored.
“Looking to have another strong season after a second-place finish last year,” Traina said.
Coach: Nicole Paluch (sixth season)
Last year’s record: 13-10, 7-5 West Suburban Silver
Top new players: Noli Hillmann, sr., P/1B; Careena Juarez, sr., OF; Jay Sanchez, jr., OF; Peyton O’Flaherty, jr., 2B/SS; Makenna Kotor, C/3B.
Worth noting: The Lions return a large group of girls who have been in the program for some time, led by fourth-year varsity players Joseph, Paganis, Hanafin and Anna Bryant. “All four of them are leaders, motivated and make our defense extremely strong,” Paluch said. Joseph hit .421 last season and led Lyons in hits (32), doubles (11), runs (27) and RBIs (26). Hanafin hit .396 with 15 RBIs and struck out 70 over 42.2 innings pitched. Meyer, a three-year varsity starter at catcher, hit .370 last season with 27 hits and 10 doubles, both second-highest on the team. Paganis, committed to Bryant, batted .364 last season and led the team in homers with seven and drove in 25. Senior Analie Tumminaro and freshman Isabella Evans also could get time in the circle. Karlson and Filkins are two key outfielders who get great reads on the ball.
Coach: Erin Bradarich (fourth season)
Last year’s record: 20-5, 16-2, first place in GCAC
Top returning players: Kora Navarro, sr., P/3B; Ava Franklin, sr., OF; Amanda Wozniak, jr., 2B/P; Taylor Utrata, jr., 3B/SS; Alexa Bauman, jr., OF; Miranda BonDurant, jr., C; Brooke Kuczynski, so., 1B; Erin Grimsley, so., OF/SS
Other returners/newcomers: Kassy Reyes, jr., 1B; Kat Filkowski, fr., OF; Payton Atkins, fr., 3B; Sam Lehnherr, fr., OF; Delaney Spontak, fr., IF/OF.
Worth noting: The Lady Broncos return eight starters from a team that won the GCAC title last spring and advanced to a sectional final. Leading the way is Findlay recruit Navarro, the GCAC Player of the Year last season after posting a 1.56 ERA and 137 strikeouts in the circle while hitting .466 with five doubles, six homers, 25 runs scored and 27 RBIs. Kuczynski hit .477 as a freshman with 11 doubles, 10 homers, 30 runs scored and 24 RBIs. Utrata hit .393 with six doubles, five homers, 22 runs scored and 19 RBIs, Wozniak hit .485 with four doubles, eight runs scored and 12 RBIs, and Franklin hit .377 with four doubles, two homers, 12 runs scored and 17 RBIs. BonDurant hit two homers in a recent game.
“We are looking to carry over that success into this season with Kora Navarro continuing to lead the charge in the circle,” Bradarich said.
Coach: Victoria Sobol (second season)
Last year’s record: 13-16, 5-7 East Suburban Catholic Conference
Top returning players: Melisa Hadzic, sr., C/1B; Allison Mangan, sr., CF; Ava Calderon, jr., MIF/OF/U; Taylor Reynolds, so., P.
Top new player: Annabella Rychetsky, fr., P.
Worth noting: The Roadrunners graduated nine seniors, so they’ll look a lot different this spring with more than half of their players underclassmen. Mangan, an all-conference selection and third-team All-Stater last year, hit .457 with a .490 on-base percentage and 1.001 OPS. Hadzic, also all-conference, hit .366 with a .581 slugging percentage, 1.008 OPS and 23 RBIs. Reynolds joined the varsity roster for the postseason last year and got some innings, including the regional championship game, and should fill a bigger role in the circle. Talented freshman Rychetsky will rotate between pitching and playing the outfield.
“Although we are anticipating some inevitable growing pains that come with having a young team, we are most excited by their energy,” Sobol said. “Our team is really hungry to learn and is embracing the idea of a ‘productive struggle.’ The high energy and hustle every day at practice demonstrates our desire to be challenged, to learn, and to get better.”
Coach: Doug Schultz (ninth season)
Last year’s record: 22-6, 11-1, first place in conference
Top new players: Luna Lloyd, jr., OF; Kelley Tyler, so., U; Ellie McGall, fr., IF.
Worth noting: The Bulldogs, conference and regional champions last year, will be competing for another league title this season with good competition from IC Catholic, Bishop McNamara and St. Francis. Leading the way for R-B will be Miami (Ohio) commit Hannah Organ, last year’s conference Player of the Year and an All-State selection who hit .474 with 23 RBIs and also struck out 115 of the 368 batters she faced. Also back is Olivet Nazarene commit Apostolovich, Noel, Orgam and Levine.
“We continue to play the best competition in the Chicagoland area with games versus Marist, Lincoln Way Central, Lyons and St. Ignatius,” Schultz said. “R-B will be the smallest 4A team when the state tournament starts since we missed the cutoff to the 3A enrollment threshold by 1.5 students.”
Worth noting: Remus, who has 483 career wins, could win No. 500 this season. He has some returning hitters and believes his offense will be adequate. Hartzell hit .411 last season, Wanshek .494 and Racky .371 to lead the returning players. Remus also is counting on returners Katherine Globe at first base, Ella Malachowski in the outfield, Leah Grivetti at third base and freshmen Maggie Stewart and Lilia Crawford to make the Spartans better. Suess went 6-6 in the circle as a freshman. St. Francis will spend five days in Myrtle Beach for early spring games.
“Learning more about this team as we move along,” Remus said. “Young pitching staff will improve as we move along. I am expecting us to have a much better defense this year. We are working hard on that in practice now.”
Top new players: Sophia Mook, fr., SS/3B; Maci Woerner, fr., P/SS/3B; Chloe Wetterquist, fr., 2B.
Worth noting: Coach Slovey is looking forward to a positive and strong season with leadership from her returning players. Emily Slovey is coming off an injury, but will be a huge asset in the infield and offensively. Younglove and Woerner will share pitching duties while Mook is a fierce infielder who will bat cleanup. “The newcomers have strong softball backgrounds and will be an awesome add to the Timothy lineup,” coach Slovey said.
Top new players: Diellza Dilipi, jr.; Jenae Silva, jr.
Worth noting: The Sentinels return seven starters and are hoping to be more competitive with the stronger teams in the conference. Blaine, who batted .321 last season and pitched Wesmont’s five wins, will pitch the majority if not all of the Sentinels’ games. Karesh, who hit .245, will assume all of the catching responsibilities. Zapinski said she is a “natural leader.” Bos, who hit .292 with a .382 on-base percentage, will be Westmont’s leadoff hitter and spark plug. Sophomore Callie Devine was Westmont’s most improved player last year and Zapinski is projecting a breakout season.
“After missing the COVID year, our seniors got their feet back under them last year and hopefully will have a strong season this year,” Zapinski said.
Coach: Autumn Ratliff (second season)
Last year’s record: 0-7-1
Top returning player: Emma Tate, jr., P.
Top new players: Audrey Lopatka, jr.; Kiley Shahady, fr.; Moriah Husted, fr.
Worth noting: The Warriors, like last season, are fielding a JV team. The program received a boost with transfers Lopatka and Shahady.
“We have a young program as we are starting from the ground up again since COVID,” Ratliff said. We are planning on being more competitive this year with some of the new additions to our team as well as having so many returners.”
Worth noting: Ravanesi, varsity assistant last season and JV coach for five years prior to that, takes over a Falcons team that won 20 games and reached a regional final last season. All-State shortstop Ellie Hubbard has graduated and is now at Wisconsin, but everybody else is back for the Falcons. Syracuse commit and All-State third baseman Lauren Vaughn, who hit .457 with 12 doubles, eight homers, 32 RBIs and 39 runs scored last season, is currently injured but Ravanesi hopes to have her back by mid to late April. Also back in the fold is all-conference pitcher Metz, all-conference catcher Harveth and all-conference outfielder Sipowich.
“After coming off a 20-7 season last year, needless to say we have some expectations to uphold and work to get done,” Ravanesi said. “This program is definitely moving in the right direction. We had a good season last year, but they do not hang banners for good seasons, so we cannot be complacent. We need to be hungry and show up and play ball.”
Worth noting: Sowonik will lead the way behind the plate with her positive attitude. She was up with the Tigers’ varsity last year but tore her ACL a month before the season. Her freshman year, Sowonik tore the ACL in her other knee, so this will be her first season playing for WW South. “Her upbeat attitude is contagious and she will lead a relatively new group of pitchers this season,” Pawlak said. The Tigers return their entire infield, so it should be a strength with Adamek at shortstop, Schusler at second base, Siebert at first base and all-conference third baseman Jensen, who hit .315 last season with a .419 on-base percentage. Jensen and all-conference outfielder Leonard, who hit .381 with a .437 on-base percentage, will lead the way offensively. Lutes logged 18 innings in the circle last season and will share pitching duties with sophomore Maddie Pool and freshman Presley Wright.
“We’ll look for [Jensen and Leonard) to improve on their seasons from last year and solidify our offense,” Pawlak said. “We’re excited to watch some other girls step up and make similar strides that these two made last year.”
Worth noting: All-conference selections Kulczynski, a Stetson commit, and Hayes, who will play in college at Elmhurst, lead Willowbrook’s returning players. Kenny, who starred on Willowbrook’s sectional championship volleyball team and West Suburban Gold champion basketball team, is among the top additions to the softball team.
“The last two weeks of practice have shown me the potential this team could reach if we continue to put the work in,” Karos said. “Our seniors and juniors are all great leaders that can continue to push and help our underclassmen continue to improve with each practice. Our goal for this season is to compete, decrease mental errors that cost us some games last year and get the ball in play to force teams to play defense. I believe with this lineup we will be able to do that and surprise some teams along the way.”
Coach: Brendan Holba (third season)
Last year’s record: 20-3, 11-1 West Suburban Silver, first place
Top new players: Avery Kanouse, fr., P; Caitlin Ledbetter, fr., IF/OF.
Worth noting: The Dukes will have a different look in the circle this season with Suburban Life Player of the Year and All-Stater Lauren Derkowski now at Michigan. A large group of returning players provides a strong core for a team that won a Silver title and reached a sectional final last year. Fujiwara, ICA second-team All-State and York’s top Female Junior Athlete last year, hit .400 with nine doubles, seven homers and 28 RBIs and is back to anchor the lineup. Also returning is Bingham, ICA third-team All-State after hitting .382 with seven doubles and 11 RBIs. Sandoval was York’s leadoff hitter last season and hit .340 while going 15-for-15 in stolen base attempts. Jensen spent a lot of time at first base last season but will be looked to provide significant innings in the circle this spring. She went 2-1 and logged 14 innings last year, striking out 14. Heiss anchored the outfield as a sophomore and could be in store for a bigger season with a retooled swing.
“We will need to fill some gaps at catcher and pitcher but we think that we have a strong young core in those positions that we can build into a very strong battery,” Holba said. “After a total lost year and a season limited to just conference games, there is great excitement to get back to a full 35 game schedule. It will be a tough nonconference slate, but we are looking to compete with some of the state’s best this spring.”
I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.