PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kaneland, Jr., CF
Callaghan will be looking to build off a sophomore season in which she batted .500 with 28 RBIs for the Knights, who had 31 victories in 2012.
Kaneland, So., 3B
Kaneland isn't banking on a sophomore slump from Kuefler, although slumping even a little from a .541, 51-RBI season still would be pretty solid.
St. Francis, Sr., IF
Spartans coach Ralph Remus touts Fernandez as one of the top shortstops around. She batted .571 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 2012.
St. Charles North, Jr., SS/P
The twin sister of boys basketball player Alec Goetz – who North coach Tom Poulin just coached on the hardwood – brings plenty of versatility to the table.
St. Charles East, Sr., RF
East coach Kelly Horan's optimism for the season hinges in part on Lorenzini, a seasoned player with an impressive arm and power-hitting prowess.
Burlington Central, So., P
Wisconsin recruit had 15 wins and a 1.62 in her debut season, helping Central to 28 wins and a 3A regional title.
St. Charles East, Sr., SS
A varsity contributor since her freshman season, the Winona State (Minn.) recruit batted .326 and stole 40 bases as a junior.
St. Charles North, Jr., OF/P
Dual threat committed to Northwestern had 10 wins and a 2.20 ERA in the circle while batting .447 with 36 steals, helping North to last season's UEC River crown.
St. Francis, Jr., P
St. Charles product collected 25 of the Spartans' 29 wins last season, compiling a 1.35 ERA for the SCC Blue champs.
Batavia, Sr., OF
While Ryan's home run totals weren't as prolific in 2012 as in her sophomore season, the Dayton recruit still brings plenty of pop. The 'Dogs should need it as they break in a new pitching staff.
Geneva, Sr., 3B
Entering her fourth season as a starter, Searcy contributed a program-record 36 RBIs last season. She "looks great in practice," Vikings coach Greg Dierks said.
Geneva, Sr., OF
Another four-year starter, Weitzel scored a program-record 40 runs last year, igniting an attack that looks to be just as ripe with run producers in 2013.
1. Can Kaneland build on last season's breakthrough?
Absolutely. The Knights return a strong nucleus of talent from last season's 31-7 Northern Illinois Big 12 East champion, and players such as Allyson O'Herron (shortstop), Lanie Callaghan (center field), Lexi Roach (left field) and Paige Kuefler (third base) are poised to surpass a 2012 run to the sectional semifinals. "Hopefully, we have developed some confidence from last season that will carry over to this season," Knights coach Brian Willis said. "We learned how to play as a team and win the close game last season, and hope we haven't forgotten."
2. How does the UEC River race shape up?
With returners including Northwestern-bound pitcher/outfielder Sabrina Rabin in tow from last season, St. Charles North likes its chances for a repeat. Equally optimistic St. Charles East and Geneva recognize the North Stars' depth, but definitely believe they have what it takes to shake things up at the top. Geneva coach Greg Dierks has placed an added emphasis on defense, which has been a trouble spot in past seasons. At East, the Saints are eyeing the fourth season of at least 20 wins under fifth-year coach Kelly Horan. "North is kind of same-old, same-old," Saints right fielder Olivia Lorenzini said. "They didn't lose many girls, but I think it's going to be a good competition."
3. Who are some of the new coaches in the Chronicle area?
The list starts in Batavia, where 12-year assistant Lupe Castellanos ascends to the role of head coach and happily inherits senior leadership that includes Katie Ryan, Sami Villarreal and Seleana Kweder. Burlington Central also finds a familiar face back in the dugout, as former longtime coach Wade Maisto replaces Cray Allen, who stepped down during the summer to take the head coaching job at Harper College. At Wheaton Academy, Paul Gagliano takes over a program that will shift to Class 3A this spring.
4. Is 50 stolen bases doable for any of the area's top thieves?
Fifty certainly is a round number and a benchmark for any player enthused about success in the running game, but a player would need to be part of a club that advances deep in the postseason to threaten it. St. Charles East's Lexi Perez (40), Wheaton Academy's Marissa Gagliano (39) and St. Charles North's Sabrina Rabin (36) were among the steals leaders last season. Rosary's Samantha Phelps also is a threat to run and is on base often.
5. Where do these freshmen get the nerve?
The advent of travel ball and showcases has elevated youngsters' development throughout the years. A handful of teams have promoted freshmen to begin the season, including St. Charles East, where outfielder Katie Kolb took the initiative to attend summer camp. "Right away, she was on the radar of, 'Hey, this kid is going to be something special,' " Saints coach Kelly Horan said.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com