While Grandview’s Class 5A state softball championship caused the Wolves to celebrate, it also brought joy to other teams in Aurora.
Especially heartened by the Centennial League’s first softball title since 2005 came two league teams — Eaglecrest and Cherokee Trail — which played neck and neck with Grandview the entire way.
Coach Yvette Hendrian’s Raptors have been long been stocked with the talent it takes to win, but things haven’t fallen quite right. Undeterred, Eaglecrest has qualified for and won at least one game in the 5A state tournament
“It’s cool to see that our league is a contender and I think we’ll all be contenders this year,” Hendrian said. “Our seniors are ready. They’ve got a different hunger and they are determined to do something more this year. I don’t know if it’s just because they are seniors or if Grandview winning state had anything to do with that, but they are focused and intense.”
Two of the Raptors’ key seniors return on the mound in the lefty-right combo of Alexa Romero (a Syracuse commitment) and Sarah Bushman, while Chelsea Gorman, Tayler Mashburn and Destynee Morgan all will play prominent roles in the field.
Slugging sophomore Kailey Wilson at first base is a massive threat in the middle of the batting order, while Hendrian notes an all around increase in speed that should make Eaglecrest even more dangerous.
A more relaxed outlook also should help.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get to the final game in the past, but I’m going to have fun with my seniors and watch them,” Hendrian said.
Before Grandview, Eaglecrest was the last state softball champion for the league, winning in 2005.
Cherokee Trail enters a new era after the only coach the school has ever had, Dick Hormann, stepped down following last season.
Hormann led the Cougars to a 170-86-1 overall record in 12 seasons, a stretch that included four league championships and two trips to the state semifinals when the program was still in 4A.
Cherokee Trail plucked a new coach with semifinal experience of her own in Caley Mitchell, who led Castle View to the 5A Final Four last season.
Mitchell is still getting to know the players, but she’s found a handful of seniors such as Kourtney Kellogg ready to take ownership and a strong junior class led by pitchers Audrey Pickett and Emily Bell.
Kellogg, Pickett, senior Sydney Hinton, junior Skylar Higens (the team’s leading hitter last year with a .515 average) and sophomore Megan Medhus all made the All-Centennial League second team last season.
“There’s definitely a lot of talent here,” said Mitchell, who coached Castle View for the last three seasons. “I tried to come in with no expectations. I’ve found a lot of returning players and five seniors with high goals for the program and determination to make it further than they’ve gone.”
Some other Aurora softball programs don’t have state championships on their minds just yet, rather they hope to just earn an elusive spot in the 32-team postseason, which includes 18 qualifiers based on league finish and 14 at-large bids decided by a seeding committee.
If coach Mark Siemer’s Smoky Hill team can build on the momentum of the 2014 season, in which the Buffs won nine games after winning five the previous season, they could find themselves in the playoffs.
“We’re optimistic, we have a lot of girls back and we’re hoping we’re better and we can make the playoffs out of our tough conference,” Siemer said.
Among those back for Smoky Hill is Siemer’s daughter, Maddie, a pitcher who earned All-Centennial League first team honors last season as a utility player. She recently gave her verbal commitment to the Colorado School of Mines.
Led by Centennial League Coach of the Year Kelly Jones-Wagy, Overland has higher hopes with the arrival of freshman pitcher Gracey Martinez.
Only three players with varsity experience return, however, with senior outfielder Annabel Spoerl playing a central role in helping the young players adjust to varsity softball.
Outside of the Centennial League, Rangeview is under new leadership in Paul Reil, who inherits a team with nearly its entire starting lineup back from a team that finished 8-10 overall and 4-5 in the EMAC.
Among that group is three returning all-league selections in slugger Angela Cordova (first team), infielder Kaylee Adams (second team) and outfielder Leslie French (honorable mention).
“We are returning seven of nine starters from last season, so we hope to have a successful, exciting season,” said Reil, who has enlisted the help of former Rangeview baseball coach Mike Hamilton as an assistant.
Regis Jesuit coach Charlie Williams has seen his numbers doubled since last season, with a whole slew of freshmen pushing for spots among a roster that returns all but two players.
Sophomore pitcher Erin Pendleton returns to follow up a season in which she averaged nearly a strikeout per inning pitched and earned four of the Raiders’ five wins, while senior catcher Frances Butsch is expected to be a main figure in leading a young group.
“We only lost two seniors and after this year, we’ll only lose one,” Williams said. “We should be good for the next two or three years with this group, two for sure. My hope is this year to be in the top six and qualify for the playoffs, which we haven’t done in awhile.”
Aurora’s only 4A program, Vista PEAK, posted a 12-6 record last season and returns an established pitcher in junior right-hander Laura Blackwood, who helped lead the Bison to a 12-6 mark last season.
A number of freshmen arrived and bolstered coach Scott Lilley’s optimism about the season in the wake of the graduation of five seniors who had helped build the program.
“If our camp is any indication of how we’ll do this season, then I’m really looking forward to seeing what this group of young ladies can do,” Lilley said.
Second team All-EMAC performer Birungi Balijahe, a sophomore outfielder, is definitely a name to remember for coach Cole Hardy’s Aurora Central team.
Change Siegle returns to lead Gateway, while Jennifer Van Gundy was a late hire for Hinkley.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel