The time is now for the Eaglecrest and Grandview softball teams.
The Raptors and Wolves, Aurora’s only qualifiers for last season’s Class 5A state softball tournament, each have back nearly their entire lineups for 2014 and seek to put the lessons they’ve learned over the past few years into play.
Coach Yvette Hendrian’s team won the Centennial League championship and finished 20-3 last season, but still knows her team can take another step forward. The presence of a veteran lineup that has seen both the good and the bad of playing in the postseason could finally bring it all together for the Raptors.
“We have a lot of upperclassmen who have that urgency that now that they are seniors, they want to go out with a bang; their a little bit more focused so far,” said Hendrian, now in her third season with Eaglecrest after coming over from Rangeview. “So far it has been really cool to see that. They are hungry. They were calling me in June ready to start.”
While the stunning way the Raptors exited last season’s 5A state tournament — a 19-4 loss in four innings to a Fossil Ridge team that socked five home runs and 17 hits in just four at-bats — can be in part dismissed as just a “video game” type of occurrence, Hendrian wants to make sure her team is better prepared to face top competition.
To that end, a change in the set up of the Centennial League schedule allows teams such as Eaglecrest and coach Dave Thies’ veteran-laden Grandview group to improve the strength of their schedules. Traditionally, league teams have played each other twice and teams in the top half of the league usually post lopsided wins over the teams at the bottom, which does neither team any good in terms of competition and eats up 14 of the 19 allowed contests for the season.
This season’s format sees every Centennial League team play each other once, while the top four teams from last season — Eaglecrest, Grandview, Cherokee Trail and Mullen — play each other twice, though only one counts in league standings. The four games it freed up allowed the Raptors to add teams such as powers Douglas County, Dakota Ridge and Brighton to the schedule, along with a trip to the loaded Erie Tournament.
“Our schedule is definitely going to be more challenging, which will definitely help us later on when we come up against teams like Fossil Ridge,” Hendrian said. “I’m excited about it. It should help us get a better seed in the playoffs.”
The Raptors are equipped for another stellar season given they lost only shortstop Rayle Glover among players who played significantly last season. Though replacing Glover’s team-leading .532 batting average and strong defense will be tough, Eaglecrest has the depth to do it. Senior Jordyn Wiatrak is healthy after missing much of last season due to injury and could play anywhere in a veteran infield that also includes seniors Mikayla Faulkner, Michenzie Pace, Taylor Menard and Brooke Morris.
Senior speedster Lauren Buckley sets the tone for a dangerous batting order at the top and directs a strong outfield group, while a strong defense backs Hendrian’s pair of junior ace pitchers in right-hander Sarah Bushman and lefty Alexa Romero.
Thies — whose Grandview team also made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament — also lost a small number of seniors, which should make the Wolves a definite threat to Eaglecrest in the chase for the Centennial League crown.
Grandview is anchored by a pair of hugely-talented seniors in shortstop Emily Supercynski — a Seton Hall pledge who is healed up after suffering an injury in club softball over the summer — and Kat Maynard, who hit a scorching .483 last season and is expected to shift from third base to catcher to fill in for graduated Kelsey Biaggi, plus another in outfielder Ande Troutman (who is expected to return later in the season when she recovers from injury), along with experience junior ace pitcher Courtney Browne.
An influx of strong freshmen only bolsters a Wolves lineup that has a number of other varsity-experienced players as well.
“Our main goal is always to go to state and win it; we’ve got four portions of our season — non-league, league, regionals and then state — and we’re taking it one season at a time to see where we end up,” Thies said. “Our ultimate goal is to be in that final game, so we’re going to have to work for it and play very consistent softball.”
Coach Dick Hormann’s Cherokee Trail team should again challenge to be in the upper portion of the league standings, despite graduating a class that included four All-Centennial League first team selections from a season ago.
Returning cornerstones for the Cougars include senior Miranda Davis — a second-team all-league pick in 2013 — junior Kourtney Kellogg and a slew of sophomores, including Chloe Knapp, Skylar Higens, Emily Bell and Alyssa Yoshida.
Among other Centennial League teams, coach Mark Siemer expects Smoky Hill to be significantly improved this season despite losing several talented players to graduation multi-sport athletes choosing to focus on other sports. Second team all-league pitcher Maddie Siemer returns and the arrival of versatile freshman Emilie Roberts as a bonafide catcher could help her become even more effective.
Junior Megan Sapp and sophomore Mattie Kennedy got plenty of experience last season that could come into play for the Buffaloes.
At Regis Jesuit, veteran coach Charlie Williams is very short on numbers due to a massive number of athletes at the Girls Division playing other sports, so he’ll need to swing players back and forth from varsity to junior varsity to make sure he’s covered.
Williams has an outstanding talent in speedy outfielder Giana DeVito, one of only two seniors on the team, while sophomore Taylor Bush and freshman Erin Pendleton on the mound should help the Raiders hang in games from a pitching standpoint, which is important given how stacked the Continental League is this season.
Rangeview graduated some significant seniors, but junior Angela Cordova — a Texas Tech commitment — is back in the fold, along with senior catcher Melanie Flynn. Gateway and Hinkley both look to improve in the second seasons under coaches Chance Siegele and Bonnie Martinez, respectively, while Cole Hardy is in his first season at Aurora Central.
Another team almost identical in personnel from last season is Vista PEAK, which looks to make a big move up in the 4A ranks.
Without the loss of a single senior from a team that finished 9-9-1 in 2013 — a huge leap forward from the previous season — coach Scott Lilley is thrilled to see what the Bison are capable of, especially considering how much experience his players got in club softball.
The core of seniors Shelby Paul, Molly Sizemore and Arrianna Zawatzki is packed with ability and leadership, while sophomore right-handed pitcher Lauren Blackwood seems ready to build on an outstanding season that saw her rack up 12o strikeouts.
“Getting after the league title would be hands down our primary goal and working hard to get into postseason play for the first time,” Lilley said.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2014 AURORA SOFTBALL KEY DATES, INFORMATION
Key dates: Aug. 11 — Practice begins; Aug. 15 — Regular season begins; Oct. 4 — Regular season completed; Oct. 11 — 3A-5A regional tournaments; Oct. 17-18 — 3A-5A state tournament (Aurora Sports Park)
Regional qualifying: Eighteen automatic state qualifiers plus 14 at-large teams for field of 32, divided into eight four-team regionals.
Aurora coaches: Aurora Central — Cole Hardy (1st season); Cherokee Trail — Dick Hormann (12th season); Eaglecrest — Yvette Hendrian (3rd season); Gateway — Chance Siegele (2nd season); Grandview — Dave Thies (3rd season); Hinkley — Bonnie Martinez (2nd season); Overland — Kelly Jones-Wagy (3rd season); Rangeview — Bob Bushman (3rd season); Regis Jesuit — Charlie Wiliams (6th season); Smoky Hill — Mark Siemer (3rd season); Vista PEAK — Scott Lilley (3rd season)
Aurora players to watch: Sarah Alvarado, Gateway, jr., INF; Kayla Banks, Smoky Hill, fr., INF/P; Laura Blackwood, Vista PEAK, soph., P/INF; Courtney Browne, Grandview, jr.. P/INF; Lauren Buckley, Eaglecrest, sr., OF; Taylor Bush, Regis Jesuit, soph., P/INF; Sarah Bushman, Eaglecrest, jr., P; Miranda Davis, Cherokee Trail, sr., OF; Giana DeVito, Regis Jesuit, sr., OF; Mikayla Faulkner, Eaglecrest, sr., INF; Iva Griffiths, Gateway, jr., C; Kourtney Kellogg, Cherokee Trail, jr., C; Kat Maynard, Grandview, sr., C/INF; Taylor Menard, Eaglecrest, sr., INF; Shelby Paul, Vista PEAK, sr., C; Erin Pendleton, Regis Jesuit, fr., P; Emilie Roberts, Smoky Hill, fr., C/INF, P; Alexa Romero, Eaglecrest, jr.,P; Megan Sapp, Smoky Hill, jr., INF; Maddie Siemer, Smoky Hill, jr., P/INF; Molly Sizemore, Vista PEAK, sr., INF; Emily Supercynski, Grandview, sr., INF; Katie Templeton, Regis Jesuit, OF, sr.; Loghan Thomas, Grandview, jr., INF; Ande Troutman, Grandview, sr., OF; Alexandra Velazquez, Grandview, soph., OF; Alyssa Yoshida, Cherokee Trail, soph., INF; Arrianna Zawatzki, Vista PEAK, sr., INF
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at email@example.com or 303-750-7555. Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel