Yvette Hendrian could hardly contain herself when she took over the up-and-coming Eaglecrest softball team last season.
Hendrian is just short of doing cartwheels going into her second season, as she has back nearly her entire roster from a team that went 19-5, won the Centennial League championship and nearly knocked off powerhouse Legacy in the Class 5A state tournament.
With so much talent and optimism, Hendrian can’t wait to get her team on the field for the new season, which the Raptors will open on Aug. 20 at Regis Jesuit. The official start of the regular season for softball is Aug. 16.
“We feel good about our season and we feel like we have a target on our backs,” Hendrian said. “The girls are absolutely excited about getting going and they are on a mission. They got a taste of it last year and now they want more.”
Eaglecrest’s taste last season included a situation where it led Legacy — which had won five straight state championships — by two runs with two outs remaining to earn a trip to the 5A state semifinals.
The largeness of the moment got to the young team, as the veteran Lightning nicked then-freshman pitcher Sarah Bushman for three runs for a 5-4 walk-off win.
The Raptors have nearly every player from the group that suffered that defeat back.
Veteran infielder Taylor Kigerl-Hill’s bat and leadership will surely be missed — as will the contributions of junior Jordyn Wiatrak, who is expected to miss the entire season with an ACL tear — but the improvements of every other returning player should help make up for the losses.
The Raptors have very few seniors this season, with Rayle Glover — a versatile player expected to take over at shortstop — the most significant among them.
The junior class includes a pair of first team All-Centennial League performers in third baseman Mikayla Faulkner — Aurora’s top hitting regular last season with a .540 batting average — and outfielder Lauren Buckley, while among the sophomores are three all-league selections in pitchers Bushman and Alexa Romero as well as Tayler Mashburn.
Bushman and Romero combined for a 17-3 record with a 2.89 ERA a year ago, with 11 of the wins going to Bushman, who finished second in 5A with 138 strikeouts.
That’s just a portion of the returning talent at Hendrian’s disposal, a group she’ll be tougher on this season on a daily basis to get them ready for the big stage.
“I’m going to challenge them more and put them in more stressful situations in practice,” Hendrian said. “I had two freshmen pitchers who carried us last season who learned so much and everybody played on reputable summer teams, so I feel good about their progress.”
Winning the ever-improving Centennial League, however, will be a monumental task.
Lurking nearby are Grandview and Cherokee Trail, two other Aurora programs flush with young talent that are coming off trips to the state tournament themselves. The Cougars dealt the Raptors their lone league loss last season and the Wolves lost both times against Eaglecrest, but one defeat came by a single run.
Coach Dave Thies lost three seniors — including captains Shy Calicchia and Jaden Thompson — from a Grandview group that won its first game at the state tournament since 2003 before losing to eventual champion Loveland.
The losses are cushioned by the return of five All-Centennial League selections, bolstered by first teamers Courtney Browne on the mound and Emily Supercynski at shortstop.
Catcher Kelsey Biaggi, infielder Kat Maynard and outfielder Ande Troutman — all second team all-league picks — also are back in the fold for a team that is a definitely league title contender.
Coach Dick Hormann’s Cherokee Trail team can also make that claim, with a lineup that includes three four-year varsity starters in catcher Emily Sparks, infielder/pitcher Christian Bobian and infielder Zoe Hinton, plus all three starting pitchers back in Bobian and seniors Taylor Leill and Kayla Mashburn.
“We’ll be very good offensively and very good defensively, but as always, we’ll only go as far as our pitching takes us,” Hormann said.
Smoky Hill be a factor with the pitching tandem of sophomore Maddie Siemer and senior Nikki Sparacio, plus talented athletes in junior Lana Yeager and sophomore Sami Brooks.
Rangeview expects to be a factor in the EMAC, as coach Bob Bushman has back four players who earned all-league accolades, including sophomore infielder Angela Cordova, a first-teamer.
Regis Jesuit aims to compete in the Continental League despite sparse numbers, though coach Charlie Williams’ group includes solid seniors Stephanie Xavier and Lauren Caldwell.
Scott Lilley has seen marked improvement in his group for the second varsity season at Vista PEAK and believes the Bison can be much more competitive in the Colorado 7 with the arrival of freshman pitcher Laura Blackwood on top of the development of a strong core of juniors.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at [email protected] or 303-750-7555. Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2013 SOFTBALL SEASON
Key dates: Aug. 12 — Practice begins; Aug. 16 — Regular season begins; Oct. 5 — Regular season completed; Oct. 12 — 3A-5A regional tournaments; Oct. 18-19 — 3A-5A state tournament (Aurora Sports Park)
Aurora players to watch: Kelsey Biaggi, Grandview, sr.; Laura Blackwood, Vista PEAK, fr.; Christian Bobian, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Sami Brooks, Smoky Hill, soph.; Courtney Browne, Grandview, soph.; Lauren Buckley, Eaglecrest, jr.; Sarah Bushman, Eaglecrest, soph.; Lauren Caldwell, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Chelsea Clay, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Angela Cordova, Rangeview, soph.; Miranda Davis, Cherokee Trail, jr.; Giana DeVito, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Mikayla Faulkner, Eaglecrest, jr.; Rayle Glover, Eaglecrest, sr.; Zoe Hinton, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Taylor Leill, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Kat Maynard, Grandview, jr.; Shelby Paul, Vista PEAK, jr.; Alexa Romero, Eaglecrest, soph.; Maddie Siemer, Smoky Hill, soph.; Molly Sizemore, Vista PEAK, jr.; Nikki Sparacio, Smoky Hill, sr.; Emily Sparks, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Emily Supercynski, Grandview, jr.; Stephanie Xavier, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Lana Yeager, Smoky Hill, jr.; Alyssa Yoshida, Cherokee Trail, fr.; Arrianna Zawatzki, Vista PEAK, jr.