John Kloehn must feel like he’s sitting on a top-notch thoroughbred ready to burst away from a high-quality cast of racehorses.
Now he just needs Mother Nature to open the starting gate on the 2013 prep softball season.
The Oshkosh West coach returns seven players from last year’s Wildcat squad that racked up 17 wins who earned some all-conference honors and welcomes a talented group of freshmen into the mix as well. That has created a high level of anticipation for this season and now it’s just a matter of waiting until it gets going.
“Having that kind of experience is huge. You can’t replace that,” Kloehn said. “This is a really good group of kids. I think it’s going to be fun to watch.”
The Wildcats finished fifth in the Fox Valley Association last season with a 12-6 mark. But as the teams above them in the final standings lost players to graduation, the West roster stayed almost completely intact.
Among the returning players for the Wildcats are first-team all-FVA selection Lexi Holsten and second-team honorees Chantal Bougie, Marina Hereford, Meg Krautsch and the battery of Callie Troutfetter and Kelly Wallace.
Troutfetter may be the lynch-pin to the Wildcats’ success as the hurler enters her fourth year on varsity.
“She just keeps us in every game,” Kloehn said. “She’s getting to the point now where she’s really finessing the corners. She worked hard during the offseason and she looks really good right now. I think Callie is going to have a nice year.”
And added benefit is that Troutfetter will once again be working with Wallace at catcher. The two seniors have a strong chemistry on the field and their work together helps keep opposing hitters off balance.
The biggest concern regarding the pitching for Kloehn is to not overwork Troutfetter, especially with the backlog of games the late start of the season could cause.
“The way these games are packing in, the main thing is to keep her fresh,” said Kloehn, who will use freshman Shannon Horel to ease some of the innings burden on Troutfetter. “We want to keep her in a good position where she helps us out.”
Along with Horel, Kloehn also expects freshmen Bailey Schultz and Hailey Hendricks to contribute to the varsity squad this season, joining an already talented lineup.
It won’t be an easy route to the top of the FVA, though.
The conference returns a state qualifier in Appleton East that brings back its best pitcher, while three other teams — Kaukauna, Kimberly and West — reached the sectionals.
“It’s going to be a dogfight, but I really like our chances,” Kloehn said. “I think we’re focused. I think we have a lot of energy. And I think it could be our time.”
The Spartans stepped up into the middle of the pack in the FVA last year and head coach Anne Stanislawski sees this year’s crew taking another leap forward.
“The goal is to win more than we did last year,” said Stanislawski, whose team finished 9-14 overall and 6-12 in the FVA. “We have a core group of sophomores coming back and it depends how they produce.”
Leading that list, is returning second-team all-conference hurler Lexi Reetz, who will once again be an anchor on the mound for North.
Fellow sophomores Cassie Buerger will move to shortstop for North, while Christine Hamer returns at third base and both players should be key contributors at the plate.
Freshman Ellerie Laasch will step in at second base for the Spartans and could provide a boost as well.
Spencer Rolph is no stranger to wearing a coach’s whistle, however, this will be his first varsity head coach assignment on the softball field as he takes over the Knights program.
Lourdes finished third in the Trailways North with an 8-4 record, while posting a 12-9 overall mark.
Sophomore pitcher/shortstop Jayne Held is a returning first-team all-conference selection and will share time on the mound — and on the infield — with Karley Bartlett.
Bartlett is one of the team’s co-captains along with Allison Reischl, a top hitter for the Knights who will play either at first base or catcher.
The Tigers came up win one short of earning a spot in the state tournament and lost its all-conference battery of Ashley Graf and Lily Jorgensen, the player of the year in the EVC.
However, Ripon does bring back first team selections at shortstop with Kayla Putzer and in centerfield with Brooke Brewer along with second-team selection Caitlin Dolata, who will slide into Jorgensen’s old spot behind the dish.
Head coach Jeff Krentz also welcomes back four-year starters Jordan Krentz — an honorable mention all-EVC selection last year — at first base and Alyssa Lind at second base.
Junior Libby Borgardt is expected to take over for Graf on the mound.
The Wolves’ roster has some strong veteran experience on it as they look to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish in the EWC.
Abby King leads the list of returning players for the Wolves after earning first team all-EVC honors last year. Senior catcher Ashley Breister returns for her third season on varsity after earning third-team honors last year, while senior Mikala Russell was an honorable mention selection and will bring experience to the mound.
Senior Morgan Herbst also returns to the lineup for the Wolves, while head coach Tim Whitford also expects freshmen Annika Gereau and Hannah Peerenboom to contribute this season.
First-year coach Dave Polakowski inherits a veteran roster that includes nine seniors, led by returning second-team all-EVC selections Maddie Koster and Bethany Hietpas.
Koster will start at third base for the Indians, while fellow co-captain Summer Sternitske will hold down the shortstop role.
The Indians also sport a roster with three pitchers that have varsity experience in Katelyn Marks, Allie Vlachina and Faith Klawitter, which could be useful as the schedule gets loaded up with games.
The Foxes struggled scoring runs last season, but do return a trio of players that should help turn that around this season.
Shortstop Emily Kasuboski leads the way for Omro after earning second-team all-Flyway honors last season, while catcher Paige Potratz and third baseman Lauren Fischer will also be counted on to produce offensively for the Foxes.
Head coach Danielle Schmick is also looking for newcomer Jessie Hogan to contribute at the varsity level this season.