A new season means there are new players and new opportunities for them to earn a place in the starting lineup.
Farmington High School’s softball team has plenty of both. More than half of the 14 players are new to the varsity level.
Coach Stefanie Volpe has been working in recent weeks to put six returning players and eight newcomers into the right positions in preparation for the 2015 season.
The Falcons will have a new starting pitcher; however, junior Maria Vainer, who was the backup to Sarah Gallagher, did appear in nearly half the games.
She and freshman Robyn Banks likely will split the pitching duties. Banks, who plays travel ball for the South Lyon Stealth, has a five-pitch selection and needs to perfect those pitches, according to Volpe.
“Maria, based on her grade, has earned the right to start the first game,” Volpe said. “Robyn brings speed to the table. Maria has added another pitch to her arsenal and has worked on her speed as well.
“At this point, I’d almost consider them a staff. Every day will be a competition. I don’t think either one has earned the role of ‘You’re my ace; you’re my starter.’ We’ll see how it plays out in the first game or two.”
Though she’s only a sophomore, Danielle Petras is a veteran catcher. She started all last year and batted .347 with seven doubles, scored 16 runs and drove in 12 more.
“She’s one of my top returning players,” Volpe said. “Even as a sophomore, she’s a leader. I expect her to have the same year she had. She’s one of those kids you coach, but you don’t have to coach her.”
Middle infield solid
The Falcons should be strong up the middle with seniors Alli Gambill and Claire Knie returning at second base and shortstop, respectively.
Gambill is good with the glove and can hit with power when she connects, Volpe said. Knie, who batted just under .300, is a four-year varsity player who also has earned her place as a team leader, according to her coach.
Graduation left major voids at the corners of the infield with the loss of veteran players Jackie Reynolds and Rachel Walsh.
Either junior Caira Trapp or senior Alexa Slourre, both whom are returning players, will play first base, but Volpe hasn’t decided on a starter.
Slourre is the only player with varsity experience in the outfield, and that could be the determining factor. She likely will be needed there.
Trapp was injured and didn’t play all last season. As a freshman, she played in the outfield. She was the only other player besides all-stater Sarah Gutknecht (Michigan State) to hit a home run that year.
“She has a good glove and will make sure the ball doesn’t get by her,” Volpe said. “She’s on an accelerated course to speed herself back up to where a junior should be at this point.”
Hot corner, outfield
Sophomore Haylee Butka moves up from the JV and will replace Walsh at third base.
“You tell her what to do, and she goes and does it,” Volpe said. “She’s fluid and smooth defensively with very soft hands. She’s able to field the ball.”
Sophomore Emily Moilanen is a varsity newcomer who will play in center field. Volpe is working with her to become a left-handed hitter to take advantage of Moilanen’s speed from that side of the plate.
If Slourre returns to right field, freshman Lauren Johnson will be in left field.
“Alexa will find her way into the lineup,” Volpe said. “It’s just a matter of what position she’ll play that day.”
The other varsity players are senior outfielder Alyssa Collins, junior infielder Natalie Nuttall, sophomore catcher Abbie Radomski and freshman utility player Kennedy Rogers.
Goal is to have fun
The Falcons, who were 6-29 last year, are in the OAA White Division again with Avondale, Berkley, Bloomfield Hills, Harrison, Oxford, Seaholm, Stoney Creek and West Bloomfield.
Farmington opens the season with a doubleheader at Bloomfield Hills on Thursday, April 16.
“We’re young and that concerns me,” Volpe said. “We don’t have a lot of varsity experience coming back. I think a lot of other teams are in the same boat.
“We’ll be competitive. If we do what we’re supposed to do and play fundamentally sound softball, we’ll definitely have a chance to win more than six games this year.
“I’m excited about the team we’ve put together. It was nice to have a tryout and not just get what you get. We selected 14 girls we thought were worthy of this experience.
“We’re hoping it’s a fun season. Everybody wants to have fun, but you have to win to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not playing the game right.”