CALEDONIA – Back-to-back Central District tournament appearances have the River Valley softball team especially hungry for success.
The Lady Vikes were 17-6 a year ago and seven veterans have returned from that squad.
“We have a very strong core of returning players,” said eighth-year coach Phil Shepler (125-49 entering this season). “We have a solid pitcher (Shalynn Call) and a solid defense, we have good hitters back from a team which batted .402 last season, and we have good team speed.
“We are starting a couple of freshmen, but they are very talented girls. Our team is also very focused on our team goals.”
Those goals are a Mid Ohio Athletic Conference title, a Central District crown, a .375 batting average, and a 20-win season.
Shepler lost Grace Baker (.468 batting average), Makenzie Schmidt (.519) and Bailey Howard (.388) to graduation from last year’s team.
The returnees are Call, a junior who drove in 21 runs and had a 16-6 pitching record with a 2.30 earned run average and 67 strikeouts; sophomore Claire Nicholson (.447, 40 RBIs); junior Cambry Arnold (.442, 34 runs); sophomore Madi Myers (.315, 16 RBIs); sophomore Morgan Lott (.385, 18 RBIs); junior Alexis Reichardt (10 RBIs); and senior Alyssa Johnson (.333).
The Lady Vikes have also been helped by the play of sophomores Brittany Ewalt, Casady Starkey and Amy Poorman, and freshmen Kylie Lang and Kayla Whitley.
“Keys for us will be to stay healthy, strong pitching and defense and clutch hitting,” Shepler said.
Coach Randy Leach’s Vikes have struggled at the plate this spring and out of the gate with a 1-6 record.
“We need to have players who hit in clutch situations,” said Leach, who had a 22-year mark of 336-185 coming into this season. “Experience has been a problem. We have six new varsity starters.”
That’s because RV lost Cy Perry (.474, 24 RBIs), Colby Carlson (.372, 18 RBIs), Jimmy Longo (.345), Kyle Mathey (.342, 22 RBIs); Jared Miller (14 RBIs); and Caleb Watkins (1-0, 1.68 ERA) to graduation.
Leach’s returning letter winners from last year’s 17-6 team are all seniors.
They are pitcher/outfielder Alec Branstetter (4-1, 1.69, 13 RBIs); second baseman Logan Fetter (.240), pitcher/outfielder Matt Wilch (.333, 13 RBIs, 3-1, 1.65), and pitcher/outfielder Zach Lehner (4-0, 1.47).
Other key athletes this spring have been junior catcher Aaron Berg; sophomore shortstop/pitcher Bryon Doubikin; sophomore infielder/catcher/pitcher Tom Poorman; senior first baseman Logan Stockdale; junior first baseman/pitcher Weston Perry; junior third baseman/pitcher Alan Roth; senior outfielder/pitcher Travis Eickemeyer; freshman outfielder/catcher/pitcher Karac Doubikin; and sophomore infielder/pitcher Jerrett Reichardt.
“We need good starting pitching and need to have players step into important varsity roles,” Leach said. “We do have three returning starting pitchers who combined for 11 wins last season. We want to improve week by week.”
Girls coach Kevin Keller lost a ton to graduation in the form of Hannah Campbell (3,200 state champ and record holder), county and conference shot put champ Emily Griffith; and Sarah Branstetter (regional discus qualifier).
Talent, however, remains at River Valley.
Returning seniors are 800-meter state qualifier Kayla Radcliff; hurdler Kelsey Taylor; state fourth-place finisher in the pole vault Savannah Amato; and sprinter Marina Maynard.
Junior Amanda Spears, a county pole vault champ, is also back along with sophomores Gigi Gooding (seventh in regional with the 4×800 team); Anna Hopkins (sprinter, long jumper); Shelby Kyrk (weights); Allison Lehner (4×800); Christie Longo (weights); Courtney Spring (long jump, discus); and Brooke Edington (county 100-meters champ).
Other key athletes are juniors Taelor Rogers and Bre Law (sprinters); sophomores Megan Branstetter (distances) and Abby Crabtree (weight); and freshmen Mikaylee Hall (sprints), Erica Hyre (sprints, hurdles), Kayla Levering (weights), Jaylynn Lewis (distances), Payton Meadows (sprints), Hannah Reiff (distances), Trisha Snyder (pole vault), and Vanessa Williamson (weights).
“We need to keep our athletes healthy and build balance and depth throughout the year,” Keller said. “We want to perform our best at the end of the year at the league, district, regional and state meets.”
As with the girls squad, graduation cost the boys team quite a bit but there is still a lot of returning talent.
Thrower Eric Bell, sprinter De Clarke (fourth in state in 400 and school record holder), sprinter Ethan Douglas (school record holder), sprinter Jacob Stayner and distance runner Wyatt Uresti all graduated.
Several seniors are leading the way this spring for 15th-year coach Aric Smith. They are distance winners Tyler Bender, Ethan Clewell, Turner Reiff and Luke Waterman; sprinters Tim Davis and Efren Silva (member of school record 4×400); and pole vaulters Craig Martin (school record holder at 15-8 and state fourth-place finisher) and Ben Waterman (sixth at state meet at 15-5).
Sophomore letter winners are hurdler/sprinter David Blanton (member of school record 4×100 and 4×200); distance runners Colin Chapman and Josh Rivers; thrower Cort Klingel; and sprinter Greg Perez (4×100, 4×200).
Also contributing are senior Tag Edgell (thrower); sophomores Ryan Byrd (sprinter), throwers Brison Cummins and Noah Glaze, and distance runner Matthew Starrs; and freshmen Jeffrey Brady, Logan Glosser, Klay Seckel, Austin Snook and Tyler Spears.
“It is always a goal of any River Valley track team to improve through the season and send as many athletes through the postseason meets,” Smith said. “We will be defending our championships in the Bucyrus, Kenton, Upper Sandusky, Marion, Marion County, MOAC and district meets.”
Graduation was not unkind to 12-year tennis coach Sherry Jenkins. She lost only one boy, second singles player Nate Stevenson.
Returning lettermen are junior first singles player Luke Hundley (2-10 last year); sophomore second singles Manuel Acuna (6-6 at doubles last year); senior third singles Thomas Starrs (2-10); senior Lance DeLong and sophomore Jon Culler (6-6) at first doubles; and sophomore second doubles Jordyn Jackson (5-7).
Nic Gottshall, a senior, is playing second doubles this season with Jackson.
“We want to finish in the top three of the MOAC and better our record of a year ago (3-9),” Jenkins said. “We want to use our experience to our advantage and win the top courts. Experience should be a big bonus this year.”