Coach: Jack O’Neill, seventh season
Last season: 10-9
Returning players: Giannie Cintron (Jr., P/SS/CF), Abby Manuel (Jr., P/C), Tara Lardiere (So., LF), Daria Marini (So., 2B), Yesha Parekh (Sr., OF), Brianna LaFace (So., C), Khushma Parekh (So., C/Inf.), Tabitha Hoats (Sr., 3B), Sam Warchal (So., 1B), Kristen Fernandez (So., SS), Kelsey Kurth (Sr., P/2B).
Newcomers: Kaitlyn Ferri (Sr., 1B), Rebeka Quagliato (Fr., SS/P).
Outlook: After posting their second straight winning season, the Runnin’ Jags did lose some key players, including graduated pitcher Ariel Conner and junior center fielder Kaycie Sconda, who will miss the season with a torn ACL. Cintron and Manuel will be doing the bulk of the pitching and both will be counted on offensively, O’Neill said, especially Cintron, who is just 25 hits shy of 100 for her career. Ferri, Lardiere and Yesha Parekh will also be key offensively. With some solid bats, Somerset Tech’s success will depend largely on the pitching, as the Jags seek the program’s first-ever state tournament victory.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
Coach: Mike Roof, second season
Last season: 14-13
Returning players: Steph Bade (Sr., SS/OF), Hayley Berliner (Sr., 3B/OF), Alex Foley (Sr., C/1B), Taylor Hendrzak (Sr., 2B), Olivia Hendrzak (Sr., OF), Madison Phillips (So., P).
Newcomers:Jamie Belfer (Fr., P), Alanna Namit (So., P/SS), Nicole Trezza (So., SS/OF), Katelynn Debbie (So., C/1B), Karly Deland (Jr., OF), Jackie Goldbeck (Jr., OF), Catherine Patterson (Jr., OF), Caleigh Lawrence (So., 1B/3B).
Outlook: Graduation was not kind to the Highlanders, who lost seven starters to the aisle last June, including third-team All-Area third baseman Carolynne Goldbeck. But the goals remain the same in Berkeley Heights, as GL looks to keep its string of five straight Union County Tournament finals alive. Phillips, who shared time in the circle last season, is back, and she will be joined in the circle by rookies Belder, a freshman, and Namit, a sophomore. Berliner, Foley and Bade, who are the veterans, are joined by Namit and Debbie in supplying the offensive pop, Roof said, with players like Trezza, Taylor Hendrzak, Olivia Hendrzak and Belfer setting the table.
Coach: Jill Fischman, third season
Last season: 5-13
Returning players: Elizabeth Mohan (Jr., 3B), Erica Boyd (Sr., SS), Tori Fusco (Jr., C), Natalie Zagorski (Jr., OF), Jodi Bull (Jr., 1B/2B/P), Karalyn McKnight (Jr., 2B/OF), Ally Wagner (So., OF/P), Micayla Bulger (So., OF), Arielle Cubbedge (Jr., OF), Sam Nau (So., OF), Michele Barrett (So., OF).
Newcomers: Chandana Dasari (So., OF), Sarah Bottazzi (Fr., OF), Victoria Gazaway (Fr.., C/OF),
Katie Harris (Fr., 1B), Kelly Doyle (Fr., SS), Amanda Maurer (Fr., P), Lillian Matsikoudis (Fr., OF),
Kiana Mellogno (Fr., OF).
Outlook: After enduring their first losing season in five years, the Pioneers are looking to get things moving in the right direction. New Providence is still a young team, with just one senior and handful of juniors on the roster. Boyd, the lone senior, and co-captain Zagorski, will lead the way as the Pioneers look to be competitive and show improvement every time they step on the field. With last year’s ace, Kelsey Quinn, deciding not to return for her senior year, Fischman said there will be two to three girls entering the season in a pitching rotation. It remains to be seen if one can emerge as the lead arm.
Coach: Janai Wade, first season
Last season: 3-13
Returning players: Ariel Brown (Sr., P/SS), Charlin Hall (Jr. CF), Alexis Coverley (Sr., 1B), Anniyan Bilal (Jr., SS), Diana Srajescu (Sr., P), Janayda Spencer (Jr. LF/C), Alexis Penn (Sr., RF/2B), Paulina DeLeon (Jr., 3B), Jennifer Peralta (Jr., RF).
Newcomers: Amara Swain (Fr., OF/3B), Karelis Acosta (Fr., 2B), Arianna Diaz (Fr., P).
Outlook: Wade takes the helm from Darren Salter, giving the Cardinals their fourth head coach in as many seasons, and Wade will attempt to bring some stability to a program that hasn’t won more than four games in a season since 2007. Wade said the expectation is for the Cardinals to be more competitive than in previous season, by developing players and working on honing situational awareness. The bottom line, she said, is to have as much fun as possible while learning more about the game of softball. Brown and Bilal are expected to be the leaders on and off the field.
Coach: Jess Hulnik, sixth season
Last season: 11-16
Returning players: Kyra Lockhart (So., 3B), Jess Waltsak (So., P), Erykah Robinson (Jr., OF), Erica Waltsak (Sr., 1B), Danielle Scheu (Sr., OF/P), Julia DiGiacomo (So., 2B).
Newcomers: Rachel Butler (Sr., OF), Danielle Hurtado (Sr., C), Emily Calabrese (Sr., Inf.), Kelly Magrino (Jr., Inf.), Lexi Brunetto (So., U), Emily Lockatell (So., U), Michaela Sullivan (So., U), Sarah Mcvoy (Fr., Inf.), Angie DiGiacomo (Fr., C/OF), Jess O’Neill (Fr., OF), Quinn Kekelis (Fr., U).
Outlook: While the Raiders did graduate several key players, including outfielder Arielle Zuaro and second baseman Maria Pansulla, they return both their ace in Jess Waltsak, and one of last year’s breakout stars in Lockhart, a sophomore who hit .481 with 35 RBIs last season and has already verballed to the University of Alabama. With some other returners, as well as a big group of newcomers, Scotch Plains-Fanwood is hoping to snap its seven-year streak of non-winning seasons, and make a strong run in the UCC, as well as the county and state tournaments, Hulnik said.
Coach: Ed Ryan, 10th season
Last season: 7-13
Returning players: Kirsten Burr (Sr., 1B), Jenny Herron (Sr., P/OF), Tyanna Reynolds (Sr., P/1B), Georgie Volturo (Sr., 2B), Katie Sheldon (Sr., OF), Lea Gurval (Jr., P/2B/OF), Naya Hodge (Jr., C/3B), Kelly Grieco (Jr., 3B/C), Emily Garno (Jr., SS), Amanda Kolar (Jr., OF).
Newcomers: Nicole Walker (Jr., OF), Hope Bennett (So., 3B/1B), Isabel Santiago (So., SS/2B).
Outlook: The Vikings have alternated between winning and losing seasons over the past six years, and with return 10 varsity players, including seven starters, the experience should go a long way toward Union Catholic continuing that trend – at least for this year – after going 7-13 in 2014. The Vikings feature a three-headed pitching attack in Gurval, Herron and Reynolds, all of which saw time in the circle last season, and Ryan said the trio will enter this season in a rotation. Offensively, Herron, Garno, Burr, Gurval, Grieco and Volturo will lead the attack, Ryan said.
Coach: Caitlin MacDonald, seventh season
Last season: 21-4
Returning players: Sam Velez (Sr., C), Bobbi Snyder (Sr., 1B), Elena Elliott (Sr., P), Danielle Rinaldi (So., SS).
Newcomers: Devyn Tibbals (Fr., 2B), Jordan Sacher (Fr., CF), Shannon Devitt (So., P/3B), Hailey Reilly (Jr., RF), Shelby Estevez (Sr., LF).
Outlook: The Blue Devils were decimated by graduation, a group that not only included seven starters, but six four-year starters among them, and the two-time defending Union County Tournament champs certainly have their work cut out for them if they’re to successfully defend that crown. Ace Elena Scarano is a big loss in the circle and MacDonald will be turning to Elliott, a returner who backed up Scarano last season, to fill that role. Superstar second baseman Julia Criscuolo heads the list of offensive losses. MacDonald said she will be depending on the returning varsity players to get the Blue Devils started and to provide the leadership to the newcomers. Westfield also expects to have a solid group of newcomers that should contribute early and often.
Simeon Pincus can be reached at CourierSoftball@aol.com and on Twitter @SimeonPincus
For more softball coverage, including an expanded version of this preview, check out the Inner Circle softball blog at http://blogs.mycentraljersey.com/softball/