With a few games already in the books, some of the county’s softball teams will begin the season with high expectations.
The six county teams play in two of the most competitive softball regions in the state, and the standards for success are already well known by both players and coaches.
The team with the most returning seniors this season will be Cherokee. Tonya Carlisle, the county’s longest-tenured coach as she enters her 16th season, said she has a specific reason to feel optimistic about this year’s team.
“We have incredible depth on this team,” Carlisle said. “In all my time as a head coach, I don’t remember having this much depth at every position.”
Cherokee returns six seniors, four of whom are already committed to play in college.
The group is set to be led by center fielder Hope Jiles (Kennesaw State commit) and third baseman Gracie Mixson (North Georgia). Shortstop Ashlyn Mickler (Queens College) and catcher Jordan Stanfill (Stetson) should bolster a solid defensive group up the middle, while also providing production at the plate. Outfielders Rebekah Bledsoe and Jenna Richman round out the senior class.
A number of talented younger players are also expected to produce for Cherokee, including junior pitchers Emma Worley and Parker Modica, along with sophomores Skyler Haralson and Halley Giancetti. Five freshmen will be on varsity this season, and Carlisle said she is expecting a few to contribute right away, including Lottie Lanmesser and Celan Trowers.
Creekview won the most games of any school in the county last season, finishing with a record of 24-12, but first-year coach Jennifer Maloney will have to replace 12 seniors who graduated this past spring.
One player who should help with Maloney’s transition will be senior third baseman Emily Wilkie, the 2018 Cherokee Tribune Softball Player of the Year. Wilkie led the county in on-base-percentage (.656), home runs (11) and RBIs (40) last season as a junior and is likely to be one of the better players in the state.
Softball America listed Wilkie as the 19th-best prospect in the nation for the class of 2020.
“She’s a great leader, and it’s exciting to see her challenge her teammates to get better,” said Maloney, previously the coach at North Paulding following a standout college career at Alabama.
Beyond Wilkie, junior first baseman Allie Razo is committed to Berry, and Maloney said a number of younger players on the roster have been drawing attention from college programs. Junior utility player Ari Wright, sophomore catcher Sophie Baker and sophomore outfielder Ashton Schroyer should bolster the lineup as well.
Sophomore Mattie Lathem and freshman Anslie Pettit will lead the pitching staff.
“We’re a young team, but they all play high-level travel ball, and we’re constantly competing,” Maloney said. “I’m just excited to see what we can do.”
Etowah will return a senior class of four, led by first baseman Hailey Shultz and pitcher Natalie Harper. Junior shortstop Alaina Smith, a Clemson commit, should again be one of the team’s better all-around players, while fellow junior Kinsey Norton should again be the team’s ace in the circle. Sophomore Brionna Condon, a South Carolina commit, will likely play third base and should continue to produce at the plate.
“We’ve developed a good team mentality over the last couple years, and a lot of these girls will step up at different times,” Etowah coach Victoria Carter said. “We feel like we underperformed last year a little bit, and I think that has motivated us heading into this year. The girls have taken accountability, to do the little things, and it’s really coming from them this season.”
Sequoyah, which is entering Year 4 with Lane Whitley as coach, brings back three seniors in Niki Peters, Nora Greene and Anslee Day. Pitching should be a strength for the Lady Chiefs, led by third-year starter, junior Macy Robinson, and Greene. Whitley said he expects freshman Ava Fouts to contribute in the circle as well.
Sequoyah’s junior class is also a strength. Shortstop Sarah Squillace, a Mercer commit, led the county in batting average last season (.591) and should again be one of the better batters in the area. Second baseman Lauren Anderson and catcher Cadance Winder should also continue to produce at the plate, along with sophomore Abby Schriener.
“I think we have a really good shot of making the state playoffs,” Whitley said. “With the nucleus we’re bringing back and the pitching we have, I think we have a good shot. How far we go will depend on how hard they work.”
One year after playing a large number of sophomores and freshmen throughout the season, River Ridge coach Andrew Marinelli said the bulk of his roster will still be young. Despite the youth, Marinelli has been encouraged by the signs of development he’s noticed in his young players.
“Maturity-wise, I’ve definitely seen growth,” Marinelli said. “They kind of understand what the expectation is here now. I don’t have to talk as much because they know what it takes now. It’s a little easier on both ends.”
The lone senior on this year’s team will be Becca Bray, a four-year starter, who will play center field and bat toward the top of the order. Pitching should be a strength for the Lady Knights, as the team returns the left-handed junior pitcher Sydney Osada, a Georgia commit.
Behind Osada will be a pair of sophomores, Gracie Hughes and Micah Jones, who both gained varsity experience as freshmen. Fellow sophomores, Cat McCulley, Grace Hamrick, Elyse Navarro and Payton Halford will all return for their second season as varsity players. A pair of freshmen, Lily Bell and Alexis Haehn, will assume the middle infield positions at shortstop and second base, respectively.
“They’re only going to get bigger, stronger and more confident, which is half the battle,” Martinelli said.
Woodstock coach Alex Gray, the Cherokee Tribune Coach of the Year after helping lead the Lady Wolverines to a second-round appearance in the state playoffs, will have to replace a number of seniors from last year’s team, including Georgia signee Laura Bishop and Georgia State signee Sofia Tunon.
Woodstock’s groups of three seniors season should be led by Nikki Rogers, who will return in center field and at the top of the lineup. Rogers led the team in hits last season with 30 and will be rejoined by a talented group of sophomores, including Brooklyn McNeese at second base, Hannah Forbes at shortstop, Molly Wiggins at pitcher and Gracie Menard at first base.
Gray said a pair of freshmen should contribute right away, with Kacie Wiggins at third base and MacKenzie Levine at catcher, and added this year’s coaching staff is the best he’s been apart of in his 17 years of coaching softball at all levels.
“The conversation we’re having with the younger players right now is telling them it’s time to learn how to play a different brand of softball,” Gray said. “It’s about attention to detail. We have a lot of room to grow, but we have a really high ceiling, too.”
Cherokee High School
Coach: Tonya Carlisle (16th season)
Last season: 20-14, 10-7 in Region 4-7A
Key Returners: Hope Jiles (senior, OF), Gracie Mixson (senior, third base), Jordyn Stanfill (senior, catcher), Ashlyn Mickler (senior, shortstop), Emma Worley (junior, pitcher)
Newcomers to watch: Parker Modica (junior, pitcher), Skyler Harrelson (sophomore, outfield/second base), Haleigh Cianchetti (sophomore, infield/outfield), Lottie Landmesser (freshman, utility), Celan Trowers (freshman, outfield)
Creekview High School
Coach: Jennifer Maloney (first season)
Last season: 24-12, 13-3 in Region 6-6A
Key returners: Emily Wilkie (senior, third base)
Newcomers of impact: Ari Wright (junior, utility), Sophie Baker (sophomore, catcher), Ashton Schroyer (sophomore, outfield), Anslie Pettit (pitcher)
Etowah High School
Coach: Victoria Carter (7th season)
Last season: 18-15, 10-7 in Region 4-7A
Key returners: Alaina Smith (junior, shortstop), Kinsey Norton (junior, pitcher/first base), Paige Patterson (senior, catcher), Brionna Condon (sophomore, third base), Natalie Harper (senior, pitcher), Hailey Shultz (senior, first base), Abby Billings (junior, center field)
Newcomers to watch: Kiersten James (sophomore, OF), Lily Hovanec (sophomore, OF)
River Ridge High SchoolCoach: Andrew Marinelli (Fifth season)
Last season: 15-13, 9-7 in Region 6-6A
Key returners: Becca Bray (senior, center field), Sydney Osada (junior, pitcher), Cat McCulley (sophomore, catcher), Gracie Hughes (sophomore, first base/pitcher), Micah Jones (sophomore, pitcher) , Grace Hamrick (sophomore, third base), Elyse Navarro (sophomore, OF), Payton Halford (sophomore, OF)
Newcomers of impact: Lily Bell (freshman, shortstop), Alexis Haehn (freshman, second base)
Sequoyah High School
Coach: Lane Whitley (Fourth season)
Last season: 13-16, 8-8 in Region 6-6A
Key returners: Sarah Squillace (junior, shortstop), Macy Robinson (junior, pitcher), Abby Schreiner (sophomore,third base), Lauren Anderson (junior, second base), Molly Stevens (sophomore, third base), Candace Winder (junior, catcher)
Newcomers of impact: Brylee Burns (freshman, OF), Ave Fouts (freshman, pitcher)
Woodstock High SchoolCoach: Alex Gray (3rd season)
Last season: 18-8, 12-3 in Region 4-7A
Key returners: Nikki Rogers (senior, centerfield), Brooklyn McNeese (sophomore, second base), Hannah Forbes (sophomore, shortstop), Molly Wiggins (sophomore, pitcher/first base), Gracie Menard (sophomore, first base/pitcher)
Newcomers of impact: Kacie Wiggins (freshman, third base), MacKenzie Levine (freshman, catcher)