Elmwood is favored to win the Northern Buckeye Conference title with top players, from left, Lindsay George, Madison Arnold, Chelsie Schmitz, Miranda Benschoter, Brandie Vargas, Rebecca Harvey, and Olivia Myers. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
Elmwood worked its way back to the top of the Northern Buckeye Conference last season and looks to have all three facets of the game to stay there.
The Royals have eight starters returning, including four players that earned All-NBC first-team honors. Junior Miranda Benschoter, the league's pitcher of the year, is back, and junior shortstop Rebecca Harvey leads the offense.
Elmwood coach Matt Hoiles, whose team has won three of the last four titles, said his pitching, defense, and offense are all strong. The Royals are the favorite to repeat, according to a preseason coaches poll.
“It's an honor to be the favorites,” Hoiles said. “It's not the first time. It's something that comes with the territory. We have to come to play everyday. We know every team will give us the best they've got. We got back on top, and we'll look to stay there.”
Elmwood, which reached the state semifinals in 2008, was upset in the district final last season and has been to the regional final seven times under Hoiles.
“This is a team that has that ability,” Hoiles said. “We have a lot coming back. I like the way we are coming together.”
Rossford, which finished second last season, is pegged for that spot again. The Bulldogs have all their starters back and a large senior class.
“Our league is pretty solid up and down this year,” Rossford coach Tom Kralovic said.
Eastwood made it farther in the tournament than any other team in the area in any division last year. The Eagles have four starters back from a team that reached the Division III state semifinals.
Elmwood (22-7, 12-2 NBC last year) has a 301-112 record under Hoiles.
Harvey finished with a .505 batting average and drove in 37 runs. Benschoter (21-4) had a 1.81 ERA with 181 strikeouts. Benschoter also batted .368 with 17 RBIs.
Senior Madison Arnold (CF) is a four-year starter and had a .410 average and 30 RBIs. Junior Olivia Myers (3B) batted .414 with 21 RBIs. All four earned all-league first-team honors.
Senior Chelsie Schmitz (C) is a three-year starter, while Brandie Vargas (LF) is a two-year starter. Junior Kristi Reiser (RF) stole 23 bases. Sophomore Lindsay George (3B) posted a .310 average.
Rossford (20-7, 10-4) should have a strong defense.
“Our team unity is a strength because we will play hard for seven innings no matter what the score is,” Kralovic said. “We have great senior leadership on our team.”
The Bulldogs are 188-170 under Kralovic, who enters his 14th season.
Among the returning starters are five seniors: Margo Jackson (C), Lyndsey Skala (SS), Maddie York (CF), Mandi Longeway (P), and Kelly Swope (1B).
Jackson had 35 RBIs and a .500 batting average. Swope posted 27 RBIs and a .386 average, while York drove in 14 runs and had a .370 average. Longeway (.351) had 22 RBIs and had a 5-2 record with a 2.86 ERA. Jackson and Swope earned All-NBC first team honors.
Eastwood (29-4, 11-3) reached the state semifinals for the first time in school history but lost 11-1 to eventual champ Bloom-Carroll.
Coach Joe Wyant, who has a 256-137 record in 15 years, has just four returning starters.
Senior Cassidy Rolf (3B) earned All-NBC first-team honors after batting .417 with 39 RBIs and six home runs. Senior catcher Anna Rahrig was named to the all-district first team after hitting .343.
Sophomore Mackenzie Albright (SS, .398), junior Krista Jennings (2B, .310), senior Michaela Bunge (OF, .321), and senior Marrissa Tudor (OF, .250) also return. Senior Sam Shirling (5-0) takes over as the No. 1 starter and had a 1.74 ERA.
Otsego (15-10, 8-6) has a 138-99 record in 10 seasons under Dan Sheperd.
Five starters are back including three four-year letter winners — Savannah Schwind (SS), Tayler Bowen (2B), and Nicole Thomas (OF). Thomas has signed to play at Bluffton University. Schwind had 21 RBIs and a .419 average.
Junior Kylie Asmus (P) has 430 career strikeouts and is a three-year starter along with junior Paige Ireland (1B). Asmus led the NBC with a .543 batting average and had 26 RBIs. She had a 3.39 ERA.
Other top players are junior Kimberlin Norman (OF) and sophomores Mackenzie Wenig (OF), Gwen Amborski (OF), and Lexie Rieger (IF).
“We have some nice experience on which to build this season,” Sheperd said. “We will be strong up the middle.”
Lake (13-6, 5-9) has a nice mix of youth and experience with team goals of getting better every day, according to coach Dave Rymers.
Four seniors and six starters are back. Senior Sumer Woodruff (3B) batted .371 with 14 RBIs. Junior Allie Kontak (CF) posted a .354 average with 11 RBIs and 28 stolen bases.
Senior Ana Henneman (1B) had a .321 average with 14 RBIs. Sophomore Emma Materni (P/2B) had a 3.93 ERA with 68 strikeouts.
“The players in this program are hungry for success,” Rymers said. “They understand the importance of the little things and how they translate to wins.”
But the Flyers do not have a lot of team speed, need to be more consistent hitters, and will be young in the circle (sophomore Emma Materni and freshman Sydnee Behlmer).
Woodmore (8-13, 4-10) has eight returning letter winners and lost three to graduation.
Coach Aaron Clouse said pitching will be the strength with senior Madeline Phillips returning after earning all-league first-team honors the last two seasons.
Phillips had 210 strikeouts in 140 2/3 innings with a 8-12 record and a 1.59 ERA. Phillips also had a .467 average with 14 RBIs
Seniors Courtney Clowers (INF) and Cailey Willhardt (CF) are three-year letter winners. Juniors Hana Zollinger (C ) and Natalie Davis (OF) have each earned two letters.
Sophomore Emily Paul (INF), senior Grace Weirich (INF), and junior Kari Kruse (INF) also are back. Freshman Marena Hartford (P) will be a key newcomer.
“[Phillips] will be consistent and we know what we are going to get from her,” Clouse said. “We should have some experience we did not have last season and should help us get better defensively.”
Genoa (13-11, 5-9) will have seven seniors under first-year coach Ron Liwo.
“We have a very cohesive group,” Liwo said. “The leadership has been outstanding, while the upperclassmen have embraced the young talent to build our season.”
Senior Kate Jensen (INF/P) batted .455 with 26 RBIs. Senior Ciara Albright (SS) had a .400 average with six home runs. Senior Brynn Skilliter (OF) carried a .357 average and earned all-league second-team honors. Senior Andrea Harmeyer (C ) batted .343.
They are among five returning starters. But two experienced pitchers graduated and the replacements must adjust to the varsity level.
“The girls are aware that in order to be contenders, they need to be fully prepared, mentally and physically, for every opponent," Liwo said.
Fostoria (2-27, 1-13) has six starters back along with three seniors.
“We have a lot of good team speed,” said second-year coach Clayton Moore.
A core of five juniors will carry the team. Alexis Smith (C/CF), Jada Hampton (2B/SS), Erica Moore (P/SS/CF), Kaitlyn Gonyer (3B) and Shelby Lamb (OF) are back.
Moore set a school record with 25 stolen bases, while Hampton tied the old mark with 18.
“They are hungry and believe in themselves,” Moore said. “They don't give up.”