NEW LENOX – Lincoln-Way West’s softball team will have experienced, future Division I players throughout its lineup this season, and coach Heather Novak knows the team has a strong group of seniors to look up to.
“We’ve got a great core of returning position players,” Novak said. “We’re going to look to them to be leaders. Overall, we’ve got a great group of girls who are all working hard in practice, and I think we’ll continue to get better as the season goes on.”
Senior catcher/outfielder Abby Baez and senior shortstop Mac Mahy are four-year starters and will anchor the Warriors, who are coming off a 19-12 season.
Senior pitcher/infielder Dani Callahan, the school’s all-time leader in home runs, will provide a big boost if she’s able to return from an offseason surgery.
“Baez, Callahan and Mahy have been impact players since they were freshmen,” Novak said. “They’re strong leaders and we’ll look to them to do a lot for us.”
Baez, a Purdue-Fort Wayne recruit, hit .453 with 19 RBIs last season. Mahy, a Northern Illinois recruit, hit .347.
Both are stellar defensive players, and they expect the Warriors’ defense to be a major strength this season.
“Our defense should be strong all over the field,” Baez said. “We’re going to have a positive attitude, so that’ll help us, and we’ll keep each other motivated.”
The status of Callahan, a St. Francis recruit who hit .454 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs last season, is unknown.
“Dani is all over our program records,” Novak said. “Her ability to hit for power is unlike anyone I’ve seen before. She can do it all for us, so we’re just hoping to get her back at some point this year.”
The other big question mark for the Warriors is the pitching staff, especially if Callahan misses an extended amount of time.
Sophomore Mallory Sawyer and freshmen Emma Young and Julia Noga all figure to see time in the circle.
“We’ve had some great pitchers in the past with Morghan Dieringer and Amanda Ruskowsky,” Novak said. “The biggest thing for us is finding our future pitcher.”
Having a veteran catcher like Baez certainly will help.
“In the fall, we worked with the new pitchers a lot,” Baez said. “They’re all pretty good, so it’s going to be a good season. I’m excited to work with the young players.”
Mahy expects the Warriors’ defense to aid the young pitchers as well.
“With so many returners, our confidence level is high and we have the experience,” she said. “No one should be nervous except our pitchers, but they have us behind them. We want them to know they don’t have to strike everyone out. We’ll make plays for them.”
Junior Madison Eckberg and sophomores Molly Ryan, Melena Stemmler and Sydney Swanberg also figure to be key offensive contributors for the Warriors. Ryan is a Toledo recruit.
“I think we have a lot of different types of hitters,” Mahy said. “We have a lot of girls that can run, we have some power hitters, we’re perfecting our bunting. We just want to be the best all-around team we can be.”
Mahy said West is especially hungry this season after dropping its playoff opener last year to Plainfield South in a regional semifinal.
“That stung,” she said. “It hurt a lot, and I’m glad it wasn’t our senior year. That happening kind of kicked us in the butt. We know we’re not going to be able to just walk over people. It’s kind of fun being the underdog.
“We know what could happen now, and I’d never want to be one of the seniors that’ll go out like that. I want to push the younger girls and tell them that I’m going to work for them, so they’ve got to work for me.”
When the season ends, Mahy hopes to look back without asking, “What if?”
“I just want us to leave it all out there,” she said. “I don’t want anyone at the end to say, ‘If we would’ve done this better or if we would’ve worked harder, we could’ve gone farther.’ I don’t want those regrets.”