The switch last year to the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division from the County Division was not exactly a smooth one for the Woodridge softball team.
The Bulldogs finished with a 7-19 overall record and a 4-11 mark in their division. Mental lapses in the field were a major factor.
"We scored 61 runs in our first seven games and won only one of them," said Dan Schneider, who is in his 19th season as head coach. "Our bats were there, we just didn't take care of the defensive end."
Schneider is hoping that nine returning lettermen will more than offset the losses to graduation of Kylie Gregory and Shayla Williams.
"I have only three seniors who will be contributing, but I have a good core of juniors," he said. "Our infield will be our strength, and our pitchers worked really hard over the winter, and that's going to help us."
Sophomore Caitlin Raid, a returning letterman, leads the way on the mound and will see some action at first base.
"Caitlin spent the winter really working on her location, the spots she needs to hit," said the coach. "She's also mentally tough. Last year she gave up a home run that cost us a game, and she's using that as motivation. Her hitting has improved and she can hit for power."
Brayden Wigal, a sophomore returning letterman who is coming off arm troubles, and freshman Kilah Neal look to give Woodridge some depth on the mound. Both will see spot duty in the infield and outfield when not pitching.
Behind the plate is junior returning letterman Sage Jenkins.
"Sage was our best hitter average-wise last year and can hit for power," said Schneider. "We're hoping that continues. She's also good defensively."
The infield has Sydney Shaheen at first base, Cassie Riebau at second, Emily Mally at third and Mackenzie Mercer at shortstop. All are returning lettermen, and all are juniors except Mercer, who is a senior.
"Sydney is coming off some injuries, but her bat looks decent, she can hit for power and we're looking for a good season from her defensively," Schneider said. "Cassie is a good situational hitter and can bunt. Emily finally is going to step up and be that piece at third. She's just a good athlete. Mackenzie was our second-leading hitter last year."
The outfield is undecided, but seniors Mary Bates and Ally Rohrer are the leading candidates. Both are returning lettermen.
"Mary is not a real fast kid, but she seems to find a way to the ball. She runs well at the crack of the bat. She also swings a pretty good bat," said Schneider. "This will be Ally's first chance as a starter in the outfield. She's worked really hard, and both her glove and bat have improved."
Seniors Jayme Keffer and Marissa Horn will also see action, Keffer at first base and Horn in the outfield.
Also on the team are juniors Sophia DeBord, who will be the backup catcher and play in the outfield, and utility player Danielle Goodrich and sophomore outfielder/third baseman Megan Stanfield.
"Realistically we'll shoot for the .500 mark. That would be a great start," said Schneider, whose assistant coaches are John Schneider, Dan Schneider Sr. and Heather Schneider. "We're still learning about, and becoming familiar with, the teams in the Metro. Cloverleaf and Springfield are pretty tough and Field is always tough. If we stay healthy and things go our way, I think we have an opportunity to finish in the top four in the division."
Woodridge will open the season March 26 at a Dallas School District team in Florida as part of its trip to Disney World.
On March 27, the Bulldogs will play at Episcopal Academy and on March 28 they will play at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.