Keeping it in the family, Stow softball restarts with fresh squad
It's been a rough couple of years for Stow-Munroe Falls softball.
The 2018 and 2019 seasons was overshadowed by the illness and death of long-time coach Doug Hawkins.
Last year, of course, there was no season due to COVID-19.
Thus, new head coach Kyle Geopfert notes getting back on the field has almost felt like therapy for the Bulldogs.
"Honestly, it feels amazing," Geopfert said. "We're doing everything that we can to stay COVID free this year. Just to make sure that we can have a season."
While Geopfert will lead the Bulldogs for the first time this spring, she is far from a stranger to the program.
Geopfert is the 2005 Stow gradate, a daughter of Hawkins and a former Bulldog assistant coach. Technically, this will be her second year in charge of the program, as she was promoted in the winter of 2020 before the pandemic hit.
Geopfert was promoted after Allison Lewandowski stepped down as head coach to start a family. However, Lewandoski remains a volunteer assistant with the program.
Like every program, the Bulldogs' Class of 2020 graduated without playing its senior year. Stow had four seniors graduate last spring.
Despite the small graduation losses, Geopfert notes she will have an inexperienced team in terms of diamond experience.
"We only have four returners from two years ago," Geopfert said. "It's definitely a different team this year. We have seven seniors, but not a veteran team. We have a lot of seniors who have not played varsity before."
However, Geopfert notes the Bulldogs are doing what they need to prepare.
"I feely strongly about this team. I think they have a good connections on the field and off the field," she said. "They practice hard and have fun. So I'm hoping for a good season."
While not knowing exactly what the opposition will have in the Suburban League National Conference, she knows the Bulldogs will face a tough slate.
"The competition in the league is usually pretty good," Geopfert said. "With not playing last year, I can't say I've seen what the other teams have.
The Bulldog softball family remains intact in its coaching staff.
Geopfert's varsity assistant coach is her sister, Hailey Lara, while Lewandowski and long-time assistant Chris Shepherd are volunteer coaches.
Willie Davis will serve as Stow's head junior varsity coach, with Terry Walker and Jim Cottrel assisting.
While the positions are generally set for the Bulldogs, Geopfert noted the starting lineup will be fluid in the early season.
Stow's pitching staff includes sophomore Makalyla Huddleston, senior Natalie Hosey, and junior Sam Meszaros.
The Bulldogs have some experience at catcher, though not from its own program. Senior Madison Schromm will start at catcher after transferring from Kent Roosevelt ahead of her junior year.
Junior Courtney Mahulais will likely serve as backup catcher.
First base will be manned by Huddleton and Stow's lone varsity freshman: Emma Oshel.
"She's a pretty good hitter and a pretty good first baseman," Geopfert said of Oshel. "I think she's going to be a good one."
Geopfert noted "The Natalies" are competing to start at second base: Hosey and sophomore Natalie Kopczak.
The bulk of Stow's returning experience plays on the left side of the infield.
Senior Alexis Schultz is back at shortstop after starting there her sophomore year
"She's definitely got a lot stronger since then," Geopfert said. "She's very athletics."
Also back at third base after starting her freshman year is junior Aubrey Mansfield.
"She's a great player," Geopfert said.
Stow's outfield remains unsettled, although seniors Rachel Edmonson and Sydney Hasting each return with some varsity experience.
Seniors Payton Ange and Sam Brown, along with junior Marissa Romano also are competing for the outfield spots.
Stow's opening day will be March 30 at 5 p.m. at the Doug Hawking Softball Complex against Southeast, followed by its National Conference opener March 31 at 4:30 p.m. vs. North Royalton and a trip to Austintown-Fitch April 1 at 4:30 p.,.
""I think we have potential," Geopfert said. "I think this team can be in the mix for a league. We've got to take it one game at a time."