One of the obvious benefits to having so many underclassmen in any lineup is the experience they get while learning on the job. For the Morris softball team, they are hoping that is the case this spring.
Seven of the eight returning varsity players played in at least a third of the games, including the two returning seniors in Laney Torkelson and Erica Gualandi.
Right now, however, the team has yet to get outside once this spring and the Redskins are thinking of ways to compensate for the looses of Morgan Akre and Tori Hanford to graduation.
"That's going to hurt. Morgan's going to be hard to replace. She was our most consistent hitter. I mean, Laney's got the power. She was right up there in slugging percentage and doubles, triples and home runs, but Morgan was also a consistent singles hitter. She was on almost every game. That's going to hurt us," Morris coach Jen Lowery acknowledged. "Someone's going to have to step up and take her place. Someone who will be on every day."
"We'll miss Tori's speed, but we have a lot of speed this year too. Madi Feeney picked up a lot of speed and Leah went to a speed camp. Madi's also turned around, too, and she's going from the left now. We're hoping that she can fill the role that Tori had."
Torkelson hit .387 with a slugging percentage of .710 last season while leading Morris with 29 RBI. As a sophomore, Feeney batted .357, scored 15 times and batted in 15 in 28 games.
Lauren Severson and Alex Cook also saw extended playing time as sophomores getting into 31 and 27 games, respectively. Severson hit .329 and Cook .307.
Feeney and Leah Lines (24 games/.333 average) are the other captains on the team this year.
Lowrey thinks the team has a good balanced offensive attack this spring.
"I think it's going to be a combination. Everyone in the lineup can bunt consistently and everyone in the lineup can hit — at least singles," she said. "Some of them are doubles hitters, but other than Laney and Erica, I'd say there's going to be a lot of singles. We'll be looking for a lot of big hits out of them. Alex Cook, too."
"I think we're a combination. We have some left-handed hitters who are going to be doing some hitting and bunting but we'll have a good mix," she said.
Rounding out the roster to this point for the Redskins are Kellen Bernickus, who played in 13 games and hit .359 and Kelly Kolotka who played in seven games and hit .273.
"Obviously, they all have a year of experience. The biggest strengths are the way their personalities mix and their work ethic," Lowery said. "These girls have worked hard all winter. They came in twice a week and hit in the morning. They came to the open gym and before that they all did their summer ball stuff twice a week. This is the first year since I've been coaching that you can sit and observe a girl hit and not have to follow them around so that they stay on task. They actually work hard and that means I can sit back, watch them work and pick up what you need to pick up, as far as the finer details."
Some of the finer details like working out the lineup and things like that.
"We're looking to move Lauren up in the batting order after hitting down at the bottom last year," Lowery said. "She can bunt and she's quick and she can hit. We have a lot of options with this team as far as where they can hit in the order."
Still, one of the things about having a roster of 10 this spring, with 14 on the frosh-soph team, is knowing who fits where.
"Our lineup is set. Pretty much everyone knows their roles," Lowery said. "Alex is hurt right now so we're not sure what we're going to do until she's back. Lauren is probably going to end up catching quite a bit, which means we're going to have to plug someone in at third. But that should be about all the flipping around we'll have to do this season."
Lowery said that she may pull up a player from the lower levels to help out the varsity before the spring is out.
"We're looking into pulling someone else up, we're just kind of waiting out spring break. Some of the younger girls are leaving, so we're waiting for that to play out," she said. "We may pull someone up because, if we have a DH, that leaves no courtesy runner for Erica. We'd like to have that extra person in case something happens and somebody gets hurt."
Part of losing Akre to graduation also means losing innings from the slab.
"Erica is going to be our No. 1 and Kelly Kolotka has also been working on her pitching," Lowery said.
Gualandi tied for the team lead in wins last year with seven.
"I've been working out since the fall with my travel team. I've also been working out in a barn in our warehouse. Working on pitching, working on hitting," Gualandi said. "I'm looking forward to playing good games and keeping them close. I think we will be able to keep up with our competition this season. We'd like to have a winning season this spring and maybe bring something back."
"We need to keep working hard in practice and that should translate into game situations. We've been working hard here, even stuck inside due to the weather. We've been working on things in which we know needs to improve and hopefully that will show once we get into game situations."
Lowery said that Gualandi has taken a step up from last season as a pitcher.
"She improved quite a bit. She's picked up some speed and her ball is moving a little more," she said. "She's been taking pitching lessons all fall and winter. We know that other teams are going to score runs on us. The thing with Erica, she's not quick. Her ERA shoots up when her ball is not moving. If her ball is not moving, that is going to happen. But if her ball is moving the way it should be, she should be able to cut that in half."
Gualandi's ERA last year was 4.34.
"We're going into the season knowing that we're going to have to score because people are going to score runs on us," Lowery conceded.
"Definitely I think she's improved a lot," Lines said of Gualandi. "She's been working hard over the winter. She's been getting stronger."
Morris was 14-18 last season and getting that turned around is just one of the team's priorities this spring.
"I definitely see an above .500 season," Lowery said.
"If we practice the right way, I think we can peak and get the most out of our talents," Laney Torkelson said. "We think that we're going to be able to put it all together and win some games.
"I think we could win conference," she added. "Especially if we can get on a roll and string some wins together. When we get on a roll, we usually don't stop."
"This year we had to write down our goals and I think a lot of them were to win conference," Lines said. "Then go on to win a regional championship. We're going to go out and do the best we can."
In terms of the Northern Illinois Big 12 East Conference, Lowery says two teams stand out at the moment.
"Sycamore should probably still be strong. I don't think they lost many girls this year and should have a strong team," she said. "DeKalb's pitcher is strong and she's back. She's a junior this year. Those two teams are right up there. I know Kaneland lost their No. 1.
"Definitely, though I think we could win it if we play consistently, don't beat ourselves and nobody gets hurt. There's a chance we could at least get first or second. For the girls, a majority of them set winning conference as their main goal."
But first the locals would simply settle for getting outside.
"Hopefully we'll get outside soon, but I know a lot of these girls are going to practice and will work hard," Lines said. "A lot of these girls are dedicated and that's big."