MINOOKA — Last season, the Minooka softball team got through the regular season with a record right around .500.
Then, the Indians caught fire and advanced to the Class 4A supersectional, winning a regional and sectional title in the process.
The Indians return 10 players from that team, and they might not sneak up on opponents the way they did last year. But, with 10 players returning from an Elite Eight team, they might not have to.
Leading the returnees will be senior outfielder Nicole Lovato, who is committed to play at St. Xavier next year. Lovato led the Indians with eight home runs, 26 RBIs, 26 runs scored and 17 stolen bases.
"Nicole has the skills to compete for player of the year in the Southwest Prairie Conference," Minooka coach Mark Brown said.
Another key senior returning is University of Illinois commit Gabi Robles, who will play second base. Labrum surgery limited her time last season, but Brown said Robles is healthy this year and is ready for a breakout senior year.
"Gabi is a lefty slapper with speed that can create havoc for opposing defenses," he said.
Junior pitcher/outfielder Sammy Norman hopes to build on a strong postseason effort for the Indians as well.
"Sammy ended the 2018 season on a tear," Brown said. "She got gig hit after big hit in the playoffs that helped us win the second sectional title in school history."
Junior catcher Gianna Pullara led the Indians as a sophomore with a .364 batting average as well as earning valuable experience behind the plate.
"Gia is definitely a tough out at the plate and a very smart catcher who will be the backstop for a deep pitching staff."
That staff lost senior ace Alex Loizon from last season's club, but there is plenty of experience returning, led by junior lefty Lauren Smith, who posted a 1.94 ERA as a sophomore last season.
"Lauren looks right now to be the leader of the staff," Brown said. "She had a nice year last year, but the rest of our staff is solid, too."
A key newcomer, according to Brown, will be sophomore Abbie Davis, who will spend most of her time at third base, but will also give Pullara a break once in a while behind the plate.
"Abbie will provide our offense with some power," Brown said. "She will hit in the middle of a strong lineup and projects to be a big-time run producer. She is definitely player to keep an eye on in the conference."