By MICHAEL KELLY
Between weather that is likely to delay the season's start and heavy losses to graduation, how this spring's high school softball season in the Western Athletic Conference North Division is going to shake out is a mystery.
Of the five local teams in the division -- Canajoharie, Fort Plain, Galway, Mayfield and Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville -- there is no club that clearly stands above the rest, leaving the division's outlook hazy.
"I think it's all really going to depend on who comes to play that day," O-E-SJ Wolves head coach Dan Hart said earlier this week.
Mayfield won the division a year ago, but the Lady Panthers lost standout Anna Husain. The 2013 graduate was the league's top pitcher last season, as well as one of the top offensive threats.
Mayfield head coach Jamie Hurd will rely on Amber Costa, a call-up from the junior varsity squad, to replace Husain in the pitcher's circle, but the Lady Panthers will likely need their bats to carry them this season. Luckily, the club does return several prominent position players from a year ago, such as center fielder Mackenzie Biggers and first baseman Lyndsey Barber.
"One of the keys for us is we do have some flexibility," Hurd said.
The clubs in Canajoharie, Fort Plain and Galway all are roughly in the same situation as one another. Each club returns a bunch of talent, but each also has places in its lineup to figure out.
In Fort Plain, where Donald Stockwell returns as the head coach after a few year away, the Lady Hilltoppers the club needs to find a couple outfielders and pitching depth.
"They're a good group of girls," he said. "I only have 11 of them, though, so they're won't be any complaining about playing time."
While lineup mainstays like shortstop Abby Boyer, first baseman Haley Kilmartin and catcher Kendra Trembley return to give Fort Plain some stability, the club will need to break in a new pitcher after Jamie Fredericks took care of that responsibility the past few years. Shawna Cotton, an outfielder in past years, is the likely replacement in the circle.
Canajoharie likely returns the most of any WAC North squad, as head coach Bridget Anderson's team brings back all of its starting infielders from last year with the exception of third base. Anderson credited pitcher Shy Logan and shortstop Bri Slater for helping to bring along the squad's younger players, too.
"They're really good at helping out our underclassmen," Anderson said.
With a couple spots open in the outfield, Anderson said she expects to be able to give playing time to a talented group of freshmen at her disposal, too.
"I think they'll definitely make a huge impact this year," she said.
In Galway, head coach Paula Canella's squad of Lady Eagles returns all of its starting infielders from a year ago. Senior Felicia Snyder -- one of the club's three co-captains, along with seniors Shelby Suits and Sabrina Williams -- will start the season as the club's pitcher, while Suits will play second base and Williams will play shortstop.
The bulk of the Lady Eagles' offense will come from those seniors, but underclassmen Jessi Freebern, Sara LaRocca, Rachel Reichard, Amber Schwab and Emily Zawisa will also be counted on to provide some punch.
"We've got our strongest hitters coming back in the lineup," Canella said.
Galway finished 7-5 last season in the league.
At O-E-SJ, the Wolves and Hart are looking to build the program. Of the club's 11 players, five have previous varsity experience and four are brand new to the sport. There are no seniors on the team.
"With our inexperience, we're going to have our bumps and bruises, but we have no seniors, so I have a team that will be my team for the next two years," Hart said.
O-E-SJ does return some key parts, such as pitcher Leann Clark, but the team also has a pair of promising freshmen in catcher Caitlin Handy and first baseman Merari Freeman.
"Those two are going to fit very nicely into our program,' Hart said.
The WAC North season is slated to start next week, but it is possible some early-season games could be postponed because of the weather. Whenever the campaign starts, the divisional race is likely to stay tight.
"I don't foresee anyone jumping out right off the bat and taking over," Hart said.
"You never know who it's going to be stepping up in any given year," said Canella. "We've all been taking turns with that top spot in the last four, five years -- so, we'll see."
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