By Brad Spencer
It's probably wise to assume that Mel Kolbusz has seen it all when it comes to high school softball.
As the head coach of the OPRF softball program enters his 21st season, it's all about improving and bettering the previous year's record. With six starters back, including a strong young pitcher, the Huskies look poised to climb back into the fold of the state's elite teams, or at least make some headway.
Senior shortstop Mariah Weinand returns to lead the Huskies this season. Weinand batted to a .331 clip last season. She'll be joined by senior first baseman Jenna Rouse, who drove in 21 runs for the 19-18 Huskies last year.
Others back in the mix include Samantha Davidson, Dana Alcock, Emma Baldwin, Kayla Flanagan, Colleen McAdams, Elizabeth Kiefer and Caroline Kelty, a two-sport athlete who recently led the OPRF girls basketball team to a wild postseason run. Davidson, a senior and OPRF's only other returning starter besides Weinand who batted over .300 last year, will play second base. Alcock (senior, catcher), Baldwin (junior, pitcher), Flanagan (senior, outfielder), McAdams (senior, second baseman), Kiefer (senior, outfielder) and Kelty (senior, outfielder) all return with plenty of varsity experience.
Baldwin enters the season as OPRF's ace pitcher. The junior's velocity has topped out at 61 mph and she has a bag of pitches at her disposal. She racked up 138 strikeouts in 136 innings last season.
Baldwin will be backed up by junior Emily Munz, and freshman Emily Richardson. Munz was the top hurler on junior varsity last season, while Richardson has great potential with a 59 mph fastball.
"Emily is very poised for a freshman, and also very competitive," said Kolbusz. "She has some great pitches and great potential. She just needs the experience."
Other newbies filling out the lineup card for the Huskies include Allison Loftus (junior, outfielder), Elaine Warner (junior, infielder), Annelise Ryan (junior, outfielder), Erin Lynch (junior, catcher), Libby Foster (junior, first baseman), and Taylor Arends (sophomore, infielder).
The Huskies are going to need all the help they can get in order to improve on last season's 6-6 mark in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference. Downers Grove North returns two Division I pitching prospects, including Dale Ryndak, who committed to Purdue as a sophomore last season. OPRF will take on Downers North on April 22.
The Huskies are scheduled to host Elmwood Park on March 22 (4:30 p.m.) and Loyola on March 25 (4:45 p.m.).