What do you do when your pitcher, catcher, and three best hitters graduate? You start over.
Now entering his 19th season as head softball coach at OPRF, Mel Kolbusz has been down this road before, but this time he’s at the helm of a senior-laden team stocked with what he refers to as “enough talent.”
Those two key words fell at the end of a statement the highly-regarded coach recently made about his 16 players, 10 of which are seniors. “This is not the most talented team I’ve ever had, but they have enough talent.”
The reasoning for his optimism stems from a conversation Kolbusz had with his younger players during the bus ride home following the team’s 2-1 loss to Sandburg in the super-sectional championship last year.
“I told them to work hard in the offseason and the results will be evident in the first week of practice this season,” he remembered. “They seemed to have listened.”
Senior Kylee Nilsson, junior Sarafina Andreoli and freshman Emma Baldwin will step onto the mound to fill the void of last season’s workhorse Leah Bry, now at Butler. Nilsson tossed 25 innings last season, finishing 2-2 with an ERA of 5.25. Andreoli finished the season on varsity, and Kolbusz said her fastball has gone up from 55 to 58 mph this season. Baldwin, whose fastball clocks out at 57 mph, is the first freshman pitcher Kolbusz has called up to varsity since Seana Stillson in 2005.
Seniors Becky Barron and Kelly O’Meara along with junior Annie Ford will take on catching duties. Barron batted .280 in 50 at bats last season.
With the bulk of OPRF’s battering ram — Lauren Flannery (.367), Hannah Press (.366) and Marisa Belpedio (.319) — graduated, Kolbusz will be counting on returning starters Ann Ryan (third base) and Alana Weitzenfeld (shortstop) to bring the big bats. Ryan led the team in RBIs last season with 28. In OPRF’s 8-1 victory over Young in the sectional title game, she drove in four runs. Weitzenfeld broke her ankle late in the season but is fully healed now.
Anna Munz, who played outfield and was a DH last season, will share time with fellow senior Julie Paoli at first base. Munz batted .286 in 91 at bats last season.
Others expected to see extensive playing time this season include Jasmine Davis (outfield), Maureen Puccetti (infield), Olivia Shagman (first base), Emily Bacalao (centerfield) and Erin Flanagan (second base).
The Huskies finished 28-11 overall last season, including 9-3 in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference for second place behind Downers Grove North (11-1)
OPRF was scheduled to open the season at Richard on Friday. The Huskies host Leyden on Monday (4:30 p.m.) for their home opener.