The OPRF softball team went through its first losing season ever in 2011, but head coach Mel Kolbusz, who is entering his 20th season as the program’s head coach, has one focus for this season: “Bring back the winning tradition.”

The Huskies finished the ’11 campaign with an 11-22 record (5-7 in West Suburban Silver Conference play), and defeated Fenwick in the regional semifinals before losing to Mother McAuley in the regional championship. Kolbusz said he thinks this team has the talent to get back on track.

“Historically, we’ve always been the strongest team in the conference,” he said. “For us to go 5-7 in conference (last season) and not even compete for first place was very disappointing. We definitely want to improve our conference record this year; we want to fit into that mix with (Downers Grove North, Glenbard West, and Lyons) and see if we can put some pressure on them.”

The Huskies return four starters this season, including two prominent members of their pitching staff. Senior Serafina Andreoli and sophomore Emma Baldwin hope to lead the pitching staff with returning senior starting catcher Annie Ford as their battery mate, while returning senior starting left fielder Caitlyn Bell will provide some veteran presence in the outfield. Returning senior first baseman Olivia Shagam will also have a chance to start this season to show off her left-handed power. Kolbusz said the returning players trained during the winter to make sure they’d be ready to lead the Huskies to a winning year.

“Almost every one of my kids plays on a travel team and works really hard in the offseason,” said Kolbusz. “Hopefully they will come back even better (for the season).”

Andreoli finished 8-12 last season with a 4.30 earned run average, recording 99 strikeouts and nine walks in 114 innings pitched. Her most dominant start came in the regional semifinal against Fenwick, where she threw a complete game shutout, while striking out 10 and not letting up a single walk. She then went on to throw a complete game 3-hitter against Mother McCauley in the Huskies’ 1-0 loss in the regional final.

Baldwin, who was brought up to varsity as a freshman last season, was 1-7 with a 4.02 earned run average. She struck out 34 and walked 10 in 52 innings pitched.

Ford hit .291 with 13 runs batted in for the 2011 season.

“I’m confident that we will have a better record than last year,” said Kolbusz. “We have a really competitive schedule. If we can compete with those tough teams early and learn from our mistakes and get better, we’ll be ready by the time conference play starts.”

The Huskies have nine new players, including juniors Mariah Weinand (infielder, .453 average on JV last season), Caroline Kelty (outfielder, .318), Dana Alcock (catcher, .510), Valerie Cundari (infielder, .412), Elizabeth Keifer (outfielder, .274), Jenna Rouse (first base, .347), Samantha Davidson (infielder, .376), Kayla Flanagan (outfield, .256), and Colleen McAdams (infield, .319).

“Hopefully, the kids that are coming up this year will bring a whole new enthusiasm and attitude, and the desire to strive to be better than last year and be successful,” added Kolbusz. “I really like our junior class, and I’m expecting a lot from them.”

The Huskies host Richards on Saturday (March 17, 11 a.m.) in their season and home opener.

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