Entering his 29th year as OPRF softball coach Mel Kolbusz has seen more than his fair share of successes and disappointments. But he felt especially bad for five players from the Class of 2020 who lost their final season of high school softball.
That’s why he was excited when word came there would be a season this spring, along with a state tournament. And the Huskies should field another solid team, despite not being as experienced as recent editions.
Kolbusz will rely on two seniors with four years of varsity experience: Cassie Metzger (Washington University of St. Louis recruit) and Maddie Grant (Louisville signee) to lead the way.
“Cassie is a hard-working leader who is a student of the game,” he said. “She has all the pitches and has improved every season. Maddie is a power hitter who also hits for average and has the best hands of any first baseman I’ve ever had.”
Seniors Emma Brandt and Alex Prouty join Metzger to form what should be a good mound trio for the Huskies.
“We should have a solid pitching staff with the three seniors who will each get innings as we match up with our opponents,” said Kolbusz.
Juniors Lucy Goodwin and Sydney Ross are also returning veterans from 2019, and Kolbusz feels they will play key roles again.
“Lucy is a solid catcher who has improved her hitting greatly,” he said. “Sydney is a power hitter who should be our leading infielder.”
Other players seeking to make contributions are seniors Olivia Baig, Rachel Hartman, Jessica Kohlenberger and Bella Reniva.
“I’m confident our hitting will be a strength,” Kolbusz said. “It’s very early but we’re getting some great swings and at-bats in practice.”
Year in and year out the West Suburban Silver is one of Chicagoland’s top conferences and this spring should be no different. OPRF should contend for the title along with Downers Grove North, Lyons Township and York. And while the goals every season are to make constant progress and be in state championship contention, Kolbusz has one specific goal for the program given the circumstances of the past year.
“This year more than ever, I want the players to have fun and enjoy every minute of just playing the sport they love with their teammates and making memories they’ll have forever,” he said. “They have done an outstanding job with all the different challenges they’ve faced throughout this crazy year.”
The Huskies begin their season April 19 at Proviso West.
Young Friars seek success
Fenwick softball coach Sarah James was hopeful this season would be played and is thankful the state was able to bring the number of COVID-19 cases down to the point where practices and games could begin. But she felt bad for her 2020 seniors.
“It literally feels like yesterday was the last day I spoke to the 2020 team,” James said. “We had 10 seniors, all of whom I assisted on junior varsity and became their head coach [on varsity] in 2019. I’ll never forget them as they were, and we all had a great run.”
At the same time, however, the Friars are trying to focus on not what they’ve lost, but rather the blessings that they have.
And despite the losses to graduation, Fenwick has reason to be optimistic about another successful campaign this spring, thanks to four-year varsity players Mary Barshop and Ellie Young.
“People think [Barshop] is human, however, most do know she’s an actual cannon,” said James of Barshop, a catcher and first baseman who batted. 417 and had a fielding percentage of .986 as a sophomore. Young is a shortstop who batted .385 in 2019 and will be a strong presence on the field.
James also has high hopes for another 2019 returnee in junior first baseman/outfielder Maddie Krzak.
“She’s a big hitter who can play anywhere,” James said. “She’s always mentally prepared and is the biggest team player who will always be there.”
Fenwick has four sophomores who look to make an impact this spring in Allison Arispe, Sophia Kruszewski, Taila Lorenzo and Maya Stathas. James describes them as interchangeable with the ability to play several positions, which will be important as the Friars develop.
“You might think they would be nervous stepping up to varsity after totally missing their freshman year,” James said. “This class is very fired up, competitive and welcome the challenge with open arms.”
With teams like Montini and Providence around, the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference promises to be highly competitive. But James believes Fenwick can achieve lofty objectives this spring.
“We always set one accomplishment at a time, yet setting a high goal is important. We want the state title,” said James. “We’re focusing on going undefeated in the conference, defending the regional championship, then moving on to sectionals.”
Fenwick begins the season April 17 with a home contest against Whitney Young at the Dominican Priory in River Forest.
Osborne back as Trinity skipper
After enjoying a successful run from 1997 through 2016, which featured 12 regional titles, three sectional championship and a runner-up finish in the 2010 IHSA Class 3A softball tournament, Bob Osborne has returned as head coach for the Blazers.
“I had been coach for 19 seasons but needed to take time off for family reasons,” said Osborne. “Last year, I went to [now-closed] Guerin Prep to assist a friend, and when the Trinity job became open in the fall, I gave the administration a call and we were able to work something out.”
Now Osborne is cherishing the opportunity for his team to see action.
“These girls haven’t played for two years, and it would be a shame not to get a season in,” he said.
The Blazers do have potential to be a good team this spring, led by the Hoffman sisters — senior Jessica and junior Danielle.
“Jessica is attending Ball State in the fall. She simply is one of the best players in the state,” Osborne said of the four-year varsity starter. “Danielle is a great hitter and our number one pitcher to begin the year.”
Sophomore Eleanor Flores, a transfer from Guerin, and freshman Kendall Hynes are expected to have an impact on Trinity this spring and fall right in the middle of the lineup.
“We have a ton of power in the middle of our lineup,” said Osborne. “My first time around, we broke the team home run record twice, and it’s been done twice more since I left. The bats will be strong for us”
Predicting the winner of the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference is difficult to do because no one knows how the teams will react to being off for almost two years. But Osborne does know the league is tough from top to bottom.
“Montini and Mother McAuley are always strong,” he said. “Marian Catholic is probably going in as the best team in our conference; it’s probably the best in the state and it’s a real challenge. I’m trying to rebuild my program and get it back to where it was because I expect to play at the highest level.”
Osborne wants his players to be proud of being back on the field, but he also wants them to think about being Blazers again, and not part of travel teams.
He expects Trinity to have expectations and wants to re-establish a winning culture.
“We’ve got to get out of that mentality that we’re not good enough,” he said. “It’s hard to have that mindset when you have four coaches in four years, but you’ve got to get them to trust you and your system. We were great in the past because we worked hard and not just because of our talent, and it’s important to get back to that.”
Trinity opens its season April 15 at Niles North.