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Don't let the snow fool you, spring sports are coming

March 19, 2014 - Dana Sulonen
Wednesday is the official first day of spring, despite the projected snow in the forecast.

With the new season approaching, that also means the boys and girls of the diamond, track and tennis courts are preparing for another year.

Being the softball guru of the Tribune Chronicle, every year I'm always posed with the same questions: Who will be the hot team? Will anyone drop off? Who will be the star pitcher? Who will make it back to Akron for the state tournament?

While those questions always need to be answered on the field, here are a few story lines to keep an eye on during the upcoming softball season.

1. Will Mathews continue its successful ways? The Mustangs have been one of the more successful teams over the past few seasons. In 2012, the team made it to the Division IV state tournament. Last year, they were on track to get there, before falling in regionals unexpectedly. Though the team lost some key seniors to graduation, Mathews is poised to make another strong run in 2014, which could culminate in a trip back to the state tournament. Mathews returns star pitcher Cheyenne Eggens and five other starters from the 2012 state team. The Mustangs also play a top-notch schedule, which includes seven Division I schools. No better way than to prep for tournaments then playing the best competition you can find.

2. Can LaBrae repeat its success? The Cinderella story last year was the LaBrae Vikings, who shocked many by advancing to the Division III regional finals -- and beating a very strong Ursuline team to get there. While the Vikings lost a few key seniors, they return a very quality, core group of players to the roster — including pitcher Emily Dugan, shortstop Somer McCoy and first baseman Maddie Kiser. The Vikings also have sophomore Lauren Rutherford, who impressed many during her freshman campaign. Without a doubt, the Vikings will be in the hunt and one of the teams to beat for the All-American Conference, Blue Tier, title. And if all goes well, they could without a doubt make it back to the regional tournament -- and possibly state.

3. Sleeper teams to watch for. Who will be this year's LaBrae? Who will be the team that will come out of virtually nowhere to contend for league and district titles? No one can ever count out the Champion Golden Flashes, who made the district finals last year, despite losing many seniors that led them to two straight state titles. If it's one thing that Champion produces, it's quality softball players. So just because the Flashes are youthful, never count them or coach Cheryl Weaver out of the mix.

Though Mathews is favored to win the Northeastern Athletic Conference, Bristol is still a team that the Mustangs, and the rest of the area, need to keep an eye one. Pitcher Ashlyn Slusher has the potential to be one of the greats of the area and the Panthers return many from last year's team. They definitely qualify as a team to not be ignored.

Then there is Ursuline, which shouldn't be considered a sleeper by any means, but many tend to forget about the Irish because of their non-conference schedule. But Michael Kernan's squad -- who won a district title last year -- return eight starters and a wealth of experience. This team has all the tools to be one of the best in the area.

The softball season officially starts on March 29. Here's to another successful year on the diamond!



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