When preparing for softball season, there are many things I must do to get myself ready to be the best beat reporter possible.
First thing is go out and buy a fresh scorebook and a pack of mechanical pencils. I've tried pens before, it's not a pretty sight. Second, while I'm buying the pencils, I swing through the candy aisle and pick up an industrial size bag of Twizzlers, which will usually last me through the first week of the season.
The last thing I do, and strangely enough my favorite, is to go through and type all the schedules. Yes, every schedule of all 20-plus schools I try to cover. While I'm not a fan of suffering carpel tunnel after this daunting task, I am a fan of seeing how and who teams are preparing for.
In my opinion, strength of schedule is the most important thing in preparation for tournament. I come from the school of thought that says league titles are fine and dandy, but tournament runs are unforgettable. The team, the parents and the coaches all remember winning the conference, but everyone remembers district, regional and state titles. And you don't get those without good, tough preparation.
I realize some conferences have more or less leeway with non-conference scheduling, all due to the size and regulations of its league. But in my opinion, it's what you do in those games - whether you have 15 or five - that count.
The first schedule I reached for was John F. Kennedy. After a beefy schedule last season, which had a lot to do with its postseason success, the Eagles once again loaded their plate to try and get back to the Division IV state tournament in Akron.
The Eagles have scheduled a doubleheader against Division II Ashtabula Edgewood, which features a very tough pitcher in Megan Dragon. The Eagles also scheduled Jackson (Division I), Hathaway Brown (Division II) and ending the season against Division II regional semifinalist Notre Dame Cathedral Latin.
Locally, the Eagles will play league-rivals Mooney and Ursuline as well as a should-be tough Champion team. A prime schedule for a team ready to make a return visit to Akron.
Another schedule that stuck out for me was Lordstown. The Red Devils made a splash in the Northeastern Athletic Conference last season but fell out of the tournament early, losing to Kennedy. Apparently that loss made the Red Devils think about their schedule, because they are showing no signs of backing down.
Only having five non-conference days available, Lordstown is playing a quality Newton Falls team in a doubleheader and even had the guts to try and open the season against an always dominant Cardinal Mooney squad and follow that up against McDonald. Not bad for a team on the rise.
Now, scheduling in the new All-American Conference has caught my eye and we'll see how this plays out during the inaugural year. For those of you unfamiliar with the scheduling format of the AAC, here's how it goes. If a team is in the Red Division (the highest enrollment), it must play each team in the White Division (middle enrollment) once. The Blue Division (smallest) must play a White Division team once. Therefore, the White Division is required to play each team above and below them and has room for four days of outside-the-AAC games left.
Now this has pros and cons. The pros are that playing tough Red Division teams like Canfield, Howland and Poland is a good test to prepare teams for tournament. And some teams in the Blue Division are no slouch, AKA Champion, LaBrae and Newton Falls.
The cons come into play when a team isn't as strong and has to go against a tough team that has double the enrollment. This is why I think the scheduling will be interesting and I'll be curious to see how everything plays out.
Now that I have your softball jones geared up, make sure to check out my softball preview in Monday's Tribune Chronicle.
Sulonen is a sports writer at the Tribune. E-mail her at email@example.com