By Will Willems
Dover — There is plenty of reason for optimism at Western Boone when it comes to the upcoming softball season.
The Stars lost a couple of key seniors to graduation, but return six of their top seven hitters and both of their pitchers from a squad that finished 14-15 a season ago.
Add into that group a strong freshmen class, and head coach Mike Vanderpool will have a team that could surprise some people this spring.
“We just want them to battle for their spots,” Vanderpool said. “We want every girl to improve and have a good attitude. We want to build a really good team chemistry. We want to be a team that is up there battling for the conference title.”
Practices have been underway at the school for a couple of weeks, and the girls put in time in the off-season to improve their level of play.
Vanderpool said a big thing for the team has been that the younger girls on the team are bringing a lot of enthusiasm.
“We have a pretty big freshmen group and they have brought a lot of athleticism,” Vanderpool said. “In open gyms over the winter, we have had really good numbers and attendance has been good. We have a young and athletic group.”
The Stars lost shortstop Taylor Vanderpool to graduation after she hit .521 with 40 runs, 49 hits, 36 RBIs, six home runs and 17 doubles.
But they return a lot of offense.
Alayna Raby batted .449 last year with 22 runs scored, 40 hits, 20 RBIs and six doubles. Camryn Savage batted .388 with 30 runs scored, 40 hits and 15 RBIs, while Olivia Hole hit .364 with 23 runs scored, 36 hits, 28 RBIs and 12 doubles.
Heather Clark, Briley Burns and Shelby Medley all hit over .300.
“Olivia and Alayna Raby are going to be my team captains,” Vanderpool said. “We want those two to really lead the team, along with the other two seniors, Shelby Medley and Camryn Savage. We have a couple of younger girls that are pretty vocal and good leaders too. And I really like to see that.”
Along with the loss of Vanderpool, the Stars lost Julia Hole to graduation.
Vanderpool said there are several younger girls that have potential to step into the line-up and contribute right away.
“Victoria Grimes, we are going to ask her to fill the catching void. It will be a learning experience for her but I think it will be good for her. Hillary Reed, we look for her to be a good outfielder for. Maddie Williams,, works hard and Hollie Thompson.”
With what the Stars have back in the line-up, it wasn’t much of a surprise that Vanderpool considered that the strength of the team — at least right now.
“We work a lot on it,” Vanderpool said. “We have a couple spots that are new defensively, so that might take a while to come around. We are looking at our hitting to carry us. We don’t have power hitters, but when you hit singles and find gaps, that wins you games.”
Another strength could be the Stars’ pitching.
Neither Clark nor Hole put up monster numbers in the circle last year, but they both proved more than capable to pitching against a varsity schedule and should improve with another year of experience.
“That definitely helps,” Vanderpool said. “We have two girls with varsity experience. I like for both of them to do well.”
Western Boone last won a share of the Sagamore Conference title in 2007.
Vanderpool said that if the Stars are going to end that drought, they are going to face some stiff competition to do so.
“I think Lebanon is the top dog still, coming off a state championship. They are going to have a great hitting and fielding team. They lost their big gun in Jessica Weaver, but they will still be the team to beat. Danville will be good too with Emma Dwyer. She is the No. 1 pitcher in the conference. Southmont and Tri-West are both going to be good.”
Lebanon’s state championship only advanced the notion to Vanderpool that the Sagamore Conference is the premier 3A conference in softball. Five different teams — Lebanon, Western Boone, Danville, Southmont and Tri-West — have won sectional titles in recent years, with four of them winning the regional as well.
Lebanon and Tri-West have won state titles in the last five years, while the Mounties were the runners-up in Class 2A in 2015.
“I have said since I started coaching that our conference is one of the toughest conferences,” Vanderpool said. “We always have a couple teams going really far.”
After a couple weeks of practice, Western Boone will open up the regular season on March 21 against Noblesville.
Vanderpool said the key for the Stars early is seeing who fits where.
“We have six freshmen that we like a lot right now,” Vanderpool said. “We are trying to determine who is going to get on the field and where. That may take half the season, but we want to make sure that we have our best team chemistry come the post-season.