Chardon returns four starters from the 2019 season and the Hilltoppers will rely on those experienced players to set the tone this spring.
Senior pitcher Kayla Noerr and senior catcher Madi Russo form one of the most formidable batteries in the area. Classmates Maddie Hauser and Lindsey Leggett will play first base and shortstop, respectively.
“Anytime you have a senior pitcher and catcher, both committed to play in college, you can expect to be competitive in every game,” said Chardon coach Stewart Landies. “We have tremendous senior leadership from Madi Russo, Lindsey Leggett, Maddie Hauser, Kayla Noerr, and Audrey Manary, a utility player. Our sophomores are really like redshirt freshmen because they didn’t get to play together last season. A lot of our final success will depend on how long it takes the three sophomores and two freshmen starters to catch up and be ready by the time the playoffs start.”
Chardon finished the 2019 season with a 17-11 record overall and a 10-3 mark in the competitive Western Reserve Conference. The Hilltoppers also had success in the postseason as they went on to win a district championship.
Despite the strong core of returning starters, Landies and the Hilltoppers entered the 2021 season with as many question marks as they had answers.
“The biggest challenge has been navigating the unknowns,” Landies said. “We went into the fall expecting to have 12 indoor winter league games. We ended up not being allowed to play because of school COVID regulations. We planned to start our strength and conditioning program in November but when the school went 100-percent remote learning we had to cancel that. Generally, those two offseason programs provide the coaches with a good idea of not only softball-specific talent but also let us know who is working on their own to stay in game shape.”
Chardon’s success, though, hinges on Noerr’s ability to elevate her already impressive game.
A Butler University signee, Noerr will anchor Chardon’s pitching staff.
“I knew that our pitching rotation would be a rotation of one if Kayla came into tryouts prepared,” Landies said. “We have three other good young pitchers who will compete for innings. Kayla is one of the most exceptional athletes I have ever been around. I have had the benefit of knowing her since elementary school and she has worked her tail off to prepare for this high school season.”
Behind the dish, Russo, a Walsh University commitment, will be just as important as Noerr on every pitch.
“Madi made a decision several years ago to be the best softball player and catcher that she could be,” Landies said. “No one works harder than her and she is set for a big year.”
With Leggett, who moved from catcher to shortstop, and O’Brien, a sophomore, in center field, the Hilltoppers have a talented and experienced group protecting the middle of the field.
“Lindsey is one of the best catchers in the area and is being asked to adjust and play shortstop this season. She has embraced the challenge and our team success will be driven by Lindsey’s success defensively and at the plate,” Landies said. “Amy will be our starting centerfielder, pitches, and will bat in the top part of our lineup. We think that Amy is one of the best ballplayers in our conference and we’re excited to see her succeed this season.”
Add Hauser at first base and the Hilltoppers have four seniors in the infield.
That experience will be important as freshmen Grace Legan and Nicole Krakora will see their first varsity action this spring. Legan will play second and Krakora will protect the hot corner.
“Grace Legan is a ‘dirtbag’ who loves the game and will be a solid, reliable second baseman for four years,” Landies said. “Nicole Krakora is a multi-sport athlete who can play anywhere on the field. She is the fastest kid on the team and is tough as nails.”
Sophomores Sidney Nagaj and Sarah Sutton will start in left and right field, respectively.
Manary and sophomore Sydney Murray will provide depth at multiple positions and freshmen Jadyn Tarantino and Mackenzie Kilpeck have the potential to see extended playing time.
“Jadyn is a true utility player. She excels at any position and will see a lot of game time at multiple positions. She is another girl who is an incredible athlete who I am fortunate to have in the program,” Landies said. “Kenzie will spend the season shadowing Russo and we have high hopes for her in the future.”
Murray, O’Brien, and Jenna Hendricks will provide pitching depth.