The injury bug has hit the North softball team but the Rangers aren’t going to let that affect their mindset heading into the 2023 season.
The Rangers had planned to enter the season with six returning starters but season-ending injuries to Alyssa McPeek and Lily Namestnik trimmed that number to four.
“We expect to compete with everybody we play and behind our pitching, I believe we can,” said North coach Matt McPeek. “We will need to overcome two major injuries to the heart and soul of our lineup with Alyssa McPeek and Lily Namestnik being out for the season. We have seen hard work out and been impressed with many of our newcomers in Brynn Smith, Ashley Sykes, Addison Campbell, Olivia Proctor, Jenna Hutchinson, Emerson Hren, Morgan Gross, and Lizzy Gardner.”
North finished 16-8 overall last season.
The Rangers are out to overcome the injuries and any other adversity they face this spring.
“Although we are fighting the injury bug, I’ve seen so many positives out of the newcomers that have shown early they belong,” McPeek said. “I expect to be in the mix for the (Western Reserve Conference) title as I feel we have a top-tier pitching staff that can keep us in any game.”
That pitching staff is anchored by junior Amanda Dobida, who won nine games as a sophomore with 101 strikeouts. She also hit .527.
Providing depth in the circle are Taylor Bard, who threw a fair share of innings last season, and Jenna Hutchinson.
“Pitching is our strength,” McPeek said. “Dobida is one of the premier pitchers in the area and gives you a chance to win every time she takes the mound.”
North’s other returning starters include Katie Bucy, Bre Preston, and Maddie Russo.
Bucy plays shortstop, Preston is the center fielder, and Russo packs a punch in right field. Preston hit two home runs last year while Russo went yard once.
“Katy is smooth, strong, and athletic. She’s a five-tool player when she’s on,” McPeek said. “Bre is another five-tool player that can put a team down in the first at-bat. Maddie has power and speed. She makes it look easy.”
Third baseman Ally Hall is back after missing last season with an injury.
“She is a much-needed return to the lineup,” McPeek said. “She has unlimited power and strength.”
Rounding out North’s projected starting lineup are catcher Morgan Gross, Bard at first base when she isn’t pitching, second baseman Brynn Smith, left fielder Addison Campbell, and designated player Ashley Sykes.
“Morgan has had a solid spring and will get better throughout the season. Brynn Smith was the most improved overall player in the program last year as a freshman on the JV,” McPeek said. “Addison is a first-year full-time varsity player, but plays as if she’s been there all along, and Ashley will surprise teams with her bat.”
Gross has big shoes to fill for Alyssa McPeek, who will miss the season with a shoulder injury after batting .400 last season with 27 runs scored and 15 runs batted in, and Smith will fill in for Namestnik, who was very productive with a .431 batting average, 16 runs scored, and 15 RBI.
Molly Delaney will provide depth at both middle infield positions.
“She is a defensive specialist and plays both middle positions well,” McPeek said. “She is fast on the base paths and has a very high softball IQ.”
The Rangers don’t have a senior in the lineup, so the future certainly is bright, but this squad isn’t interested in building for the future.
It wants to win now.
To do that, the Rangers are going to have to remain healthy, focused, and concentrate on the fundamentals of the game.
“Our biggest challenges are staying healthy and overcoming the injuries we’ve already been dealt,” McPeek said. “Aly Hall is coming off of an ACL repair that kept her out for the season a year ago. Her bat will be a welcomed addition to the middle of the lineup. I expect our veterans to lead the way. We need to believe in ourselves and each other and stay focused on each and every detail. Our veterans must lead us.”