What a difference a year makes.
In 2020, Kenston would have returned six starters and had high hopes of competing in the rugged Western Reserve Conference.
Instead, COVID wiped out the season and graduation losses leave the Bombers with just one starter from 2019 returning this season.
“If we had played last season, we would probably have six returning starters, which would definitely have added more certainty to the offseason,” said Kenston coach Annie Dubovec. “I guess the one small good thing is that some of our girls were able to play last summer, so they still were playing to some degree.”
The Bombers, who finished 9-17 overall in 2019 and 1-1 in league play, will be young and inexperienced this season.
Despite those limitations, Dubovec and her squad are optimistic.
“We’re excited about the additions to our team,” she said. “We expect to compete day in and day out and be more competitive with the better teams in our conference and our area.”
With the lost year, the Kenston roster isn’t as seasoned as it should have been entering the 2021 season.
Dubovec has tried to simulate the intensity of a varsity softball game but there are limits on what can be accomplished in a gym or inter-squad setting.
“There’s only so much that practice can prepare you for,” Dubovec said. “There is no substitute for real game experience. Also, summer ball is great, but again, to have had game experience with your high school teammates playing together is important as well. We try to do some live situations and scrimmaging-type pieces multiple times a week in practice, but it’s definitely a challenge. There are some of our sophomores and juniors that would have had a season’s worth of varsity at bats last year and I wish they had those. There’s nothing we can do about it though, and everyone else is obviously in the same boat as we are.”
The Bombers do have three seniors in the projected starting lineup.
Hannah Fender is expected to play center field, Lauren Lesko will be in right and Maddie Ostoyic will be the designated player.
Kenston’s juniors are short on experience but bring a wealth of talent to the squad.
Catcher Marlowe Toth played first base as a freshman but solidifies the Kenston defense by moving into a new role.
“Marlowe is one of our few players that have varsity experience, so we will be counting on her to be up to speed on opening day,” Dubovec said. “She played first base as a freshman but will likely slide behind the plate this season. She will play a large role in handling our young pitching staff. I also feel she has the potential to have a big offensive season for us this year. She’s a strong girl with quick hands. If she has the proper plate discipline, she could provide the power threat we need offensively.”
Third baseman Samantha Stefancin has stepped up as a team leader and also has the talent to make a difference this spring.
“Sammi is one of our most vocal leaders on the team,” Dubovec said. “She could really start at a number of positions for us. I think, at the moment at least, she will probably start at third base even though she has relatively little experience playing there. Not every player would be willing to take up a new position not too long before the season, but she is a great girl who cares about what’s best for the team. She arguably has the best arm on the team, so we look forward to her showcasing it at third. Along with Marlowe, she is one of the more powerful hitters in our lineup.”
Shortstop Rachel Fender provides a nice complement to Stefancin, as far as the leadership aspect goes, and also is a solid defensive player.
“Rachel is also one of the main leaders on the team and we expect her to lead our defense from the shortstop position,” Dubovec said. “Her defensive play has improved within the past year or so, as her range has continued to get better. I still think there’s another level she can get to, and we hope to continue to push her to reach it. We are going to put a lot of responsibility on her shoulders, but that is because we believe she can handle it.”
Sophomores Sophia Cartellone and Nicole Masseria are projected to start at second base and left field, respectively.
Junior Rachel Adams and freshman Angela Kale will split duties at first base.
Adams and freshman Devan McCabe will split the innings in the circle this season.
“Rachel and Devan project to be the top two pitchers for us this season,” Dubovec said. “They will both be pitching at the varsity level for the first time and will undoubtedly be facing some better lineups than they’ve seen before. All we can ask is for them to control what they can control—throw strikes, hit their spots and continue to battle regardless of the situation. They will be in some tough spots during the season, but again, they just need to focus on making their next pitch the best one.”
With a lack of varsity experience, Dubovec expects to face adversity this spring.
To minimize those challenges, the Bombers will focus on defense to protect their pitchers and to remain competitive in a challenging schedule.
“We plan to rely on our defense to make plays in the field,” Dubovec said. “We need to make routine plays and we also can hopefully make above-average plays on occasion to pick up our young pitchers. We also have more team speed than we’ve had in recent seasons and hopefully, we can use that to our benefit to put pressure on our opponents. We do not have a pitcher on our roster that has ever pitched at the varsity level. We will need a number of players to ‘grow up’ quickly, and we will have to adjust to the speed of the varsity game. We need our players to not try to do too much and count on their teammates. Perhaps most importantly, our players need to learn from each at bat, each pitch, and each inning, and use those experiences to be better in May than we are right now.”