New league, same result?
There was little intrigue when it came time to pick a softball winner for the new Southwest Conference.
League coaches wasted no time handing second-ranked and unbeaten Roseburg five of the six first-place votes to make the Indians the SWC favorite.
For that matter, second place wasn't much of a reach either, with Grants Pass gobbling up the other top vote and garnering 21 points to Roseburg's 25.
But if the old Southern Oregon Conference is to be any indication, don't expect things to go so smoothly for the two favorites.
"You never know in this game," says fifth-year Roseburg coach Tony Campos. "It only takes one run to lose."
Hoping to derail Roseburg and Grants Pass and make a run at one of the four state-playoff spots from the six-team league will be North Medford and Sheldon, which tied for third with 15 points apiece. South Medford (nine points) and South Eugene (five) were picked fifth and sixth, respectively.
SWC teams kick off league play today, with the favored Indians hosting Grants Pass, North Medford visiting Sheldon and South Eugene playing at South Medford.
Each team plays other conference opponents three times this season. Single games will be on Tuesdays and doubleheaders will take place on Saturdays.
The makeup of the new SWC also means more travel because of the addition of the two Eugene schools.
South Eugene coach Bob Vandell prefers the old Midwestern League schedule of playing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
"We never played on Saturdays," says Vandell, now in his third year. "Now we have to get on a bus around 8 a.m. and travel to play two games. It's going to be about a 10-hour day of traveling, playing, then traveling some more. It's going to be a struggle for us with all that travel."
"It'll be interesting," adds second-year North Medford coach Mike Mayben. "There won't be as much travel for us as there will be for the Eugene schools. We'll see how the kids respond."
The Black Tornado (5-4) had its string of 11 straight state-playoff appearances snapped last season but return a few key pieces, including first-team all-state center fielder lead-off hitter and Katie Gould.
The senior slap hitter is one of five returning starters for a team that lost in a league playoff a year ago.
Senior third baseman Amanda Volgarino and sophomore Taylor Schmidt provide a pair of big bats in the middle of lineup that will rely on speed and quickness.
"We focus on hitting line drives and getting runners on," says Mayben.
North has been juggling its starting lineup through nonconference play to try and find consistency.
"We're just waiting to get a feel for where to keep some of these kids," says Mayben. "Right now, we're definitely in flux a little bit."
Schmidt takes over No. 1 pitching duties after the graduation of Erica Sanders.
Freshmen Kelsey Leming (utility), McKenna Storey (utility) and Jenna Stevens (2B/SS) will all vie for a position.
"We have a very athletic freshman class," Mayben says. "They have to play catch-up with the speed of the game, but they are athletes who can do a lot of things."
South Medford also finds itself somewhat in flux.
The Panthers (3-6) return five players with starting experience, although some of that veteran moxie was shelved in the preseason due to injuries and vacations.
Colleen Morgan, a senior all-SOC shortstop, and senior Ralena Rolie and junior Kira Vandergrif missed spring-break games because of conflicts.
With those players back and the steady improvement of several sophomores in the lineup, the Panthers could make a strong postseason push.
"It is a talented group," says fifth-year coach Dan Marshall. "There is no quit in them.
"We're also very young, but we do return a lot of players."
Junior third baseman Kinzie Towry, senior catcher/second baseman Alyssa Dixon and sophomore outfielder Kortney Bishop will also lend a hand on defense and at the plate.
The Indians, who won the SOC title last year for the first time since 1987, know all about the unpredictable nature of Southern Oregon softball.
Two seasons ago, Roseburg held the top spot until the final day, only to have Crater sweep in and win the SOC crown.
But the Comets, along with former SOC teams Ashland and Eagle Point, are now in the Class 5A Southern Sky Conference.
And with the return of junior flame-thrower Mikayla Endicott, the Indians appear to be a step ahead of the rest of the conference.
Also returning for Roseburg are senior all-league second baseman Brandi Campos, senior catcher Tanya Johnston and junior first baseman Jazmine Crowe.
Freshman shortstop Crysta Conn has provided a big bat in a lineup that, along with Endicott's pitching, has helped the Indians outscore their first 11 opponents, 56-10.
"We lost quite a bit," says Tony Campos of his roster from last year. "But we're definitely pleased with what this team has accomplished so far.
"Sometimes you can play well at the beginning of the season and maybe peak too soon. But we have some pretty talented kids, so I don't think we're going to go anywhere."
Grants Pass' run will hinge on the development of the six freshmen and four sophomores on the roster.
So far, so good for the fourth-ranked Cavers (10-1).
"We've had a great preseason," says Clay Rounsaville, the SWC's longest-tenured coach in his ninth year. "But we know the sledding gets a lot tougher from her on out."
Junior Chelsea Chamberlain and freshman Morgan Barnes have combined for nine shutouts in GP's 11 games.
Besides Chamberlain, the Cavers also return five other starters, including first-team all-SOC competitors Lindy Sippola (outfield) and Karleigh Prestianni (third base).
Sheldon and South Eugene come to the SWC from the Midwestern League. The Irish finished runner-up to Churchill a year ago, while the Axemen placed sixth out of nine teams.
Sheldon (8-1) has only one senior but boasts the most returning starters in the league with seven. All of those competitors earned all-league honors a year ago.
Leading the pack for the Irish is the veteran arm of junior Sienna Stanley, who enters her third league campaign on the mound.
At the plate, third-team all-state junior center fielder Chloe Buerstatte leads an offense that is averaging more than seven runs per game.
The Irish's lone defeat came in the season opener to West Salem, 6-2.
The Axemen (7-3) have fared well in close games with a 4-1 record in contests decided by two runs or less.
Inexperience, however, and only four returning starters could lead to a long SWC season for South Eugene.
Sophomore pitcher Margarite Waddell is off to a strong start for the Axemen, while seniors Ricci Estey (center field), Chelsea Carnes (second base) and Mischa Meyer (catcher) lead the offensive attack.
Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail email@example.com
COACH: Tony Campos (fifth year).
LAST YEAR: 23-2, 11-1 SOC.
CURRENT RECORD: 11-0.
Player Pos Yr.
Mikayla Endicott P Jr.
Brandi Campos 2B Sr.
Tanya Johnston C Sr.
Jazmine Crowe 1B Jr.
Nikki Bassett 3B So.
Crysta Conn SS Fr.
Kendra George CF Jr.
Whitney Harris LF Jr.
Cadee Kinne RF So.
Shauna Collins RF Fr.
AT A GLANCE: Replacing five starters hasn't been an issue for second-ranked Roseburg. The Indians simply appear to have reloaded. During its unbeaten nonconference campaign, Roseburg has defeated five top-10 teams. "It's probably the toughest preseason schedule we've ever had," says Tony Campos. "It will only make us better as a team." ... Endicott, a second-team all-state hurler, is 9-0, has struck out 120 batters in 68 innings of work and has recorded five of the team's seven shutouts. The junior flame-thrower's finest outing came in the first meeting against third-ranked Southridge, in which she fanned 21 in a one-hit victory. ... Roseburg had to replace its entire outfield after graduating two seniors and after returning starter Tonya Bishop decided not to come out. Harris, a slap-hitting lead-off batter, and George have been solid in left and center field, respectively, while Kinne and Collins have split time in right. ... Conn, a freshman, has been a solid replacement to former all-state shortstop Ali Paz. "I think an Ali Paz comes along once in a lifetime," says coach Campos of his former four-year starter. "I hope Conn can get there. She's impressed a lot of people so far."
COACH: Clay Rounsaville (ninth year).
LAST YEAR: 21-9, 7-5 SOC.
CURRENT RECORD: 10-1.
Player Pos Yr.
Chelsea Chamberlain P/1B Jr.
Denise Runnells OF Sr.
Karleigh Prestianni 3B So.
Emily Woolf C So.
Cami Bennett 2B So.
Lindy Sippola OF So.
Morgan Barnes P/1B Fr.
Hannah Fischer SS Fr.
D Jantzer P/UT Fr.
Tara Glover RF Fr.
Bree Amaranthus OF Fr.
Tia Misfeldt C Fr.
AT A GLANCE: Grants Pass is loaded with young talent for the second straight season. And so far, that talent — there are six freshmen on the roster — has produced a No. 4 ranking at the 6A level. "We're young, but talented," says Rounsaville, who has only two seniors on the roster. "But we know the sledding gets a lot tougher from here on out." ... Chamberlain and Barnes will form a potent 1-2 punch. The two have helped pitch the Cavers to nine shutout victories. "Morgan probably has a few more pitches," says Rounsaville, "but Chelsea has a couple years experience under her belt. They've both done an excellent job." D Jantzer will also see time on the hill. ... Bennett, the team's lead-off hitter, went 11-for-13 at the Anderson Tournament, while Glover, the No. 2 hitter in the lineup, leads Grants Pass in runs and on-base percentage. ... Sippola and Prestianni both earned first-team all-Southern Oregon Conference last season as freshmen. ... The Cavers open at league-favorite Roseburg. The Indians beat Grants Pass three times last season.
COACH: Mike Mayben (second year).
LAST YEAR: 12-12, 7-5 SOC.
CURRENT RECORD: 5-4.
Player Pos Yr.
Katie Gould CF Sr.
Amanda Volgarino 3B Sr.
Kaci Sevano C Sr.
Taylor Schmidt P So.
Justine Sandoval LF/U Jr.
Kelsey Leming U Fr.
Kassie Choi RF Jr.
McKenna Storey U Fr.
Jenna Stevens 2B/SS Fr.
Ashley Arnold 1B/U Jr.
Kayla Strahm OF Jr.
AT A GLANCE: North Medford must replace five starters in its quest to get back to the state playoffs after missing out last year for the first time in 11 seasons. Besides the graduation of three seniors, the Black Tornado also lost Alana Coronado, who decided to focus on track, and Paulina Swenson, who moved back to California after one year at North. ... The offense will again center around Gould, a first-team all-state selection a year ago and a four-year starter. Gould had an on-base percentage of over .500 and hit around .480 last year. ... The talented Schmidt will be the No. 1 hurler. The sophomore, who also provides a potent bat in the Tornado lineup, has greatly improved her control since last year, when she bided her time behind then-No. 1 Erica Sanders. "She has really matured," says Mayben of Schmidt. "She worked really hard to develop control and hit her spots." ... Freshmen Leming and Stevens missed most of the preseason with injuries but should be ready for SWC play. Storey, another freshman, has been impressive at the plate in nonconference.
COACH: Brian Brancato (third year).
LAST YEAR: 22-6, 14-2 MWL.
CURRENT RECORD: 8-1.
Player Pos Yr.
Sienna Stanley P Jr.
Theresa Brown 1B Jr.
Katie Steigleman 2B Jr.
Taylor Pangilinan 3B Jr.
Teea Rogers IF So.
Chloe Buerstatte CF Jr.
Kaitlyn Patterson OF Jr.
Tammy Brown C So.
Niki Stafek DP/DH So.
Amber Anderson OF Sr.
Kelly Washburn INF Jr.
Karlie Hyde OF Jr.
Tori Pangilinan P Fr.
Torie Halverson P Fr.
AT A GLANCE: Sheldon packs plenty of punch heading into the SWC campaign. The Irish return a league-high seven starters, each of whom earned all-league honors a year ago. "It's an experienced group," says Brancato. ... Buerstatte, a third-team all-stater and two-time first-team all-Midwestern League player, bats lead-off for Sheldon. Last season, she led the MWL in runs and stolen bases as a sophomore. Taylor Pangilinan, a No. 3 or 4 hitter, batted .470 in nonconference action. "Chloe does a great job at leadoff and Taylor has an incredible bat," Brancato says. "Our offense revolves around them." ... Stanley started every game for the Irish last season. Brancato also boasts his deepest staff in his tenure, with Steigleman, Tori Pangilinan and Torie Halverson all capable of getting outs. ... Sheldon, which took second behind Churchill in the MWL, lost to Westview in the third round of the state playoffs last season. The lone loss this year came to West Salem, 6-2.
COACH: Dan Marshall (fifth year).
LAST YEAR: 13-10, 7-5 SOC
CURRENT RECORD: 3-6.
Player Pos Yr.
Colleen Morgan SS Sr.
Ralena Rolie OF/1B Sr.
Kinzie Towry 3B Jr.
Alyssa Dixon C/2B Sr.
Kortney Bishop OF So.
Samantha Matarese LF So.
Nikki Stevens DP/3B So.
Jessica Mondale P So.
Dominique Newman P So.
Rocky Hiett OF Jr.
Josie Walker 2B So.
Courtney Guches 1B/DP Jr.
Kira Vandergrif OF Jr.
Whitney James C So.
AT A GLANCE: Injuries and absence were two big culprits in South Medford's sub-.500 record in nonconference. For the start of SWC action, however, the Panthers welcome back those missing in action. "We were the walking wounded," says Marshall. "We're young, but this is a talented group." ... Mondale, a power pitcher, takes over as the team's No. 1 starter, a spot vacated by the graduation of Jill Jeter. Mondale missed the majority of last season because of a back injury but has returned to toss the bulk of the innings so far this year. "She's a big, strong kid," says Marshall. "She has a good fastball and riseball, and is working on developing an off-speed pitch." ... Newman, a No. 2 starter, offers a different look by mixing in off-speed pitches. She and Mondale may split games during league doubleheaders, says Marshall. ... Dixon moves behind the plate after a stint at second base last year. She and Morgan are the lone returning all-league players for South Medford.
COACH: Bob Vandell (third year).
LAST YEAR: 7-17, 6-10 MWL.
CURRENT RECORD: 7-3.
Player Pos Yr.
Allie White 1B So.
Chelsea Carnes 2B Sr.
Mischa Meyer SS Sr.
Ricci Estey CF Sr.
Holly Olson LF Sr.
Paige Sloan 3B Fr.
Emily Shortreed C Fr.
Margarite Waddell P So.
Sydney Hodgson LF So.
Tayrn Armstrong RF So.
AT A GLANCE: With no ASA program and only four returning starters, South Eugene may be in for a long season in the SWC. "It's one of the things that bothers me going into a new league," says Vandell. "We know we're going to face kids that grew up playing ASA ball. My kids come to me not knowing a lot about the game. It's a different situation here, so a lot of my kids come here not having a clue." ... Waddell will be the Axemen's ace in her first year as a pitcher. The sophomore won't overpower hitters, Vandell says, but does hit her spots and gives her defense, which Vandell hopes will be a strength, plenty of opportunities. "We pretty much rely on our defense," says the coach. "If it lets us down, we're in trouble." ... Estey, a speedy, left-handed slap hitter, batted around .400 in nonconference and will be the table-setter on offense. Carnes and Meyer are the No. 3 and 4 hitters. ... Meyer, a catcher last season, will start at short. Shortreed, one of two freshmen on the roster, will take over behind the plate. ... The Axemen went 5-2 in nonleague play against members of the old Midwestern League.