Canfield's softball team enters the 2013 season still trying to recover from a resounding end to its 2012 campaign.
Despite a somewhat sensational season, last year's Lady Cardinals were plucked by Poland in the district championship. More specifically, Canfield was kept in control by Poland's all-world pitcher Erin Gabriel who almost tossed a no-hitter while dashing the Cardinals' hopes at a district title. Head coach Ray Melewski realizes in order to advance in this year's tournament and the All American Conference American Tier, his Lady Cardinals will probably have to get by the Bulldogs again.At least Canfield will not have to contend with Gabriel and a few other superstars this season.
"(Poland) lost some good girls," said Melewski recently. "They are always a strong program though. Our main objective (each year) is to always protect Route 224."
While Canfield's rival is looking to replace some important pieces, coach Melewski will also be trying to make up for the loss of some stalwart seniors from a year ago.
Laura Beck, Gina Mancini and Sarah Vrabel all graduated last June leaving the Cardinals with some holes at some vital spots.
"We lost three seniors at key positions," said Melewski. "Our biggest concern right now is pitching,"
At least the pitching circle is one place on the field where Melewski may be able to field some strong seniors. Alexa Schmidt did an admirable job in last year's tournament and will be back to probably assume the number one pitching label. Schmidt's spot in the rotation was a given, but a pleasant surprise came to coach Melewski this off season when Abby Baker approached him and told him she wanted to log innings in the circle as well.
"That was nice to hear," said Melewski. "(Schmidt and Baker) should make a nice one-two punch."
There may be punch in the pitching rotation, but regrettably Canfield will not have a lot of punch throughout its lineup. That doesn't mean the Cardinals will be begging to score runs however.
"I'm excited for our speed on offense," Melewski announced. "We have a good mix of lefties and righties. Our power will come from (Rachael) Tinkey."
Melewski sounds like a teenage girl who just scored front row tickets to a One Direction concert when he talks about Tinkey. The sophomore shortstop had a fabulous freshman season and is expected to be a main cog both offensively and defensively this spring.
"(Tinkey) is a phenomenal shortstop," Melewski gushed. "She has great range for a softball player. It's a good thing she's not a guy because she'd be giving Derek Jeter a run."
If Tinkey is Jeter then first baseman Sydney Opladen must be the fragile Alex Rodriguez since she battled injuries most of last season. Getting Opladen back healthy in 2013 will be a tremendous boost to Melewski's lineup.
"(Opladen) was injured last year, but we need her to bounce for us this year," said the coach.
Two other seniors to keep an eye on are Kayley Keller and Kaci Hyde who both did a good job with their bats a year ago. Junior Ali Prologo will join Keller in the outfield.
One position on the field that is not as set as the rest is the hot corner where a junior and two sophomores will be battling it out over the next week to assume a starting role. Liz Raber, Lynnae Whitehead and Alexa Bodine are all in the third base mix for the Cardinals. Darby Cockrell and Kara Rothbauer are two other sophomores who shined as freshmen and should be ready to improve this year.
One freshman that is worthy of enormous amounts of varsity time in catcher Amelia Manenti. Don't think for one second that just because Amelia is an ankle biter she can't replicate the catching legacy Beck left behind.
"(Manenti) has some big shoes to fill behind the plate," said Melewski honestly, "but she has been doing everything right."
If the Cardinals want to make right the wrong of their district title loss they will have to wait until April 22 and 23 when the play a home-in-home series with Poland. The official start to the season in March 30 when Canfield hosts a double header against Our Lady of Elms from Akron and Western Reserve. Until that time, coach Melewski is hoping his girls can find some spring like weather to warm up in.
"We need to get some live games in," the coach admitted. "We can practice all we want, but you can't tell what kind of team you have until we play against a live team."
The only prediction the coach can make about his outfit so far is that they will play hard and compete every day.
"It's one step at a time right now," Melewski said. "We need to hang in there (against the conference teams), play well and take care of ourselves."