Defending champs appear to be loaded again
Stars and Stripes March 16, 2023
The DODEA-Europe softball landscape will look somewhat different when teams begin action this weekend.
Aviano returns to the diamond, while the coach from last season’s title-winning Vilseck squad has moved to England.
Still, the defending champions in big schools and Naples for the small-schools division are expected to be in contention again. And numerous teams bring back their pitchers from a year ago in a sport where who’s in the circle can make or break a team.
Can schools such as Wiesbaden, Ramstein and Spangdahlem, among others, push those two come the tournaments on May 18-20 in the Kaiserslautern Military Community? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, here are team previews based off responses from coaches:
The Dragons will be freshman heavy under coach Duke Eidt, and they lost their entire pitching staff.
Still, Alconbury returns players in key positions. Shortstop Alondra Acosta and center fielder Maisy Sanborn bring senior leadership, while third baseman Rachana Dacumos and outfielders Natalia Hairston and Angel Rea round out the upperclassmen returners. Also coming back is sophomore catcher Kalila Te’o.
The Dragons receive more older athletes in newcomers Aleesa Fromm (senior), Kari Henson (junior) and Aila Zentner (sophomore). Joining the team are six freshmen – Aspen Williams, Maggie May, Jamie Goenen, Kylie Henson, Cheyenne Worley and Cierra Worley.
After having no team last year, the Saints are back under first-year coach Jordan Gurganus.
They will be relying on their senior captains in Maliyah Leyva and Lillian Prieto to get the squad going, as well as sophomore shortstop Sophia Scavo. Other upperclassmen include juniors Edith Hernandez, Aleese Lipscomb and Stella Payan.
Freshmen make up the rest of the roster – volleyball standout Sophia Fisher, Kaylee Gillispie, Kaylee Harris, Audrina Nelson, Jae’Lianny Rodriguez, Joyce Taylor, Sulaekha Ulat and Nora Unterseher.
The Raiders may return 11 players from last year’s squad, but just two are seniors.
Still, Coach Zachary Robinson expects the combination of the leadership and newcomers to help Kaiserslautern be competitive in 2023.
Five starters are among those coming back. Xin Ai Robinson (catcher/pitcher/shortstop) was named to the all-tournament team in 2022, and she is joined by fellow senior Siena Norcross (catcher/second baseman/right fielder).
Juniors Bevanie Cleark (pitcher/shortstop), who earned all-tournament honors last spring, and Selam Foery (shortstop/center fielder) and sophomore Emma Fleming (outfielder) round out the returning starters.
Two senior transfers, first baseman Aries Garrett and third baseman Ariyanna Garrett, will be integral to the team, and freshmen Isabella Neighbarger (catcher/second baseman/shortstop) and Katelynn McEntee (pitcher) will see the field a lot.
New Lancer coach Shannon Laliberte isn’t a stranger to success. Just last spring, he led Vilseck to the Division I European title.
This year he makes the move across the pond and takes over a Lakenheath program that has no seniors. Laliberte said he expects the Lancers’ athleticism and aggressiveness to surprise teams across Europe this spring.
Returning for the Lancers are outfielder Britain Gonzales, pitcher/first baseman Brooklyn Gonzales, catcher LaLaine Tome, infielder Julia Swingle, infielder Makenzie Surber and utility player Kendall Wilson. Lakenheath also welcomes a transfer from 2022 Divisions II-III runner-up Spangdahlem with Alicia Lucero.
The rest of the team consists of six freshmen – Arianna Harrison, Ariel Cannon, Emerson Melkersman, Faith Eades, Sarah Branthoover and Taelor Hitze.
Coach Amy Driscoll has an embarrassment of riches this spring.
Coming off the Division II-III championship in 2022, she and the Wildcats return the tournament MVP in sophomore JuJu Martinez, who as a pitcher, catcher and first baseman posted a .778 batting average and a .852 on-base percentage and struck out 28 last season.
They also have four seniors: Rebecca Lee, a pitcher, catcher and shortstop who hit .684 and recorded a .750 on-base percentage; Kennedy Rascoe, a shortstop and center fielder who averaged .688 at the plate and whose on-base percentage was .815; Cadence Quintana, a first baseman and center fielder who hit .600 and recorded a .727 on-base percentage; and Nora Black, a pitcher and second baseman who averaged .538 at the plate.
Naples is spoiled in the circle, with freshman Kapriana Martinez capable of pitching as well as catching and playing third base. Other newcomers include junior Lucy Black (third base/catcher/outfield) and freshmen Maeve O’Connor (first base/outfield) and Blythe Averill (second base/outfield).
The Royals had as many as losses last season (seven) as they did during Kent Enyeart’s first stint as coach from 2011-2015. Still, they finished third in the postseason.
Ramstein expects once again to be in the running for that title come mid-May. With eight returners, Enyeart said the squad has a good core to chase that goal.
Four of those returners are seniors: Keilani Gonzales (shortstop/center fielder), Natalie Briceland (outfielder), Lily Rethage (pitcher/first baseman/outfielder) and Natasha Olivares (outfielder). Juniors Jazmyn Hall (pitcher/third baseman) and Madalyn Young (second baseman/catcher) and sophomores Parker Ingram (outfielder/shortstop) and Arianna Chambers (second baseman/pitcher/outfielder) round out those coming back.
Enyeart said the newcomers have a hunger to grow in the sport. Included in that group are five juniors – Madison Mihalic (pitcher/catcher/infielder), Emma Stone (pitcher/infielder), Emerson Morriarty (catcher/infielder), Ariana Gray (outfielder) and Martina Martin (outfielder).
The Jaguars were hit by the injury bug in 2022, as two players suffered broken legs during the campaign. Add in another who didn’t play, and coach Kendra LaRocca will spend some time assessing her players to start the season.
Eight players come back this spring. Of them, three are seniors: Angeliah Barraza-Hernandez (pitcher/second baseman), Cesca Catibog (catcher/pitcher/third baseman) and Hannah Gildea (first baseman). The Jaguars also have one junior – Juliane Signorello (pitcher/outfielder) – and four sophomores – Jaelynne Rosier (second baseman/shortstop/pitcher), Emma Fowler (pitcher/shortstop/catcher), Brooklyn Christensen (outfielder/catcher) and Brooke Paschal (outfielder/catcher).
Among the newcomers, four are sophomores and two are freshmen.
The Sentinels rode a wave to second place in the Division II-III tournament in 2022 after experiencing a long losing streak in the regular season, and they will hope to build on that this season.
The majority of last year’s squad returns for coach Jillian Besemer, including senior pitcher and first baseman Audrey Hauck. Joining her are Clara Loomis (pitcher/first baseman), Hailey Bastian (shortstop/catcher), Sandrine Bennett (first baseman), Isabel Garver (outfielder), Baile Haffner (outfielder), Alajah Jiggetts (outfielder), Aspen Lindsey (shortstop/second baseman), Talyssa Link (outfielder/third baseman), Riley Lombardo (catcher/third baseman) and Kaleigh Lucas (third baseman).
Besemer said those returners will be supplemented by several promising freshmen who played for select teams in the States.
Brandy Mosby retakes the helm for the Panthers, and she sees championship potential in this year’s team.
Stuttgart has 10 players coming back, paced by captain Erin Morrow. Also returning are Sophia Bucheit, Bella Whaley, Berea Bryan, Shannon Correa, Icsiss Perez, Hannah Bruce, Kaci Gruver and Jaylee Brown.
Among the new talent are seniors Alexis Gustavson and Sarah Fink, junior Roxanna Mirenda, and freshmen Serenity Sampson, Brooklyn Gilcrest, Alison Hayes, Olivia Koch and Ell Soto.
The Cougars enter this spring with a young squad and many new to the sport, so expectations are somewhat tempered.
Coach Elizabeth Loftis and her staff are looking to their elder statesmen to help guide the newbies into the sport and help grow their skills. Senior Grace Harkison (center fielder) and juniors Ivy Anderson (pitcher), Isabella Espersen (catcher), Ariyanna Hughes (third baseman) and Elizabeth Saari (first baseman/pitcher) all return for Vicenza.
All newcomers for the squad are underclassmen. That includes sophomores Sophia Bultmann, Jodie Frias, Brianne Horner, Summer Jenni, Tiler Murgia and Lilah Rovira; and freshmen Rielynn Casper, Hannah Findlay, Katherine Green, Asia Holguin, Marhonda Mitchell, Aaliyah Mullins and Chloe Quinn.
The defending Division I champion has a new head coach in Cathleen Burgess, who spent last season as an assistant to Laliberte.
She and the Falcons will have to replace four starters from that title-winning squad, but they have a major boost with the return of sophomore starting pitcher Lily Bravo. Also coming back are three seniors – Kaila Haynes (third baseman/catcher), Morgan Robbins (first baseman) and Scotlynn Smithson (outfielder/pitcher) – and two sophomore outfielders – Aundrea Lloyd and Aliyah Mijares.
Sophomores Julissa Neal (third baseman/catcher) and Emaline Overton (first baseman/outfielder) played some for the Falcons last year but did not compete in the European tournament.
Vilseck adds to this core seven newcomers, including juniors Ryen Arguello (outfielder/second baseman) and Jada Gill (outfielder).
The Warriors fell just short in the 2022 Division I final after going 15-2 on the season, and they will be looking to unseat the Falcons as champions this spring.
It helps when coach Jenny Yalden can turn to all-tournament selection Lyndsey Urick, who after winning titles in the volleyball and basketball in her senior year already, steps back in the circle for Wiesbaden. Sophomore Quinn Stout will step in relief for Urick from time to time as well as play first base, sophomore Roni Massey will man second base and sophomores Valerie Fischer and Sophia Creadick return to the outfield.
A pair of transfers bolster the Warriors. Senior Maria Pidgeon will play catcher, while Caroline Williams joins the squad in her junior year.
Overall, Wiesbaden has four seniors, four juniors and five sophomores on the roster.