MORRIS — Second-year Morris softball head coach Jennifer Bamonte knows that this is going to be a learning season for her Redskins. But, the experience that her young team attains, she hopes will translate into wins, both later in the season and in the future.
"We are going to be a very young team this year," she said. "We only have two returning seniors - Olivia Schultz and Claire Gugerty. Those are two very good players to start with, though."
Bamonte noted that both Schultz and Gugerty, each of whom started last year as a junior, will be playing a different position this season than they did last year. Schultz spent the majority of last season at second base for the Redskins, but this year will be moving to left field. Gugerty, meanwhile, was the everyday center fielder, but this season will be spent behind the plate as catcher.
"It says a lot about those girls' character," Bamonte said. "They are willing to do what it takes to make the team better. They are going to make their college coaches very happy."
A third returning starter from last year's team is sophomore Kennedy Dransfeldt, who will remain at shortstop after being named Class 3A third-team all-state last year, when she hit .418 from the leadoff spot.
"You almost forget that Kennedy is returning because she is only a sophomore," Bamonte said. "But she was third-team all-state as a freshman and is only going to get better. She gives us a great leadoff hitter and can cover so much ground at shortstop."
After the three returnees, it will be a youth movement on the rest of the field. Bamonte has five pitchers in the program, but none have varsity experience. The No. 1 appears to be sophomore Sara Thomas, with classmate Colesie Connor, freshman Madigan Doss, freshman Madison Noon and junior Amelia Hiney also listed as pitchers. The rest of the outfield will consist of freshman Jaelyn Wiers in center and sophomore Maddie Hughes in right, while the infield will see junior Paige Thorson at first, freshman Grace Lines at second and Doss at third.
"We have a lot of young players, but they are very talented," Bamonte said. "The first few weeks of the season will be like an extended tryout for us to see who works the best together."
The Redskins will take an extended southern trip this year. They will play a game in Murphysboro in southern Illinois before heading to Arkansas, where they will play four games in two days, including one against former Redskin coach Denny Steele's team in that state, before returning home and visiting St. Louis along the way.
"That trip is going to be great for us," Bamonte said. "With this much youth on the team, it will be a great chance for them all to get to know each other.
"We are going to need all the advantages we can get. If you look at the preseason 3A rankings, it seems like most of our conference is in the top 10. We are going to go through some growing pains, but that will make us a better team at the end of the year than we are at the beginning, and it will be a big step toward what we are building for in the future."