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NFL Softball Preview

We’ve been blessed with a season. Now let’s do something with the time that we have been given.

That will be the mindset in the Niagara Frontier League as softball teams will balance the appreciation of having a season, but also wanting to succeed.

After the Covid-19 pandemic, out the breaks on the 2020 spring season, softball teams all over WNY are eager to get back on the field and make up for lost time.

With sectional post season party being limited to just the top eight teams in each class every team knows they have to be at their best every time they take the field.

So girls are taking a moment to take it all in and enjoy being back on the field, but they are losing sight of the goal of winning.

Grand Island

The Vikings will look to senior catch Haley Coombs to lead the way.

“She’s a fantastic young lady,” said GI coach Cheryl O’Connor.

Junior Kaci Gottler will be the No.1 arm in the pitching circle.

GI also returns a trio of seniors who were strong contributors during their sophomore year.

Rose Meaney will get the start at first base while Grace Carey returns to the hot corner.

Morgan Tollner will be at center field.

Kenmore West

Day one of tryouts Lady Blue Devils coach Kim Leggett was straight and to the point with her girls.

“The very first day of tryouts I said show me how much you missed it,” said Leggett.

“Show me you missed it as much as I did and that you want to be here and let’s just cherish every single moment because they know what it’s like to just (snapped fingers) lose it in a flash.”

Leggett said that even though they didn’t have the traditional long pre season where girls have time to bond this group is very close and clearly enjoys being together.

The Blue Devils will be lead by senior captains Mariah Semple (OF), Rachel Rumschik (UTL) and shortstop AnnaRose Roulley.

Roulley noted that all of the girls, especially the seniors are thankful to have a season. And the best way to show that appreciation is by making the most of each day and fashioning a winning season.

This year presents an interesting challenge for senior captains. After losing their junior year where they could truly find their voice of leadership being a team leader could be awkward this year. They have to balance knowing when to be assertive and when to pull back. Anna Rose Roulley said her approach is get the girls involved so everyone knows they have a say. That it isn’t just captains barking orders. Our team. We all have a say.

“I don’t want to be an authority figure to the girls. I want to be their teammate and I don’t want to overstep those boundaries,” Roulley said. “So I try to give them a lot of options  (for input). Whether it be what we’re wearing. How we’re stretching. Do you want to do a certain stretch or are we wearing jerseys to school or are we dressing up?”

Sophomore Olivia Foglia-Leffler and junior Cassidy Pierce will play catcher. Senior Laura Cohn is new to softball. Cohn’s natural athletic ability makes her a valuable asset to the team.

Juniors Leah Fron and Julia Cipolla are also returning players.

Kenmore East

Coach Bryan Burhans likes what he sees from his sqaud. And with good reason. With sophomore Jane Reilly and a bevy of travel players the Bulldogs will give any opponent all they can handle.

Reilly, who plays shortstop and is one of the best all-around players in the state, is part of a strong infield that includes senior Emma Stasio (1B), Camryn Smith (3B), Madison Esmond (2B) and catcher Kylie Freeman.

Esmond and Reilly both play high-level travel and have strong softball I.Q.’s.

Seniors Lehla Fisher and Gabby Sordetto return as the Bulldogs top outfielders.

Freshman Gianna Core will take on the task of replacing Gabi Vasi (Gannon University) at starting pitcher.

Also batting in the heart of the order, Vasi was also one of the best voices of leadership the program has ever had.

Burhans feels he has a cast of strong but silent leaders who will take charge in their own way.

“She grew into that role much like how Jane is,” Burhans said. “I’ve got a lot of quiet leaders. Camryn doesn’t say much, but she leads by a great example….they’re just all great kids. They’re not vocal. Jane’s not vocal but she’s been so good for so long she’s just easy to follow.”

North Tonawanda

Senior third baseman Kaitlyn Samsel will lead the Lady Jacks.

NT will also look to a pair of talented juniors, Lexi Brennan and Brianna Starr, to make an impact.

Samsel, Brennan and Starr will also serve as captains.

Brennan will alternate between the pitching circle and center field.

While the scrappy Starr should emerge as one of the best shortstops in WNY.

Sophomore Haleigh Suitor will also see time in the outfield.

Freshman Kyler Shiesley gives the Jacks the plus of another reliable pitching arm. Head coach Rachael Kielaszek said the goal is to obviously win, but with such a young squad and shorter season the big picture is to learn and grow as much as possible so they can be that much stronger as a unit next season. Most of all she just wants her girls to enjoy the simple pleasure of getting back the game they love and the joy of being together. In a world where Covid is still throwing every facet of life off being between the lines gives players a sense of being able to control something In a world that still feels out of control.

“Just seeing them being back to normalcy, outside and on the field again playing with their friends and just laughing and things like that it’s been such a joy to see that happiness on their faces,” said Kielaszek. “Today we got to watch them talk and laugh and have that little goofy time. It was awesome to see that and they really enjoyed being out there.”

Niagara Wheatfield

Eyes will be on junior shortstop Elanna Lysiak who had an incredible freshmen year at the plate.

Lysiak, who serves as a co-captain, is hoping to continue the play that her name in NFL Player of the Year talks two years ago.

Senior captain Jenna Augugliaro, starting catcher, will also have the onus of leadership on her shoulders.

Freshmen Julia Kwitchoff Will be a double threat as the Falcons staring pitcher who also swings a big bat in the lineup.

Sophomore Ally Siejka will play first base and a big bat in the lineup as she’ll be in the heart of the order with Lysiak and Kwitchoff.

N-W will also have one of the deepest pitching rotations in the NFL with Kwitchoff, Leah Bailey (11), Siejka, Grace Albano (11) and Sara McCune (9) all able to eat up innings.

Sasha Zayatz (10) Sara McCune are up from JV should hold down 3rd base and Centerfield respectively. The speedy McCune is a consideration to be the team’s leadoff hitter.

“We are a talented deep group with great senior leadership mixed in with some very talented underclassmen,” said coach Kevin Schucker.

“Our JV is also very talented which should help NW continue its winning ways.”

Lockport

The Lady Lions will look to seniors Hayley Robinson (SS) and catcher Cecelia Waters to lead the way, along with sophomores Abby Rice (1B/P) and Brianna Delaney  (P/3B).

All four were part of the Lions pre-Covid starting line-up in 2019.

Head coach Stephen Kojsza said that after losing last season everyone is energized to be back on the field and are determined to make this season count.

“As a team we are pushing to do our best and making every game as competitive as possible,” said Kojsza

Lewiston-Porter

New York State Softball Hall of Famer Larry Lash takes over as the Lancers head coach.

Lew-Port will lean on senior co-captains Ava Staub, a catcher in her third year of varsity, and infielder Meghan Baio who is in her fourth season.

Niagara Falls

The Wolverines have five seniors including a pair of four-year varsity veterans. Nina Livesay at first base and outfielder Kaylee Griffith.

CSAT

Much like they did in volleyball the Lady Eagles will face a tall order on the diamonds.

CSAT has athletic girls, but they are still dealing with the reality of not having anywhere near the travel players the rest of the league has.

Feature Image Credit Larry Austin

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