A team-by-team look at the local softball season, which begins next week. Schools are listed in alphabetical order with last season's records in parentheses.
With just two senior starters returning, Absegami (19-7) is one of the youngest teams in a deep division. Becca Maguire had a huge junior season and likely will move from first base to shortstop this season. Maguire batted .473 last season and set single-season school records with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. Maguire is 12 hits short of 100 and 17 shy of the school record (105). Julia Pietropola returns to play second. Maguire and Pietropola will bat third and fourth, respectively. Sophomore Ryann Guy and freshman Bobbie Beck will look to take over on the mound for first-team Press All-Star Kelly Lupton (now at UNC-Greesnboro).
Hammonton (13-9) returns seven starters and has the potential to challenge Vineland and Millville in the division and conference races. Sophomore Raelynne Genovese is one of the most dangerous offensive players in the area. Genovese was a first-team Press All-Star in the outfield last season after batting .489 with a .583 on-base percentage. Morgan DiVello was a first-team utility player last season. DiVello can pitch and play middle infield. DiVello and three-year starter Brigette Alessandrini will anchor the middle of the lineup in the No. 3 and 4 spots, respectively.
Millville (13-11) also has the talent to challenge in what has easily become one of the toughest divisions of any conference in South Jersey. First-team Press All-Star Casey Derella is one of the top outfielders in the CAL. Derella batted .471 last season with a .553 on-base percentage. Junior pitcher Cassidy Gorgo and senior catcher Rachel Rivera each return to form one of the top batteries in the area. Sacred Heart transfer Lauren Tobolski will join an already deep lineup after sitting out 30 days.
Oakcrest (12-11), like intra-district rival Absegami, was hit hard by graduation. The Falcons lost seven seniors from last season and have just two on this season's team. Junior captain Sam Liepe moves from third to shortstop this season. Younger sister, Jessica Liepe, takes over at third and leads a talented freshman class along with pitcher/third baseman Emily Brown. Sophomore Logan Day started every game last season in center field and will again lead the outfield. Logan MacIntosh will start the year as the team's No. 1 pitcher.
Defending division and conference champion Vineland (12-8) will again be among the favorites with seven starters returning. Senior first-team Press All-Star Demi Murray returns and is one of the area's top pitchers. Senior catcher and fellow first-team All-Star Kylie Finley joins Murray to create one of the area's top batteries. Third baseman Briggette Garvey returns and will bat cleanup. Leadoff Jalene Garcia will look to set the table for a deep Fighting Clan lineup.
Defending division champ Atlantic City (14-8) graduated a talented senior class but returns first-team Press All-Star Maddie Taggart. Taggart is recovering from offseason hip surgery but will still see plenty of time on the mound this season. Chantal Munoz is the only returning starter. Sophomore Sierra Jordan leads the outfield. Catcher Cassidy Shea will bat cleanup. Junior Claire Corbett moves from second base to shortstop this season.
Mary Dunlap takes over as head coach at Egg Harbor Township (9-9). Dunlap was an assistant with the team for nine seasons. Senior middle infielder Taylor Crites is a team captain. Sophomore pitcher Hunter Irvin returns, along with junior catcher Melissa Collins, who will also see time at third base this season. Kayla McGrail and Kira Eberle also return for the Eagles.
Holy Spirit (4-17) is young but could be much improved this season with a talented group of returnees. Sophomore Brooke Hallett has the potential to be one of the best catchers in the area. Shortstop Brianne Long will lead the Spartans offensively and defensively. Karly Newcomb, Ally Donahue and Kelly Poltorak form a talented outfield.
Mainland Regional (6-16) graduated a talented senior class but returns six starters from last year and could be a darkhorse in the division. Seniors Jessie Higbee (P/2B), Alix Haberkern (OF) and Stefanie Droboniku (UTIL) are all captains. Gabriella Guarracino, Jillian Bruno and Raquelle Rusciano also return for the Mustangs.
St. Joseph (16-14) graduated only two seniors but is still young with no seniors on the roster. Don't confuse youth with inexperience, however. Sophomore catcher Carly Testa is one of the most dynamic players in the area. Testa bats leadoff and had more than 50 hits last season. Pitcher Domoniquie Dandrea is returning from an injury-plagued freshman season and is 100 percent to start the year. Mikaele Power will play third and bat third. Olivia Kerr and Emily DeMarco give the Wildcats some pop in the middle of the order. Shortstop Taylor Sirolli leads a talented freshman class for St. Joseph.
Buena Regional (23-4) faces the unenviable task of replacing two-time Press Player of the Year Brittany Scott (University of New Haven). If anyone can do it, however, it's Pam Pickett and the Chiefs. Buena returns seven starters. Allie Collins, Samantha Fiocchi and freshman Samantha Monfredo may all get a chance to pitch this season, but no matter who it is throwing, they will be in good hands thanks to first-team Press All-Star catcher Ashley Surran. Janessa Rios and Natalie Giannascoli anchor the infield, while Carly Linus returns to lead the outfield.
Lower Cape May Regional (7-15) returns four starters and hopes to play spoiler in the division and conference races after a solid preseason. Senior pitcher Mariah Sheehan returns and will work with sophomore catcher Ariel Magee. Magee gives the team some pop from the cleanup spot. Senior Jill Vandermark and sophomore Carissa Scott will bat second and third, respectively, and are tough outs at the top of the lineup.
Middle Township (13-10) will look to stay competitive with conference favorites Buena Regional and Sacred Heart. Shortstop Chelsea Bright, catcher/third baseman Alyssa Discepolo and second baseman Victoria Raffaele will lead the way.
Ocean City (5-16) returns most of its team from last season and expects to build on last year's five-win season. Junior pitcher Marisa Holt is a three-year starter for the Red Raiders. Seniors Jenna Cuomo, Brianna Graham and Holly Mariano will look to lead the team.
Sacred Heart (27-6) won the South Jersey and State Non-Public B titles last season and returns six starters, including an all-star duo at pitcher and catcher. Pitcher Rosie LaGrotta and catcher Danielle Lugo were each first-team Press All-Stars last season after big sophomore campaigns. LaGrotta is 42-10 for her career. Lugo has 68 hits in just two seasons. Lindsay Dwyer, who made just one error last season, returns to lead the outfield. Second baseman Samantha Caterina and shortstop Kelly Hullihen give the Lions a solid middle infield.
Wildwood Catholic (13-9) returns a solid nucleus from last season for first-year head coach Loretta Kelly, a 2010 Wildwood graduate. Junior pitcher Jackie Delong has the potential to keep the Crusaders in any game they play. Senior first baseman Jenna Long is one of the top power hitters in the division.
Atlantic County Institute of Technology will make its debut on the varsity level after playing a junior-varsity schedule last season. Sophomore Molly Winniewski will pitch. Third baseman Idalis Disla is the only senior on a young team and likely will bat cleanup. Sophomore Kiara Estrada can play multiple positions but likely will catch. Kristen Ritchie gives coach Donna Mahoney plenty of options and can literally play anywhere on the field.
Bridgeton (7-16) is young, with only four starters returning. The Bulldogs are led by sophomore Jenna Montana, who had an excellent freshman season. Montana batted .377 lasts season while leading the team's pitching staff with 71 strikeouts. Adrianna Price will handle most of the catching duties. Karisma Pantaleon is a three-year starter and the team's sparkplug at the top of the order. Natash Rivera and Halley Day will look to drive in runs in the middle of the lineup.
Cape May Tech (3-14) should be improved from last season thanks to a solid group of freshmen and sophomores to go along with senior captain Tina Sacco. Sarah Clayville, Chrissie Ziccardi and Hannah Stone are the only other seniors on the team. Jen Wooley leads a talented group of eight sophomores on the roster.
Cedar Creek (13-11) won the division title last season in its first season on the varsity level. The Pirates return almost their entire lineup and will again be among the favorites. Sisters Angela and Rosalie Hood return to lead the team from the top of the lineup.
Our Lady of Mercy Academy (6-9) expects to contend in the division after losing only one senior to graduation. Senior Gianna Vozzi enters her fourth season as the team's starting pitcher and will look to help herself from the cleanup spot. Junior shortstop Emily Arezzi has had a good spring and will likely lead off. Catcher Sarah Pustizzi may see time in the outfield this season. Look for freshman Korri Harmon to have a big season offensively.
Pleasantville (1-14) is young and lacks the depth of other teams in the division. Pitcher Brianna Knight, catcher Julia Monroe and shortstop Aleya Green all return to lead the Greyhounds. Knight, Monroe and Green are all seniors.
Barnegat (17-10) appears poised for a big season with only two players lost to graduation and six seniors expected to start this year. Pitcher Emily Gambuti and catcher Ryann Farley (committed to Goldey-Beacom College) each return for their fourth seasons as starters. Gambuti and Farley are one of the top batteries in the area. Junior Kerry Butler moves from third base to shortstop this season and is a dangerous hitter for the Bengals.
Lacey Township (6-13) returns seven starters from a season ago and should improve upon last year's six-win season. Cassondra Zitani and Morgan Walizer will handle the pitching. Senior shortstop Aly Smialowicz, Sara Wright and freshman Emily Dezendorf give the team some pop offensively. Dezendorf, a catcher, may be one of the top freshman in the Shore Conference. Lacey moves back into Shore Conference A-South this season.
Pinelands Regional (12-10) returns a number of players from last season and has a talented sophomore class but is still young with just three seniors on the roster. Emma Neuweiler and Naomi Stas will each see time on the mound. Corinne Huber is solid defensively at shortstop. Breanna Wilson, Alison Waldron and Taylor Kovar will look to give the Wildcats senior leadership.
With seven starters returning this year, Southern Regional (5-16) is a darkhorse in the division. Seniors Bailey Doyle, Victoria Fife, Lauren Peirson and Tianna Santiago are each four-year starters for the Rams. Fife is solid defensively and committed to play at Georgian Court. Freshman Jessica Hewitt takes over on the mound.
Cumberland Regional (16-10) came within one win of reaching the South Jersey Group III finals last season and the Colts return eight of the nine starters from that team. Senior pitcher Shayla Loud and sophomore catcher Jackie Martin both return and are one of the top duos in the Tri-County Conference. Seniors Emily Pettit and Kodi Pollock play second and short, respectively, giving the Colts a strong group of players up the middle. The Colts move into the Tri-County Diamond Division this season.
Wildwood (4-13) will rely on junior pitcher Mackenzie Huber. Huber will handle the majority of the pitching duties and also will see time at shortstop. Senior Danielle Aydelotte is a four-year starter for the Warriors, who return eight of nine starters from last season. Senior Chelsea Toland will lead the middle infield at second base.
John O'Kane, JOKane@pressofac.com