Palm Beach County was well-represented at the state softball championships in Vero Beach last spring.
Four area teams — Jupiter, Wellington, Oxbridge Academy and Glades Day — advanced to the state semifinals at Historic Dodgertown, while the Wolverines and ThunderWolves made the state title game in Classes 8A and 4A, respectively.
As the 2018 season gets underway, all four teams have high hopes to repeat last season’s accomplishments. But there will be challenges along the way.
Jupiter, which made it to the Class 9A state semifinals before falling 1-0 to Palm Harbor University, lost two-time Palm Beach Post Player of the Year Ally Costa to graduation, plus a pair of clutch hitters in infielders Bailey Phillips and Rachel Frankhouser.
However, the Warriors return a strong group of seniors, with catcher Ashley Goebel, third baseman Megan McCants and leftfielder Shelby Russo leading the way.
Replacing Costa on the mound will be a pair of sophomores — Marisa Mellone and Madi Leonard — and their development will be key this season, head coach Steve Ahern said.
“This year we have a young team,” Ahern said. “Our focus will be on getting better each game until we find our identity on how this team will win games.”
Glades Day has a more veteran group returning from a team that finished 12-14 and advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals.
The Gators return six starters, including senior pitcher Jaylin Smith — an All-Area first-teamer last season — junior first baseman Emilee Perkins (.313 batting average), and sophomore catcher Olivia Esquivel (.297).
Glades Day also has a pair of talented newcomers in outfielders Kennedy Derouchers and Allison Deaton.
“We hope to return this year to the state Final Four,” longtime coach Sherri Paez said. “We have two key positions to fill, but hopefully with our 24-game schedule, we will work out all the kinks. We plan on taking one game at a time and improving as we go.”
Wellington and Oxbridge Academy each lose a couple of key players from last season, but have the bulk of their starting lineups returning.
For the Wolverines, who lost to nationally ranked Orange Park-Oakleaf 6-1 in the Class 8A state title game, junior shortstop Sarah Longley, senior third baseman Bailey Cain and pitchers Kate Desimone and Katie Schmidt are back.
And for the ThunderWolves, who fell 4-2 to Miami-Westminster Christian in the Class 4A state championship game, hard-hitting pitcher/first baseman Caridad Estes, catcher Josie Foreman, infielder Madalynn Davis and outfielder Christian Glenn return.
Oxbridge also added junior outfielder Ariel Girardi from Dwyer and freshman pitcher/outfielder Jena Whipple from American Heritage, while former Palm Beach Gardens pitcher Dani Farley joins the Wolverines.
“Our goal of course is to get back to the state tournament,” Wellington coach Mark Boretti said. “But the road will be very difficult.”
Teams to watch
Boca Raton: Pitcher/outfielder Taylor Cochrane (.375, 24 RBIs), catcher Emma Morgan (.397/22) and pitcher/infielder Maddie Ihnat (.382/14) are all back for the Bobcats, who were the District 10-9A runners-up last year.
Glades Day: The Gators advanced to the state semifinals last season, and return most of their starting lineup from that team, including pitcher Jaylin Smith.
Jupiter: The Warriors lost two-time Player of the Year Ally Costa and much of their offense from last year’s state semifinalist team, but return a strong group of seniors led by catcher Ashley Goebel.
Olympic Heights: The Lions won their first-ever district championship last season, and return much of their starting lineup from that team, including outfielders Kaitlyn Cunningham and Theresa Stettner.
Oxbridge Academy: Despite losing Player of the Year Lianna Mullins to graduation, the ThunderWolves return the bulk of their starting lineup from last year, and added a pair of transfers in outfielders Ariel Girardi and Jena Whipple.
Palm Beach Gardens: The Gators return plenty of talent and depth, and added sisters Katelyn and Breanna Robine from Lake Worth Christian.
Park Vista: The Cobras are young, but expect to challenge for a district title. Outfielders Morgan Keith and Kaylee DiNatali and shortstop Olivia Zehl return.
Royal Palm Beach: The Wildcats will have to replace standout pitcher Jaime Tino, but return the bulk of their offense. Infielders Nicole Hayslip and Paige Houck, and catcher Megann Linardos will lead the way.
Spanish River: Utility players Gigi Auricchio and Taylor Karger both hit over .400 last year for the Sharks, and both are back. Spanish River will need to find a replacement for starting pitcher Liz Gollin.
Wellington: The Wolverines return one of the area’s top college prospects in junior infielder Sarah Longley — a UF commit — and a pair of standout pitchers in Kate DeSimone and Katie Schmidt.
Players to watch
Gigi Auricchio, Spanish River, Sr., UT: The Daytona State College signee batted .424 for the district-champion Sharks.
Kate Desimone, Wellington, So., P: As a freshman last season, she helped carry the Wolverines to the Class 8A state title game.
Caridad Estes, Oxbridge Academy, So., INF/P: She played a big role in leading the ThunderWolves to the Class 4A title game, batting .521 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs.
Josie Foreman, Oxbridge Academy, So., C: A USF commit, she batted .462 with six homers and 36 RBIs for the state runner-up ThunderWolves.
Ashley Goebel, Jupiter, Sr., C: A standout with her glove and bat, the UNF signee batted .407 with 19 RBIs and 19 runs for the state semifinalist Warriors.
Sarah Longley, Wellington, Jr., INF: The UF commit led the Wolverines in batting last season at .509, and also hit 11 home runs and 40 RBIs.
Rileigh Manning, Forest Hill, Sr., P/INF: The All-Area first-teamer was one of the area’s top hitters last season, batting .516 with 23 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
Brooke Matthews, Palm Beach Gardens, Sr., P/INF: The Indian River Community College signee can play all positions. Last season she batted .352.
Katelyn Robine, Palm Beach Gardens, Fr., P: One of the area’s leading hitters as an eighth-grader, she batted .604 with 22 runs for Lake Worth Christian, and also posted a 2.25 ERA with 78 strikeouts.
Theresa Stettner, Olympic Heights, Sr., INF/OF: She batted a team-leading .425 with 36 RBIs and 33 runs for the district-champion Lions.