THREE THINGS TO WATCH

The injury bug: Fort Atkinson senior Sara Vander Mause, a first baseman and outfielder who earned honorable mention all-state honors last year, is sidelined for this season due to an injury suffered while playing basketball. She will play at Loras College next year.

Anticipated newcomer: Reedsburg’s first-year head coach, Nick Olson, is singing the praises of freshman third baseman/catcher Melissa Dietz, calling her “one of the most talented freshmen in the state.” She played for a 16-and-younger club team last year even though she was only 13, and will play this summer for the Poynette Crush under-16 team. “Melissa hits for power and average. She is incredibly strong, and I believe she is going to make a name for herself in Wisconsin high school softball.”

Coaching milestones: Watertown coach Patty Jansen, a 29-year veteran, passed the 400-victory milestone last season, and Sauk Prairie coach Shane Been passed the 100-win mark. Coaches who reached career-length milestones last year were Madison Edgewood’s Bob Sulser (35 years overall), Wisconsin Dells’ Dale Gray (30 years), and Been and Mineral Point’s Quinn Schultz (10 years each). This year, 14th-year Edgerton coach Tony DeWar hopes to pass the 200-victory mark.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Maddie Gardner, jr., P, Sun Prairie: The reigning Wisconsin State Journal All-Area Player of the Year, also Player of the Year in the Big Eight Conference and a coaches’ first-team All-State pick for the defending WIAA state champion Cardinals. The University of Wisconsin commit went 27-0 with a 0.75 earned-run average last year, allowing 17 earned runs in 158-2/3 innings with 269 strikeouts, 46 walks and 72 hits allowed. She also hit .538.

Meghan Anderson, jr., Verona: An honorable mention all-state pick who will play next year at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D. Anderson won a duel with reigning all-area Player of the Year Maddie Gardner this week, cementing her status as one of the state’s top pitchers. Last year, she had a 2.03 earned-run average, striking out 132 and walking 23.

Olivia Bobak, sr., Monroe: A coaches’ second-team All-State player in the Large Schools division, Bobak went 22-3 last year with 221 strikeouts and 46 walks, for a 1.92 earned-run average. At the plate, she hit .387 with 10 doubles, three home runs and 35 RBIs.

Maddy Brickson, sr., SS, Stoughton: Hit .508 with nine doubles last season. A four-year starter and three-time all-league honoree (first team last year) who will play at Madison Area Technical College next year. Coach Toni Fischer says “her offense and defense pale to none in the conference.”

Autumn Congdon, sr., Fort Atkinson: A Georgetown University recruit, Congdon is a four-year starter who “can play any position on the field, and very likely will do just that this season,” Fort coach Brian Bosch said. Congdon hit .385 with 18 RBIs last year.

Kaitlyn Filter, sr., Waterloo: A second-team All-State pick in the Small Schools division, also earning all-district honors and first-team all-Capitol South Conference honors.

Ashley Hellenbrand, jr., Poynette: A coaches’ first-team All-State pick in the Small Schools division, hellenbrand hit .456 with 23 RBIs and two home runs last year.

Bailey Neuberger, sr., Marshall: A second-team All-State choice in the Small Schools division, also earning first-team all-Capitol South Conference honors.

Taylor Roughen, so., P, Lake Mills: A first-team all-conference pick last year and “the strongest pitcher Lake Mills has ever had,” Clift said. Roughen was 6-3 with a 5.11 ERA and 43 strikeouts last season, and hit .395 with 12 RBIs.

Sydney Updike, so., Monroe: Earned first-team all-Badger South and honorable mention all-state honors, hitting .420 with two home runs and 35 RBIs. Will relocate from the outfield to shortstop on defense this year.

Kora Wasley, jr., Dodgeville: Earned coaches’ first-team All-State honors in the Small Schools division.

CONFERENCE CAPSULES

BADGER NORTH

Baraboo has a new head coach for the second consecutive year, as Dan Lewison has replaced Bonnie Brandreth. The Thunderbirds also lost 11 seniors to graduation. Senior outfielder Haley Hannagan is the only Baraboo player who earned all-conference honorable mention last year. Other key players will be Addie Filus, Jade Parchem and Callie Hammermeister. Emma Crary will lead a young pitching group.

Beaver Dam went 15-5 last year and made it to WIAA sectionals under first-year head coach Abby Schmitt. This year, with three players returning who earned all-Badger North honors last year, the Golden Beavers hope to move up and challenge for the league title. Two first-team All-Badger North seniors return in shortstop Paige Schumann and second baseman Grace Madieros. Also back is senior third baseman Grace Scharfenberg, a second-team pick last year. Those three also will lead off the batting order for Beaver Dam. Maty Wilke, a second-team all-league pick as a freshman last year, did not come out for softball this season in order to concentrate on basketball.

DeForest, the five-time defending Badger North Conference champions, seem ready for another run, with five returning players who earned some sort of all-conference mention last year. Leading the list for co-head coaches Lori Grundahl and Jerry Schwenn are senior catcher/utility player Cammi Riemer (.492 batting average) and junior pitcher/infielder Taylor Tschumper (.392), both of whom were first-team picks last year. Tschumper is a two-time all-league first-team pick. The Norskies also return senior infielders Julia Winters (.278), Avery Melter (.364) and Kaylee Ramirez (.317), all honorable mention picks. “We will need to play consistent defense and will be very aggressive offensively,” the coaches said. “Our roles within the team, and team depth, are questions for this year.”

Mount Horeb has a new head coach in Jeramie Holman, and the Vikings return two seniors who earned all-conference honorable mention last year, in Jadyn Holman and Ashley Lange. The two will join Maddie Kraemer as the Vikings’ captains this season. Freshman Lucy Dahlk will handle pitching duties.

Portage coach Connie Wampler’s team went 21-5 last year and advanced to the WIAA Division 2 state semifinals, falling to Hales Corners Whitnall. The Warriors are seen as DeForest’s chief competitor in the Badger North race, despite the loss of four starters and two other letterwinners. Ten letterwinners return, led by senior pitcher Joia Simonson, who was the reliever for Meghan Witt last year but will take over as the starter this year. She worked 46-1/3 innings last year, giving up 10 earned runs and five walks while striking out 52. She also led the Warriors in hitting, going .479 with 30 RBIs, and was a first-team all-Badger North pick at shortstop. Also back are senior catcher Olivia Limmex (.377, 18 RBIs) and junior outfielder Brianna Brandner (.459, eight RBIs), both second-team all-league pitcks last year. Limmex is a four-year starter. Other key returnees are senior outfielder Lauren Pace and versatile juniors Katelyn Belleau, McKenzie Brown and Anna Kratz.

Reedsburg coach Nick Olson enters his first year hoping to lead the Beavers to what would be their first winning season in more than 25 years. Last year’s 3-14 finish was highlighted by an extra-innings win over Lodi in WIAA tournament play, but Olson has the team’s sights set much higher this year. Nine letterwinners were lost, including four starters, but the list of seven returnees include five starters. The leader is senior catcher Mallory Stingley, a two-time first-team all-Badger North honoree who underwent ankle injury after a volleyball injury but hit better than .600 and .400 over the last two seasons. Junior Kaylee Engel, a second-team all-league second baseman last year, did not come out after joining a travel hockey program. Back are junior Olivia Fry, a third-year starter at pitcher, and junior first baseman Kaitlyn Zunker, a third-year varsity player who hit .359 and led the team in RBIs. Olson also has high hopes for freshman third baseman/catcher Melissa Dietz, a highly accomplished club player.

Sauk Prairie, under 11th-year coach Shane Been, will have to shuffle the lineup quite a bit this year, building around senior Regin Suchla, an honorable mention all-league pick last year who hit .431 with 15 RBIs. Suchla, who will play next year at North Dakota State College of Science, will move back to her preferred shortstop position after playing third base last year. Sophomore Macey McIntyre takes over as pitcher after limited experience last year. Also back is junior outfielder Emily Zins (.242), a third-year starter, and sophomore outfielder/first baseman Olivia Breunig. Junior Karina Guzman (.326) was the team’s most improved player last year.

Waunakee coach Tammy Rademacher enters her 14th year with seven starters returning from last year’s 11-9 team. “We should be competing for the conference title,” the coach said. Leading the lineup is four-year outfield starter Caitlyn Kesilewski, who hit .493 with 23 RBIs last season and earned first-team all-Badger North honors. Also back are honorable mention all-league picks Lauren Smithback, a junior and Ally Ronk, a senior. Other seniors are Chloe Fullenkamp, Kaylyn King, Lexi Ripp and Sam Soulier, and other top juniors are Avery Lehr and Trista Ripp.

BADGER SOUTH

Fort Atkinson coach Brian Bosch starts his second season as head coach with six letterwinners returning. However, one of the Black Hawks’ top players, Sara Vander Mause, is lost for the year due to a basketball injury, and among the five starters lost to graduation are three players who started for four years and another who started for three years. Still, Fort Atkinson returns two other first-team all-Badger South picks. Senior pitcher Kat Brandl, a Madison Area Technical College recruit and fourth-year starter, went 9-4 with a 3.45 ERA and 59 strikeouts last year while hitting .433; senior outfielder Autumn Congdon hit .385. Making the second team last year was now-sophomore shortstop Kianna Kostroski who hit .378 with two homers and 27 RBIs.

Madison Edgewood enters its third year under coach Bob Sulser, who is in his 37th year of coaching overall. The Crusaders finished seventh in the eight-team Badger South last year, going 3-10, but saw two freshmen and a junior earn all-league honorable mention. Back this year are senior center fielder Madison Moore, who’ll play next year at Illinois Wesleyan, and sophomore outfielder Olivia Moore and sophomore catcher Leah Jakusz. Also back is sophomore pitcher Michelle Schmitt, and her twin sister Nicole Schmitt, the Crusaders’ shortstop.

Milton opened the season with a bang, scoring 17 runs twice and totaling 28 hits in victories over Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker. Sophomore pitcher Erika Reif was an all-conference honorable mention pick last year, as were seniors Emily Goodger and Shay Anderson and sophomore Shay Anderson. Senior Laura Onsgard already has a grand slam home run this season.

Monona Grove welcomes a new coach this year in Amanda Mertes Klassman, who spent four years as the Silver Eagles’ junior varsity coach. MG went 8-11 overall and 5-8 in the league last year. This year’s team is young and learning. Back is junior Brooklyn Miller, an honorable mention all-conference pick last year. Peyton Blang and Harper Mayfield will lead off the batting order, and Jamie Remus will be the ace of the pitching staff.

Monroe coach Joe O’Leksy welcomes back a loaded lineup led by senior pitcher Olivia Bobak, a first-team all-Badger South pick last year and one of seven returning Cheesemakers who earned league mention last year. Two other returnees earned first-team honors last year: Senior center fielder Hailey Betthauer (.360, four home runs, 14 RBIs, 16-for-16 in stolen bases) and sophomore Sydney Updike, who is moving from outfield to shortstop this year. Second-team all-league returnees are junior first baseman Grace Tostrud (.388, three homers, 22 RBIs), sophomore second baseman Alyse Maurer (.383, nine doubles, 12 RBIs, 12-for-12 steals) and sophomore catcher Katie Hayes (.319, five doubles, 17 RBIs).

Oregon coach Scott Mirkes returns 14 letterwinners — including three all-conference honorees, led by second-team infielder Megan Bloyer (.420), now a sophomore, and now-junior honorable mention picks Sadie Gaberell (.319) and pitcher Kenadee Nelson (2.44 ERA, 103 strikeouts, five saves)., now juniors. The only senior, Brooke McCallum, will play at UW-Stevens Point.

Stoughton was one of the youngest teams in the Badger South last year, as coach Toni Fischer said the Vikings had four freshmen in the starting lineup by season’s end. This year, eight letterwinners return, all of them starters. Shortstop Maddy Brickson and outfielder Lela Brashi both are four-year starters, with Brickson earning first-team all-Badger South honors and Brashi getting honorable mention. Sophomore catcher Savanna Jemilo (.327) was a second-team all-Badger South pick as a freshman and junior pitcher Kailey Hammersley hit .297 and struck out 40 opposing batters. Also back are sophomore catcher/infielder Grace Ott (.396), an honorable-mention pick last year, and sophomore outfielders Makayla Rambert and Tessa Pickett.

Watertown coach Patty Jansen welcomes back eight starters and three additional letterwinners from last year’s team, which went 11-4 in the Badger South. Senior infielder Lauren Harshbarger is a four-year starter and first-team all-Badger South returnee, and senior infielder Brianna Hendricks and outfielder Payton Zubke are three-year starters who made the all-conference second team last year, along with senior infielder Brianna Korducki, an honorable mention pick last year. Also back is junior Paige Bacchi, an all-league . “Defense is our key,” said Jansen, adding that the Goslings’ goal is to win the conference title.

BIG EIGHT

Sun Prairie coach Jamie Olson’s team enjoyed a dream season last year, going 29-0 and battling its way to the WIAA Division 1 state championship. Only two starters return, but one of them is the reigning All-Area Player of the Year and a first-team All-State coaches’ pick. Also back is junior outfielder Sabrina Reuter, a left-hander who hit .420 with 20 RBIs last year. New to the program is Ellie Rademacher, who has played baseball throughout her youth and is giving softball a try this spring. “She brings a lot of dynamics to the program,” Olson said. Other returnees are sophomore outfielder Sierra Ek (.200), senior Leah Hamilton (.308), junior infielder Haley Johnson (.308), senior outfielder Zoey Meyers (.357) and senior catcher/outfielder Sydney Spatola (.212).

Verona coach Todd Anderson’s Wildcats return five starters after taking second place in the Big Eight and going 15-5 overall last year. Verona made a strong early statement with a 2-1 win over Sun Prairie, snapping the Cardinals’ 34-game winning streak. Senior Meghan Anderson (a Northern State University commit) won a duel with Maddie Gardner that day, cementing her status as one of the state’s top pitchers. Last year, she had a 2.03 earned-run average, striking out 132 and walking 23. Also back is senior leadoff hitter Molly McChesney (University of Akron commit), who hit .488 last year with 13 RBIs and reached base in more than half of her plate appearances. Also returning are Kasie Keyes (.409, 17 RBIs), Amelia Hust (.279) and Alina Yazek (.319, 27 RBIs).

Beloit Memorial coach Jennifer Pozzari is excited about this year’s chances, after her Purple Knights went 14-4 in the league to finish second behind Sun Prairie last year. Nine letterwinners return, including eight starters. Sophomore center fielder and leadoff hitter Natalie Bittner earned first-team all-conference honors last year, hitting .493 with a .551 on-base percentage and 14 RBIs. Also back are two second-team all-league picks: Junior pitcher Jacey Walker (7-4, 3.3 ERA, 66 strikeouts) and sophomore shortstop Brynn Swanson (.323, 10 RBIs). Honorable mention all-conference returnees are junior third baseman Madison Stavn (.382, 11 RBIs), senior second baseman Ariana Brown (.241, 10 RBIs) and junior first baseman Miranda Mechanic (.360).

Madison Memorial coach Kourtney Peters begins her first year hoping for a top-four finish in the conference race. “We are the type of team that can be described as gritty (and) hard-working and will depend on our experience and athleticism to win games,” Peters said. Quick, athletic senior outfielder Lily Frisch hit .315 last year, and senior utility player Morgan Esser (.267, 10 RBIs) will provide leadership. Also back are senior pitcher Camryn Decker, junior shortstop Lauren Schmitt (.314, 10 RBIs) and senior catcher Kathryn Murphy (.333).

Janesville Craig’s new head coach, Kristen Worm, hopes to build on last year’s finish, when the Cougars took fourth in the league and beat Beloit Memorial in a regional opener. Seven starters return, including sophomore second-team all-conference shortstop Abby Humphrey (.333, 16 RBIs). Also back are senior honorable-mention picks Katie Kealy (.345, 22 RBIs), Paige Peloquin (.277, 13 RBIs) and Amanda Carlson.

Middleton coach Perry Hibner returns seven starters from last year’s team, which went 8-10 in the league and 9-14 overall. Senior third baseman Ashley Bindl, a four-year starter, earned all-conference first-team honors last year after hitting .351 with three home runs and 13 RBIs. Sophomore catcher Olivia Hebert (.338, three homers) was a second-team all-conference utility player. Senior pitcher Brynn Thayer is back after missing last season. “She has great control and good movement on her pitches,” Hibner said. Also back are starters Rachael Roberts, C.C. Hiorns, Ellie Buza, Katelyn Graf and Sam Williams.

Madison East returns all-conference honorable mention pick Bridget Dempsey, a senior.

Madison West will be led by first-team all-Big Eight utility player Ari Balas, a senior.

Madison La Follette’s top returning player is sophomore utility player Eden Welling, a second-team all-conference pick last year.

Janesville Parker returns junior pitcher Chelsea Naber, a second-team all-conference pick, and senior honorable mention selection Jeni Malphy.

CAPITOL NORTH

Poynette returns only one senior from last year’s WIAA Division 3 state championship team, senior third-baseman Ashley Hellenbrand (.456, 23 RBIs). But 40th-year head coach Bob Tomlinson and his staff are renowned for their teaching skill, and plenty of production is expected from the 17 juniors in the program. That list includes pitcher/utility players Brianna Kowald (second-team all-conference, .353), Molly Anderson (second team, .451, 14 RBIs), and Casey Fountain (first team, .373, 16 RBIs), and another first-team all-league pick, Brianna Schulz (.378). Among the other returnees are Lizzie Schwenn (second team, .436, 13 RBIs), Mollie Blochwitz (.370) and Mara Millard (.423). “(All of them) are players any coach would trade for,” Tomlinson said, adding that some newcomers could create surprises, too.

Lake Mills coach Jim Clift earned conference Coach of the Year honors last season, and is drawing raves for the rebuilding program he has under way with the L-Cats. Nine letterwinners return from last year’s 12-5 team. The key to success is sophomore pitcher Taylor Roughen, a first-team all-conference pick and “the strongest pitcher Lake Mills has ever had,” Clift said. Roughen was 6-3 with a 5.11 ERA and 43 strikeouts last season, and hit .395 with 12 RBIs. Three seniors return, including first-team all-conference picks and four-year starters Briana Jessie (.489, 12 RBIs) at third base and Lexy Topel (.373, 13 RBIs) at shortstop. Senior Jessie Clift earned second-team honors after playing an error-free season at catcher.

Columbus returns first-team all-conference senior Morgan Witthun and second-team all-league senior Megan Boettcher.

Lakeside Lutheran’s 17th-year coach, Matt Doering, returns second-team all-conference pick Kylee Gnabasik, a sophomore pitcher, and honorable mention pick Olivia Kreiser (.345), a sophomore. Sophomore catcher/infielder Olyvia Uecker (.367) is back, as are senior third-year varsity players Cat Richart (.288) and McKenna Lamp (.283).

Watertown Luther Prep has a new head coach in Nick Trebesch, who will lead a rebuilding program after going 1-15 overall and 0-10 in the conference. Four seniors return, including three starters led by Sarah Thede, an honorable mention all-conference pick last year. Elisa Marggraf hit .421 last year, Hallie Fury hit .395 and Aly Goba hit .300.

CAPITOL SOUTH

Marshall, coached by Erin Young, won the Capitol South Conference title last season, and returns first-team all-conference players Bailey Neuberger, a senior who hits second in the lineup, and leadoff hitter Aubrie Kappes, the leadoff hitter. Also back is junior second-team all-league pick Hailey Erdman. However, the Cardinals lost three games in the first week of the season.

Wisconsin Heights plans to take aim at Marshall’s top spot in the league standings, with eight returning starters from last year’s 8-2 team (11-3 overall). Coach Dennis Wood said his team has reached sectionals each of the last two years and is “working at taking it to the next level.” Senior pitcher Tayler Kraemer (.447) returns after earning first-team all-league honors. Other returning first-team players are junior infielder Jada Wood (.306) and sophomore pitcher Kourtney Mercer (5-0, 2.10 ERA, 31 strikeouts, .348). Making the second team last year were junior catcher Miranda Keith (.293) and junior pitcher Kelsie Draeger (6-3, 1.48 ERA, 53 strikeouts, .319).

Belleville, coached by Connie Wunschel, returns 10 letterwinners and nine starters from last year’s team, which went 9-6 in the league and hopes to challenge Belleville and Wisconsin Heights for a top-two spot in the standings. Back are three players who earned second-team all-league honors last year: Senior shortstop Bailey Legler (.375, 20 RBIs), a four-year starter; junior third baseman Jillian Michaels (.407, 15 steals); and junior catcher Ella Campbell (.357). Also back, but now as the staff ace, is junior pitcher Maddie Weber (.421). Other returning starters are senior outfielder Callie Everson, senior second baseman Kori Rogers, senior outfielder Abby Winters, junior utility player Jenna Shrader and sophomore outfielder/catcher Cecelia Grefsheim.

Waterloo returns all-district and second-team all-state honoree Kaitlyn Filter, a senior, and senior all-Capitol South second-team pick Katelyn Kuhl.

Cambridge returns first-team all-league junior Cieara Peterson and second-team all-conference junior Gracie Korth.

ROCK VALLEY

McFarland is seen as a top challenger to defending league champion Beloit Turner and dark horses Whitewater and East Troy. The Spartans return a pair of seniors who earned second-team all-league honors last year in pitcher Megan Jansen and outfielder K.J. LeFave.

Edgerton coach Tony DeWar has seven returning letterwinners from last year’s 8-13 team, but only one senior starter in pitcher Gabi Martinez. Other returning starters are junior catcher Grace Schuman, junior outfielder Cassidy Danks, junior infielder Kelsey Lien, sophomore utility player Lauren Radtke and junior infielder Gaby DeMoya-Cotter.

Jefferson has a new coach in Mark Peterson, a 21-year assistant in the Eagles’ baseball program. Ten letterwinners return, including nine starters from last year’s 10-12 team. “I expect our team to be very competitive,” Peterson said. “We have a very strong core of players back from last season.” Leading the returnees is sophomore utility player Brittney Mengel, a first-team all-Rock Valley pick last year. Returning to pitch is senior Halle Peterson (10-10, 3.29 ERA, 81 strikeouts). Among other returnees are junior outfielder Claire Peachey (.345), senior second baseman Callie Schnitger (.345, Madison Area Technical College commit), junior infielder Kylee Lukes (.333) and senior outfielder Rachael Neitzel (.310).

Evansville sophomore Braly Wiser and junior Emily Pfeil are back after earning all-Rock Valley honorable mention last season.

SOUTHWEST WISCONSIN

Dodgeville returns to defend its Southwest Wisconsin Conference title, led by senior pitcher Lindsey Murphy, last year’s league Player of the Year. Also back are three other first-team all-conference picks: Audrey White, a sophomore infielder, and juniors Grace Borne, a catcher, and Korra Wasley, an outfielder.

River Valley returns junior pitcher Ali Hoffman, a first-team all-league pick as an infielder last year.

TRAILWAYS SOUTH

Johnson Creek has a new coach in Kassidy Lemminger, but the Bluejays return seven starters from last year’s 20-3 team and hope to earn the Trailways South Conference title after taking second last year. Junior Jordyn Pipkin leads the pitchers after earning first-team all-conference honors last year, and sophomore right fielder Bella Herman also was named to the first team. Other returnees include sophomore left fielder Kaiyli Thompson (second-team all-league), junior center fielder Brooke Joseph (honorable mention) and senior first baseman Morgan Toebe (honorable mention). Leadership comes from senior shortstop and captain Rylie Thomas.

Deerfield enters the Trailways South fray led by first-team all-league returnee Kaylee Galla, a sophomore, and second-team pick Dani Ament, a sophomore, and honorable-mention picks Olivia Tatlock, a junior, and Ashlee Ballmoos, a sophomore.

AROUND THE AREA

Mineral Point sets out to repeat as SWAL champions, returning last year’s SWAL Player of the Year, junior pitcher/infielder Lauren James (the conference Player of the Year last year), and three other seniors who earned first-team honors: pitcher/outfielder Dana Schmitz, catcher Morgan James and infielder Kyla Lindsey. Also back is senior outfielder Miranda Oellerich, an honorable mention all-league pick last year.

Wisconsin Dells, under 31st-year coach Dale Gray, hopes to challenge defending South Central Conference champ Westfield for the league’s top spot. The Chiefs are have two returning first-team all-conference players, in sophomore shortstop Kayla Gray and sophomore pitcher Grace Walker.

KEY WIAA DATES

Regionals: May 16 (Divisions 2-5), 21 and 23

Sectionals: May 28 and 30.

State tournament: June 6-8, Goodman Diamond