The 2018 Tri Valley League softball race features perennial powers and a few upstart programs aiming to challenge.
The clear favorite is the Oneida Indians, who have won 11 straight league titles and are positioned to add another. The Indians have completely dominated the TVL recently, winning 43 straight league games since dropping the 2014 opener at Whitesboro.
The Indians, despite losing longtime starters Hannah Begay, Kylie Chesebro and Natalie Marshall, have reloaded for another run and are the favorite to win the Pioneer Division as well as the overall TVL title.
Mike Curro’s group is a bit inexperienced on the mound behind junior ace Kyra Shlotzhauer, but they should be solid in nearly all areas.
At the top of the lineup is senior shortstop Bri Laureti and junior second basemen Lauren Skibitski. The duo is rock solid in the field and tough to keep off the base paths.
Skibitski and Laureti set the table for Shlotzhauer, who is also one of the top power hitters in the league.
“A team strength is offensive power,” said Curro, who has built Oneida into the gold standard of the TVL since taking over in 2000. “Also cohesiveness and (being a) team-oriented group. Areas of concern are filling outfield and infield graduated positions.”
For the Indians to reach their goals of adding to their streak of league titles, and possibly winning another sectional crown, last season’s complementary players will have to step into more prominent roles.
Emily Marshall, Abby Carroll, Sydney Lusher, Adriana Chapa and Kaylin Curro will be some on those players counted on to help carry the Indians to another banner.
“The TVL will be a bit stronger overall with Whitesboro the favorite on that side (Colonial Division), Curro said. “Camden will be strong also. I worry about us. That’s the bottom line. We have a lot to get done. It will be exciting to watch this team grow. A heavy non-league schedule will make us battle ready.”
Challenging the Indians in the Pioneer division will be Camden, who is led by southpaw ace Laura VanHoven, who was all-league last season.
The Blue Devils also return the majority of its lineup from last season. Among those is 2017 TVL all-star Sierra Amo, a senior shortstop. Kimberly Birmingham, Lily Sullivan, Ariel Vaile, Haley Page and Megan Onderko are also returning for head coach Bill Sullivan.
“Our pitching is strong and our infield has been playing together for years,” Sullivan said. “I’ve actually coached this group for last three years now and they are used to playing these positions and are a pretty smart team.”
With such a strong core back, Sullivan has high expectations if he can get this group to reach their potential.
“I want to be able to compete with (Oneida) and hopefully knock them off this year,” Sullivan said. “I have to get the kids’ mindsets that we can beat them. If they believe it, I think we can. Every game we play we want to win.”
The VVS Red Devils have to replace a lot, but have five senior returners with starting experience. Outfielders McKenna Berry and Kristi Ann Frank, third basemen Malia Minckler, second basemen Grace Brewster and catcher Keely Alsheimer lead a fast, experienced team that will have to be solid in the field to make up for the team’s inexperience in the circle.
A team on the upswing should be the Notre Dame Jugglers.
While Notre Dame might be a year away from consistently challenging the upper tier of the TVL, Olivia Tooley’s squad has a nice core group of players, mostly consisting of sophomores and juniors.
Seniors Lexi Candido (catcher) and Deanna Rosato (shortstop) are top players and will be counted on to lead. Junior center fielder Gabby Ellixson is a crucial part of the batting order, while sophomores Hannah Jacobs and Sam Fluty are top returners who will be competing in their third varsity seasons.
“This is a sophomore- and junior-heavy group with lots of returners who are excited to be back on the field together,” Tooley said. “I like to take advantage of situations as learning experiences for the younger girls but also hoping for some leadership from our two seniors and junior group to compete well during sectionals again this year.
“Last year I thought we made a lot of strides at the end of the season, particularly during our sectional games. We’re hoping to pick up where we left off on a positive note and take one game at a time and get better every day.”
Central Valley Academy is coming off a tough regular season, but advanced to the sectional quarterfinals before losing at Whitesboro.
Head coach Alex Prue has senior Jill Lindig (pitcher, shortstop), a league all-star last season, leading the way for the Thunder.
Juniors Brooke Newtown (third base), Makayla Hoover (pitcher), Erin Jackson (center field), and sophomore catcher Sianna Kenyon are experienced and talented returners for the Thunder.
In the Colonial Division, RFA and Whitesboro are likely to fight it out once again. The Black Knights won the division last season, posting a 10-1 league mark behind ace pitcher Olivia Deraway, who was named TVL Player of the Year in 2017. The bad news for the Black Knights is Deraway graduated and replacing her is a tall task.
First-year head coach Mike Deraway, Olivia’s father, will have to rely on senior shortstop Madisynn Reilley and junior catcher Olivia Guy. With a lack of experience in the circle, Reilley and Guy will have to lead the Black Knights, who likely will have to find different ways to win games this season.
“We have been working on a multi-position approach with our defense,” Deraway said. “We are getting everyone comfortable in more than one position as needed and ready to perform in different spots as the game plays out. The goal is to be consistent offensively and defensively. …. To continue to work and strive to compete in every game to the best of our abilities and to win as many games as we can.”
Waiting to pounce is Aaron Cirasuolo’s Whitesboro Warriors, who finished second in the division last season with an 8-3 mark. The Warriors lost just two seniors and are loaded with returning talent to make a run, not only at a league title, but a Class A crown.
Leading the way is sophomore ace Caitlin Reilly, who finished with a 1.94 ERA as a freshman. The Warriors also have a daunting lineup, led by returning CNY All-Stars Jenn Sciortino (senior) and Madison Cieslak (junior).
Whitesboro also has plenty of depth and experience as sophomore Olivia Simone and seniors Sarah Hovey, Taylor Collins, Hannah Horan and Nina Felitto all return. Also expecting to have a larger role this season is senior Sierra Crouch, who impressed in a reserve role last season.
“Like every year, (goal is) win sectionals and league titles, which won’t be easy because there is very good competition,” Cirasuolo said. “We tell the girls to keep it simple only worry about the next game.”
The New Hartford Spartans and Proctor Raiders have extremely young squads and figure to be much improved as the season progresses. Both teams are building for the future and the gained varsity experience this season should pay future dividends.
John Cunningham’s New Hartford squad features just four returning players and has 10 underclassmen with no varsity experience.
Senior catcher Abby Hall and junior pitcher Kaitlyn Daley form a solid battery. Junior Karima Wines and freshman Bella Laino also return and have versatility in the field. Growth will be the key for Cunningham.
“Our goal for season is to not repeat mistakes (week to week) and finish .500, so to qualify for sectionals,” Cunningham said.
Proctor, which struggled to a 3-14 mark last season, will rely heavily on a quartet of talented juniors.
Returning all-leaguer Sarah Bolinski, will shoulder much of the load in the circle. Outfielders Leigha Rivera and Aubrianna Wadley, along with shortstop Alex Barbato also return for the head coach Joe Guidera’s Raiders.