GLEN ELLYN — Hit hard by graduation after last year's first-ever state title, Glenbard South softball enters the 2013 season with its fair share of questions.
But just because the Raiders roster just four seniors doesn't mean the squad won't be a factor come May. In fact, after just a short time with her new team, coach Julie Fonda has already seen her expectations rise.
"As I peeled through the layers," Fonda said, "we have a lot of sophomore talent coming up. I know we will win games based on our pitching and catching but now I would say we are going to win more games than I think I thought.
"I am really pleasantly surprised and excited."
A major reason not to count Glenbard South out this spring lies within the pitching circle where Steph Chitkowski returns. The senior was 17-2 last spring with an ERA of 0.93 in 127-1/3 innings pitched. Also back is catcher Jane Trzaska, who hit .352 with 51 RBIs in 2012. Trzaska is also the team's No. 2 pitcher.
"I think they will pick up where they left off," the coach said. "They've been big leaders already, just with knowing the expectations and what it took to get downstate last year.
"They are doing what they should be doing and I'm really proud of them for that. The seniors graduated and now these two are left behind. They are doing a great job so far."
Hannah Taylor is a third player with experience after batting .275 with four homers and 23 RBIs last spring. Tarah Valdez should also be a major contributor after seeing a little time as a sophomore. Two newcomers to watch are freshmen Payton Carli and Ashley Cohen, both of whom are expected to start.
"Defensively, it's a work in progress," Fonda said. "It will take some time. Offensively, last year we didn't have the luxury of stealing too many bases. We didn't have a lot of speed. This year will be more strategic with running and bunting and slapping."
Winners of seven straight conference titles, including an undefeated run through the Metro Suburban Conference the past two seasons, Glenbard South is hoping to extend that streak. Elmwood Park, which returns virtually everyone, and Riverside Brookfield should prove to be the stiffest competition.
After that comes the state series, where the Raiders have made plenty of noise over the past five years.
"My goal is always to be playing our best softball in May," Fonda said.
Meet the Raiders
Coach: Julie Fonda
2012 record: 37-4
Steph Chitkowski sr. P
Jane Trzaska sr. C/P
Hannah Taylor sr. 3B/1B
Tarah Valdez jr. C/SS
First game: 4:30 p.m. Friday at Naperville North
Trips downstate over the past five years for the Raiders. Glenbard South won its first state title last spring after finishing third in 2008 and 2011 and fourth in 2009.