DOWNERS GROVE – The last time head coach Ron Havelka and his Downers Grove South softball team were in this position, things turned out pretty well.
South had a slew of returning players in 2006 and ended up second in the state that year. This year’s version of the team is also heavy on returners and hopes a state trip is in the cards.
“Usually you have girls coming back but you also have new girls coming in,” Havelka said. “This year, we have seven starters back in key positions, which is nice.”
The Mustangs have four college-bound returners in Jess Andree (Belmont), Caitlyn Daly (Illinois State), Kaley Smith (Drexel) and Melissa Orton (Cornell College in Iowa). Elsewhere, second baseman and leadoff hitter Kristen Bialek, pitcher Caroline Hedgcock, and outfielder Zahrya McFarland also return.
Having so many returning players is an advantage that not too many area teams have, but it hasn’t altered the way Havelka is getting his team ready for the season.
“In some regards it makes it easier, but you still have to go over things just to review,” the coach said. “You can’t omit things. There’s always new kids on the team and you also have to refresh the girls coming back – how to do run-downs, how to hit the cutoff.”
One of the new varsity players is freshman Payton Buresch, who will share pitching duties with Hedgcock, who sparkled last year as the Mustangs won conference, regional and sectional championships.
“I think Caroline is even better this year,” Havelka said. “She has one year of experience and she worked really hard in the offseason.”
The Mustangs struggled early in the season last year, and they will be tested right off the bat this spring. They are scheduled to head to Wisconsin Saturday to face Westosha, last year’s Wisconsin state champ, and Ladywood, Michigan’s state champ in 2013.
The goal this spring is to replicate and surpass last season’s accomplishments.
“Last year I think we kind of snuck up on people. We lost a lot of seniors and people probably thought we were very young,” Havelka said. “Now you don’t sneak up on people. They know we have girls back and we should be decent.
“You wear the target a little bit, but that’s a good thing. You want to be tested.”
Downers Grove South Mustangs
Coach: Ron Havelka
2013 record: 22-11-1, regional champs, sectional champs
Jess Andree sr. SS
Kristen Bialek so. 2B
Caitlyn Daly sr. OF
Caroline Hedgcock so. P
Zahrya McFarland jr. OF
Melissa Orton sr. OF
Kaley Smith sr. C